Who knew we’d ever be put in the position to have to discuss privates and puberty with our own kids! Dr. Chrystal de Freitas of Healthy Chats answers all of Breezy Mama’s questions (and we had a lot from toddler to teen) starting with when to discuss with your toddler it’s not okay for anyone to touch their privates, what to do when someone else’s child acts in a sexually inappropriate way at any age, to advice on starting THE talk with the older kids, what parents who are too uncomfortable should do and much, much more!
How do you start telling your toddler that he has “privates” that are not okay for others to
As a general rule, toddlers do not need to be told this information. They are too busy with other developmental steps. Being in diapers also helps! As they get a bit older, say 4 to 5, then you move on to using the correct names for those amazing private body parts. Yes, I do mean penis, testicles, anus and vulva.
One of my children recently asked, “But why is it private?” How do you answer that?
The way to answer this is: Our bodies are special and our private body parts (those parts of our bodies covered by our bathing suit – or underwear) are to be kept covered. That’s the rule!
At what age do you recommend discussing puberty and sex education?
You start in small steps and slow build up the foundation of knowledge by adding bits of information as the child grows. Knowing what is age appropriate information for each of these ages and stages will help guide you. For example: basic information about the correct body part’s name starts at ages 4 to 5. By 6 to 8, you add the story of birth and conception. So by the time they are 9 they are ready to hear about puberty.
So as you can see, there is no such thing as a one-time talk. Educating children on this topic is like all others; it comes in small increments along a period of time.
How do you get started?
Whether you know it or not, you have already started. By teaching your child the correct names for their body parts, immunizing them against Hepatitis B, hugging them and teaching them how to give and receive affection. All of this is part of a healthy sexuality. Talking to kids is not just about teaching them what sex is or how to prevent pregnancy. Teaching about sexuality is a much broader topic which includes how they take care of their bodies, feeling good about being a boy or a girl, making good health choices, where do babies come from and all the changes associated with puberty and then the continual information about being safe through their lives.
What if a parent is too uncomfortable?
Many of us are uncomfortable with this topic. Even as a pediatrician I was uncomfortable, especially with my own children. Yet, as parents we do what we have to do for the benefit of our children. Read up on the basic information and practice beforehand with your spouse. The conversations don’t have to be long or detailed. For the young child, two to three sentences are usually enough. As your child continues to grow, you add to that foundation of knowledge. Learn along side of them if necessary. You want your child to have a sense that you are the one that he/she should come to for information.
What if your child is not open to talking about sex Ed with you?
This is a lot more common than you might imagine! A parent (preferably of the same sex, if possible) should speak to him/her a bit about it like when they were growing up and let him/her know that when they are ready, you will be available. In addition, leave a book that your child can read at his/her own pace.
Are there books that you recommend?
Sex & Sensibilities: The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense About Sex
by Deborah M. Roffman, Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, MA, 2001
For Amazon’s price of $13.22 (vs. $16.95), click here.
Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask: The Secrets to Surviving Your Child’s Sexual Development from Birth to the Teens
by Justin Richardson, M.D. and Mark A. Schuster, M.D., PH.D. Crown Publishers, New York, 2003.
For Amazon’s price of $10.17 (vs. $14.95), click here.
More Speaking of Sex: What Your Children Need to Know and When They Need to Know It
by Meg Hickling, R.N. Northstone, 1999
To purchase, click here.
Keys to your Child’s Healthy Sexuality
by Chrystal de Freitas, M.D. Barron’s Educational Series, 1998
To purchase, click here.
From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children
by Debra W. Haffner, Newmarket Press, 1999
To purchase, click here.
Books for Children or Children and Parents:
So That’s How I was Born!
by Robert Brooks, PhD; Susan Perl, Illustrator, Aladdin Paperbacks, Simon & Schuster, reprinted 1993. When Joey’s friend Lisa tells him how babies are born, he asks his parents to tell him how he was really born. For ages 4-8
To order, click here.
It’s not the Stork! A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends
by Robie H. Harris; Michael Emberley, illustrator, Candlewick Press. 2006. Similar to their other books; for ages 4 & up.
For Amazon’s price of $8.63 (vs. $11.99), click here.
Mommy Laid an Egg
by Babette Cole. Chronicle Books, 1993. Two children use their own drawings to explain babies to their parents.
For Amazon’s price of $8.95, click here.
Why Boys and Girls Are Different
by Carol Greene (for ages 3-5); Concordia Publishing, under the auspices of the Board for Parish Services of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. Part of a series first published in 1982, these highly regarded books have a Christian perspective.
For Amazon’s price of $10.39 (vs. $12.99), click here.
Where did I Come From? The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense and with Illustrations
by Peter Mayle; Arthur Robbins, illustrator, Paul Walter Lyle Stuart Inc., 1973
To purchase, click here.
Books for Pre-teens:
The Care and Keeping of You
by Valerie Lee Schaefer. Pleasant Co. Publications, 1998. An excellent first book for young girls. Reviews changes in basic language. No SEX! They love it. Fun.
For Amazon’s price of $9.95, click here.
On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow: A ”What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Younger Boys
by Lynda Madaras; Paul Gilligan, illustrator, Newmarket Press, 2008. All the right information for pre-teen boys without any sexually explicit vocabulary.
For Amazon’s price of $8.64 (vs. $12.00), click here.
by Geoff Price. Allen & Unwin Publications, 2005. A very good book for fathers and sons to share.
For Amazon’s price of $10.85 (vs. $15.95), click here.
One Breezy Mama asked, “How do I answer my 11 year old son’s questions correctly and how far do I take each question? Do I answer very matter of factly or just keep explaining the reasons why the body has these changes?
If your 11 year old is asking you questions, you go for it! Give him as much information as he needs and rejoice in the fact that he is actually talking to you! Answer the questions, just like you said, matter of factly. I always advise parents not to share their adult intimate stories, but of course, do share what you may remember about your own growing up experience.
Another Breezy Mama wanted to know, “After my son has his health ed class, he learned some very interesting and untrue facts from his friends about puberty. What is the best way to bring up puberty with my son without embarrassing him? Do we include his younger siblings or should we do it privately?”
Your situation is exactly why we need to provide our children with the correct information at home. They will hear tons of information at school, in the playground, etc. — not all of it correct or in line with your family values.
When speaking to children about sex, think first about what is the main message you want them to know. Basically your family values; a short statement that reflects what you want your child to remember.
There is probably no way to avoid embarrassment. This is just the way it is for some pre-teens. Provide him with a book to review (see references), or have dad and him spend an afternoon together where at some point dad can bring up the topic and address his concerns.
Use TV shows, or everyday opportunities to bring up the topic and casually mention the correct information. He’ll hear it, although he may pretend not to.
I believe that the older child should have his own privacy without younger siblings. This reinforces his sense of esteem and maturity. Although siblings eventually share this information, he will be pleased to be the oldest and proud to share with the younger siblings.
You’ve created “My First Period Kit & DVD” – what are some of your tips that parents will find on the DVD?
The Healthy Chats for Girls DVD included in the kit (designed for mothers to watch with their 9 to 12 year old daughters) reviews all the changes associated with puberty for girls. Moms can review this information beforehand too and be prepared to speak with their daughters with ease and confidence. There is also an example conversation in a separate section for parents addressing how – and why — to speak about where babies come from, how they get out, and how they get in. Another section, for the girls (to view with mom) gives a simple age appropriate explanation of sexual intercourse.
For girls, at what age do you have them use tampons?
There is no inherent danger in using tampons at any age. It is a matter of the young girl’s comfort level. Review with your child that she needs to change them every 4 to 6 hours and not to use a tampon overnight.
Is it safe to give a 12 year old cramp reliever pain medication?
Yes, this is safe. Although as a general rule, many of the pre-teens/young teens do not experience many problems with cramps.
How do you discuss sex education, but emphasize to your children to wait to have sex?
Sex education is a much broader topic that covers health, communication skills, venereal disease, and contraception, to name a few. The real question about how to emphasize to child to wait to have sex is one that is addressed with your family values. What do you want your child to know? Why should they wait? And, until when?
One of the explanations that I use as a pediatrician when speaking to teens is the following:
“You will be a lot happier and a lot healthier if you waited until you were a young adult before you engaged in sexual activity. Sex is a wonderful part of your adult life but it takes responsibility and maturity since there are risks associated with it.”
As a parent you can use this and add your own family values and religious beliefs.
For younger children, Breezy Mama was also asked, “How do you explain to someone else’s child it’s not okay to flash or touch my own child?”
You do this by speaking directly to that child’s parents. You should also review what constitutes appropriate behavior with your own child. Again you can use the following conversation:
“Your private body parts are those parts of your body that are covered by your bathing suit. No one is allowed to touch you in your private body parts. And, you don’t touch other people in their private body parts either. If someone tries to touch you, you say “NO” and then make sure that you come and tell me or dad (or another trusted adult) right away.”
What’s your advice for handling someone else’s child inappropriate sexual behavior in general?
As noted above, you speak directly to that child’s parents. With young children, supervision during play time is usually sufficient to curtail inappropriate behavior. Along with this there has to be communication with the child as to what is acceptable and perhaps answer questions that the child may be having and therefore acting out during play time.
Now onto a touchy subject – masturbation. Yes, we know it’s perfectly normal, but how do you get across to a younger child where and when it’s okay to do?
This question comes up more often that you might imagine. I tell parents to use the following sentence: “It is OK to touch your private body parts but this should be done in the privacy of the bathroom or your bedroom.”
Most children will respond well to this guideline. If your child is masturbating excessively in lieu of playtime, then speak with your health care provider.
What sort of concerns could excessive masterbation be indicative of? In other words, what would the health care provider be looking into if this were a problem?
If a child is masturbating excessively, this could possibly be a sign of sexual molestation, inappropriate exposure to adult content material, or an underlying anxiety disorder, just to name a few areas of concern. Children’s behavior speaks volumes about their inner well being. Misbehavior or inappropriate behavior can reveal that something is not right with a child’s emotional world.
Can you be more specific about what constitutes excessive masterbation? I know a lot of moms have joked that once a child makes the discovery of their own privates, it can be a little too interesting at first. I’m concerned that this topic is going to raise red flags where completely appropriate behavior is concerned. So, again, what would be considered excessive?
Judging what is excessive masturbation is linked to what is age appropriate in normal childhood development. Preschoolers who just get potty trained – especially boys – find their genitals are no longer restricted by a diaper, and now in underwear, they have more opportunity to rub them. All of a sudden they discover the pleasure of touching themselves. Little girls ages 4 to 5 may also show curiosity regarding their “hidden private body part” during bath time, which is a great time to answer questions. All of this is normal childhood behavior, which, with a little guidance resolves itself or takes place behind closed doors in the child’s bedroom. It is nothing to worry about. However, if after offering your child some reminders, the activity intensifies, consult with your doctor.
At what age is it no longer appropriate for children to see their own parents naked? How do you explain to a child they are no longer allowed to play in the bathroom area while mom or dad is showering?
These are excellent questions, yet there is no one right answer. It is an intuitive sense that lets us know when the time is right, but here are some guidelines:
If your child is spending time staring at your or your spouse’s genitalia, tries to touch you, or has incessant questions about your naked body, then the time is now. Or if your child gets excessively silly and distracted during bath time with you, the time has come. Explain in a kind manner that all adults show respect for their private body parts and now it is his/her time to do the same.
You are the role model for your children.
As a general rule by the time children are in elementary school they enjoy taking on the responsibility of self care. Again, this is another step in the education of healthy sexuality.
Any other advice or tips you’d like to share with parents?
For children, the best teaching tool for healthy sexuality is your example as a parent and person. The way you enjoy being a female/male, the way you treat others and allow others to treat you, your values and principles… all of these unspoken messages are the foundation for your child’s healthy sexuality. For more information, I encourage parents to visit www.healthychats.com to download the free “The Birds and the Bees with Ease!” e-book.
Enjoy and have healthy chats with your children.
About Dr. de Freitas
Healthy Chats founder, Dr. Chrystal de Freitas is a pediatrician, author and mother of three children who has a special interest in health education. She completed her pediatric training at the University of Washington, in Seattle, WA, and has been in private practice for 22 years.
Want to continue to get in-depth parenting advice? Subscribe to Breezy Mama — it’s free! Click here.
I took my 10 year old to Dr. De Freitas’s Healthy Chats class and it was great! She really talked about many things that I wanted to talk to my daughter about regarding getting her period, etc., but in a more organized way and in a group setting that made the girls feel comfortable. I would really recommend that class to anyone with a daughter 9-11 years old.