How to talk to your kids about sexWhen I was in my early 20s, I used to babysit for my neighbor's two daughters. One evening as my boyfriend and I stood talking to their parents, 4-year-old Emily joined in with a conversation stopper.
3. Your 2-year-old likes to watch you change your newborn's diapers. "What's that?" she asks, pointing at his penis. You say:
A: That's what's going to pee all over you if we don't get a diaper on it!
B: It's his penis. Boys have penises and girls have vaginas.
C: That's his pee-pee.
Answer: B. Even though most of us are still struggling with our inner Puritan, the wisest policy is to use the proper names for sexual organs right from the very beginning.
Toddlers want to be sure they have the same parts as everyone else, so it helps if everyone is using the same word. "From the time they're babies, we tell them, "This is your hand and these are your toes,'" says Karen Martin, a certified sex therapist and program coordinator of the Sexuality Center, Long Island Jewish Hospital, in Lake Success, New York. "Then we get to the genitals and start using these cop-out names like "pee-pee.' It's subtle, but the first message they get is that there's something peculiar about these parts of the body. We should be using correct terms."
4. You have an open-door bathroom policy while you potty train your almost 3-year-old. One day she asks if she can touch Daddy's penis. Dad should:
A. Scream, "Absolutely not!!"
B. Revoke the open-door policy immediately.
C. Say no, and calmly explain why she can't.
Answer: C. For a toddler, there's no difference between a foot, a neck, and a penis -- they're all just body parts. Nor do they understand why such a request might embarrass anyone; especially their parents.
"When a child asks about bodies, it can be quite awkward for parents. That can make it difficult for you to deal with the question matter-of-factly," says Martin. This is a good opportunity to start teaching your child about what's private. The standard definition is that everything a bathing suit covers is private -- and you can add that people don't usually show those private parts of their body outside the bathroom or let others touch them. (You can also add, except moms and dads when they need to clean you and doctors when they need to examine you.)
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