I have been pondering on how to start this blog for a while now. How do I put two words in the same sentence that don’t sound right together? The mere thought of these words being in such close proximity to each other makes most people blush, gasp or call the police. But this is a very important subject that needs to be tactfully discussed. See my predicament?
I guess the best way to do it is just to get it over and done with. So here it goes… Let’s talk about the sexual awareness of a preschool child. (Covers face so as not to see the horrified expressions. Peeks through fingers. Okay, everyone is still calm. No sirens can be heard in the distance.) I think it’s safe to say that I can carry on.
This topic is as awkward as it is important to discuss. So I am going to lay down the basics for you. There will be frank talk and you may blush or cringe but once you begin to understand the ins and outs of it all, you might just realise that the ‘avoided’ subject is actually quite enlightening. So sit back, put your feet up, (unless you are reading this at work, then I wouldn’t recommend you put your feet up) and let’s delve a little bit deeper into what makes your little one the special person that they are.
Quite a while ago, people believed that children did not begin the journey to any form of sexual awareness until they hit puberty. Ha! If only they knew how wrong they actually were. And don’t get me started on puberty. Now that’s a word that should make you run for the hills. Did you know that girls can start going through puberty as young as 8 and boys at 9! Scary thought hey? Anyway, as children mature and get to know the body that they are in, they begin to discover that this body creates different sensations when touched in different places. They also start to take a keen interest in how their body differs from others. The ‘discovering my body’ expedition, with regards to touch sensations and what’s hidden under other’s clothing, starts from a very young age.
Children find pleasure and comfort in certain types of touches, just as adults do. There is a very important difference though. There are absolutely no sexual thoughts tango’ing through a child’s head when they touch their penis or vagina. It’s literally like rubbing their ear lobe or scratching an itch. I know you might find this a bit hard to wrap your mind around but a child views his or her body parts as, for lack of a better word, equal. It’s the adult that adds the sexual connotation to certain body parts and the exploration of them. Children don’t masturbate to orgasm either, it’s not the happy ending that they are after; it’s the immediate sensation that the touch brings about.
There might be a time in your child’s early childhood where a game of ‘doctor-doctor’ may drop to places below the belt. As embarrassing as it might be for the adult who walks in on the game, it’s merely a means to an end in satisfying the curiosity these youngsters have about why yours looks different to mine or; “Oh look! You have one too!”
How do you react in situations like this? When seeing your child playing peek-a-boo with their panties and a friend, or they start exploring down under while standing in line at Woolies; your gut instinct would be to freak out. Most parents do. Then you spend hours agonizing over how this came about!
What has your child been exposed to?
“That’s it! No more television/friends/school/contact with the outside world!”
In actual fact, what your child is doing is normal and you need to handle it like it is. It’s obvious that these types of shenanigans can’t happen in public. So the solution to this is to use this as an opportunity to teach your child about public (Woolies) and private (bedroom/bathroom) places. You should only touch private places on your body in private places in your house. Please don’t let them feel like what they are doing is dirty or shameful. That’s asking for a whole lot of trouble if they grow up thinking that it is. You do want grandchildren one day, don’t you?
Have you ever wondered why we give a penis and a vagina odd names? It’s not like we are in the habit of calling our nose a ‘sniffer’ in public so why on earth do we talk about his ‘willy’ or her ‘lilly’. And have you noticed how your voice drops a few decibels and becomes all squeaky when you talk about it? You want your children to be aware that their weewee and fanny are private areas with restricted access, but we don’t want them to think that there is something wrong with their tottie and blommetjie. So, every now and then, throw in the word penis and vagina. It has been said that using the proper terminology for your private parts will make children more likely to be able to share if something uncomfortable or abusive is happening to them. Incorrect terminology allows for misunderstanding and carries less weight in court. Did you just have an ‘Oh my gosh’ moment? Yip, this is serious stuff.
Not all sexual behaviour is normal in children though. There are a few red flags to look out for, and if these flags pop up, take note that they are waving frantically and take action. If abnormal sexual behaviour may occur, it might happen quite often and it’s hard to distract the child from what they are doing. If a child’s actions are causing emotional or physical pain to others or themselves, or they are behaving in a way that ends in aggression or involves forcing someone against their will, then you have a huge red flag right in front of you! Let’s say an older child, who is mentally sound of mind, forces younger children to take part in these acts, professional guidance will definitely be needed. Simulating adult sexual acts is also a no-no. So is putting objects in places they shouldn’t go, if you follow my drift, after the child has been warned of the dangers and implications. It basically boils down to the fact that if the behaviour is disruptive and continues in spite of you trying to distract them, or the behaviour hurts other children or themselves, you are most likely going to require expert help.
Abnormal sexual behaviour escalates and you do not want to go down that path. So nip it in the bud. There are people out there who have the correct training to deal with this. It’s not something to be embarrassed about. What’s more embarrassing would be to ignore those red flags and end up with problems that have BIG consequences.
On a lighter note let me finish off by saying that the fiddling that you see happening under the blankets or the peeking you see happening when friends are around is normal, within reason. React to the behaviour in as much of a positive manner as you can muster in your shocked/embarrassed momentary frame of mind and remember to remind them about private places. They are probably going to do it whether you want them to or not. Deal with each situation as it arises, whether it be to distract them or counsel them on appropriateness. Then pat yourself on the back for doing such a good job, because parenting is confusing, embarrassing and hard at the best of times, and you just dodged that curveball like a pro.