Have children in your care ever taken off their clothes? Have you ever wondered if a child is too interested in sex? Do children in your care use slang words for their body parts or bodily functions? You are not alone! These are difficult situations faced by many childcare providers.
It can help if you understand children’s sexual development. Sexual development can be uncomfortable and confusing for children and adults. Sometimes adults wonder if a child’s sexual behavior is normal. They want to give children information, but not too much. It also is hard to know how to balance parent beliefs and provider beliefs about sex.
Children develop at different rates, but there are some actions that seem to be common at certain ages. Adults may have different values, but there are some things that all adults can do to help children achieve healthy sexual development. The information in this article can help you better understand childhood sexual development. Also, you may learn how to work better with children and parents on issues of sexual development.
Several articles in Provider-Parent Partnerships
deal with the topic of sex in different ways. This article talks about
develop and how they understand their bodies. Another article deals
with how children understand gender, or the
roles that boys and girls play. A third covers talking to children about
sexuality, such as where
babies come from.
Birth to 2 years
Early in their lives, children begin to recognize that there is a difference between being male or female. Children learn that some differences are related to body parts, but when children learn about boys and girls, they learn more than body differences. Children form their identities early and realize that there are expectations related to their gender. Society teaches children very early about gender roles and how they should or should not act. Often, from the time children are born, parents buy different toys for their sons and daughters. Some parents decorate children’s rooms differently for boys and girls.
2-5 years old
Boys and girls both masturbate as a natural way of exploring their bodies. Children may masturbate more between the ages of two and five than later in childhood. At this age, masturbating often helps children relax and feel calm. It helps if parents and providers make rules with children about when and where these behaviors are okay. However, if adults make too many rules, children may become ashamed of their bodies.
Children at this age will begin to use language to name their body parts and bodily functions. It is important to teach the correct words for body parts and functions. For example, they should know the words “vagina,” “vulva,” and “penis.” They should know “urinate” and “bowel movement” also. Children may be more comfortable using slang words, but it is also important for them to know the correct terms. Slang words are often confusing and may mean different things to different people. And children could be embarrassed when they do not know the right words. Children need to be able to talk to doctors, teachers, and other caregivers.
6-9 years old
Children often become curious about sexuality as they begin to go through these physical changes. They might show this curiosity in the ways they play with others. Some children may want to show other children their underwear or private parts. Some may try to see others’ bodies. It is still normal through these years for children to explore their bodies through masturbation.
Children learn a lot about sexuality through
these years. They also learn much more about what it means to be a boy
or a girl. Also, children may start using sexual terms to insult each
other. Sexual language is also used more at this age, to call others names
or to show others what they know. Children at this age usually understand
the secrecy that surrounds sexuality as well as what behavior is appropriate
in public. Adults can help children learn to use respectful and appropriate
During these times of rapid change, children
often have questions about the physical changes their bodies are going
through. It can be hard for adults to discuss these things. The young
people start looking grown up, but they are still children. Young people
also feel embarrassed. But it is good both for children and adults to
talk about sexuality. Children at this age can gain a clearer understanding
of sexuality through exploration and education.
To deal with sexuality
issues in your childcare program, share some information about the stages
of sexual development with the parents. Talk with them about the words
they use or the things that are important to them. Share with parents
the experiences you have had with their children. Work together to help
the children grow into healthy sexual people.
For more information, contact Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please feel free to link to, print off, redistribute, or reprint any of these materials as long as the original credits remain intact.
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