If you have already read Part 1 of Early Childhood: Sexual Behavior, you know that two very big topics were left to Part 2: How to promote healthy boundaries and communication with trusted adults, and What you (the parent) should do when something is troubling regarding your child's sexual behaviors. Since these topics can be quite broad and lengthy, we will go over them superficially and generally. For more in-depth information, please visit any of the links listed throughout this article.
Healthy Boundaries & Open Communication
Boundaries can sometimes be a tricky subject to explain to children since it is an abstract concept, meaning there are no visible "lines" to mark these kinds of boundaries. When teaching this, you can explain it as body safety for oneself and others. Defend Innocence and the American Academy of Pediatrics list a few things to remember during your conversation with your children, delineated below.
Each item listed above can bring about several follow up questions, from both parents and children. For example, "Give a Solid Rule" is described by the American Academy of Pediatrics, in the same article listed above, as teaching your children that no one is allowed to view or touch their private parts. With each new year of development, children's brains are able to comprehend certain things. About Kids Health explains what children should be able to understand at different ages, and what words or topics children should know for their age. Please review the aforementioned articles for extra ideas and clarity throughout your preparation and process of teaching your children!
When ending any sort of conversation, especially one that can be as confusing or thought-provoking for a child as this one, a great way to encourage further communication and their trust in you is by stating something along the lines of, "I know this can be confusing, or that you might have questions after today, so just know you can always come talk to me when those questions or confusing emotions come up." If you've been able to get to this point, that is a wonderful indicator of your child's trust in you! Remember, communication and trust are reinforced in daily moments between you and your child. To continue to foster a safe and open atmosphere for your children, Virginia State University shares a few simple and easy ways to have positive communication with young children. Some key tips are:
- Communicate on the same level as the child.
- Talk with - not at - children.
- Keep lines of communication open by listening attentively when the child talks to you.
Beyond learning reliable information from you, children need to feel that they can turn to you with scary thoughts or experiences. Though we all hope it never happens, sexual abuse can happen, and families need to have strong bonds and lines of communication to develop resilience to overcome and heal from traumatic events.
Troubling Sexual Behaviors
Knowing the typical behaviors and educating children on boundaries and communication are not the end of this topic. In fact, they are the solid foundation for a healthy understanding of sexual behaviors and development for children. But what happens if you see something out of the typical range of behaviors? The American Academy of Pediatrics states:
Parents also need to know when a child's sexual behavior appears more than harmless curiosity. Sexual behavior problems may pose a risk to the safety and well-being [of] your child and other children and can signal physical or sexual abuse or exposure to sexual activity.
If any troubling or atypical sexual behaviors arise, it is best to speak with your child's pediatrician to receive the support and insight needed to understand certain behaviors and to know what steps to take next. Because each situation is unique and sensitive, speaking with an expert that is familiar with your child's health can be beneficial in attending to your concerns, along with helping you and your family receive the emotional and physical supports and services needed.
If your child tells you about something that happened to them, be sure to listen attentively, take their disclosure seriously, and let them know they are not responsible for what happened. It might be necessary to disclose this information to your local authorities before contacting your pediatrician, though both your child's pediatrician and local authorities need to be contacted.
We hope that upon reading this post, parents feel that they are more knowledgeable about their child's typical sexual development and behaviors, as well as prepared to answer questions and take appropriate action when they observe concerning behaviors in their child. Help Me Grow Utah knows that this can be a sensitive and confusing topic for any parent, and we strive to be a source of reliable information and referrals for families seeking answers! Though we do not provide direct services, know that you are always welcome to contact us with any of your questions, and we'll be happy to help you navigate to the right road to take.