How to Talk with young Children
Talking with Children (4 to 8 Years)
As children get older they tend to get more curious about their bodies and the bodies of others. Most children begin to explore and understand gender specificity and begin to adhere more strongly to these norms. They may start to ask more specific questions about gender differences and specific anatomy. As always, answer these questions openly and accurately. Encourage them to come to you with questions.
Young children may also begin to develop their own sexual orientation at this age and may develop a “crush” or feelings of interest for someone else. Let children talk with you about these feelings and help them understand how to express them in ways that are healthy and developmentally appropriate. Be supportive of these feelings. Teasing can make children feel ashamed or embarrassed and can damage the open lines of communication you worked hard to build.
This is the stage at which friendships become very important to children and where strong same-sex friendships begin to form. Encourage children to make and keep friends. Teach them that it is OK to express feelings of friendship and that friends care for one another and help keep each other safe.
Children and their friends may become curious and want to share touches. Explain the differences between “safe touches” and “unsafe touches.” Give examples of safe touches – changing a diaper, a checkup at the doctor’s office, taking a bath, etc. Be very clear that an unsafe touch is when someone wants to touch, tickle or play games with private parts – or any touch at all that makes them feel uncomfortable. Adults NEVER need help with their own private parts.
If you’re having a hard time starting the conversation, consider reading children’s books that are relevant to the developmental stage of the child. Books can set the stage for greater conversation about how children are the bosses of their own bodies. They don’t have to be hugged, kissed or touched by anybody if they don’t want to be. And if somebody ever does something that gives them an “icky” feeling, they should tell – even if it’s a friend or family member.
Keeping secrets can be a tactic used to gain a child’s trust or a way to keep him or her silent. Children should know that it’s never appropriate to keep a secret. Help them understand the difference between secrets and surprises – surprises make a person feel good and something we want them to find out eventually; secrets can be unsafe, hurtful and against the rules.
Building self esteem
It is also important to help build self-esteem for children at this age so they feel empowered to enforce their own wishes about their bodies and boundaries. Tell them that their bodies are healthy and strong and continue to encourage them to use appropriate names for all body parts and bodily functions. Now is the age when children are especially conscious of others around them. Help them understand body diversity not only with gender but with various shapes and sizes as well.
“Your body is healthy and strong!”
“All bodies are beautiful and unique.”
“No one should be made fun of because their body looks different.”
Sex & bodily functions
Young children may also want to know about bodily functions and why they occur. Help de-stigmatize normal bodily functions, such as an erection, by explaining them in an accurate and appropriate way. This is also when you will want to address what is and what is not appropriate. Children may explore their own bodies through masturbation and want to know why it “feels good.” Help them to not feel ashamed about exploring their body by encouraging them to do it in private at appropriate times.
The act of sex may also start to be a topic of conversation at this stage. It’s not uncommon for kids to hear the word from other kids or siblings. They may even repeat the words they learn without knowing what they mean. It is important to teach kids what these words mean and to answer any additional questions they may have. You want to teach children that they can come to you with even more questions about things they heard from other children on the bus or the playground.