The Pre-School Years
Though we have separated this resource into sections by age, this is far from a static breakdown. All children are different and it’s most important to educate them based on their own personal growth. Your children may ask questions, run into sexual or social problems or may become sexually active earlier or later that you expect, so you are welcome to skip ahead or go back to sections to find the relevant advice. We all learn and grown at our own rate and so these designations are meant to be guidelines, not rules.
How Early is Too Early?
Some may balk at the idea of discussing sex with kindergartener, but there are many ways to have age-appropriate conversations about sex and the human body with children of all ages. With very young children, it is a good idea to talk about body parts and how they work. Differences between male and female bodies as well as how they grow are also topics which many young children are curious about. They see these issues in their everyday lives through comparisons of their bodies to their peers and those of the adults around them.
As your child grows older you can introduce other age-appropriate topics such as puberty, dating, birth control, sexually transmitted infections.
This is a good time to discuss what appropriate bodily interactions are and how a child can recognize and react to unwanted attention or touching. Setting physical boundaries is important for children to learn so they can begin to navigate their physical relationships with peers, their family and other adults. It is helpful to compare examples of inappropriate or unhealthy attention or touching (basically anything that makes you feel angry, sad or uncomfortable) to interactions that are wanted (a hug from a parent or a doctor listening to their heartbeat). Be sure to instill the idea in your child that their body is their own and no matter what, they decide what to do with it and who can and cannot interact with it. Teach that "No" always means "No", never "Yes" or "Maybe Later." Respect these boundaries yourself. If your child doesn't want to give their great-aunt a hug because they say she smells like tuna fish, don't make them. Ask them if they would prefer to shake her hand instead. Remind your child that these boundaries apply to their peers as well; they shouldn't interact with their friends or teachers in ways that might may them feel uncomfortable.
Use Correct Language
Always use the correct language when describing human anatomy and sex. Use words like "vagina," "penis," "erection" and "uterus." Nicknames or slang words can confuse young children, especially when their peers have different names for the same body part. When they grow older, not using correct language can make learning about sex more difficult or embarrassing, as they must struggle re-learn the right names for body parts or sexual acts. If you don't know the correct name for a sexual act or body part or you are confused as to how a biological procedure occurs (and you're probably not alone in this!), do research and find out.