Today was no different than any other day.
That is, until I picked her up and saw all the kids sitting ever so nicely in front of another teacher (not Dahlia's) while she held up two dolls.
Both dolls were naked, and one was clearly a boy doll and the other was a girl. She held the dolls up while all the little eyes glared at her, and she said loudly "This one is a boy because he has a pipi. Do you see the difference between these two dolls? Who can tell me what is the difference between a boy and a girl?"
My jaw dropped
when I stopped and listened to what she was teaching them. Why? Well, this class consisted of children ages 2 to 3 years old. Many obviously didn't understand where the teacher was going because when she asked what made boys different to girls, some kids started to scream "The leg! The leg". Clearly, however educational this teacher's intention was, the point was not coming across. I didn't say anything to her, I guess firstly because I was a bit stupefied at what I heard and saw, but also because I had just arrived at the beginning of this "life lesson", and Dahlia was all the way in the back, distracted by toddlerhood.
I got home and posted what I had just experienced on Facebook
and within a few minutes, I had a comment already. One of sheer disbelief. Why don't you just read it for yourself...
There were many opinions about the propriety of this teacher's actions, and the discussion eventually led into the direction of who's territory it is anyway, to educate a child about their genitals. It also gravitated into the direction of age-propriety and as with many hot topics, there were many differing but very respectful viewpoints.
So when does sex-ed start and who should initiate it?
I cautiously withheld my opinion on Facebook because I really wanted to know what other parents thought, and also because my opinion was coming here.
Here's the deal. To be honest, I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all age that applies to every child where this topic is concerned, but before we start talking about when, let's talk about why.
Why should I talk to my young child about penises, and vulvas?
Sorry to break it to you, but, when you became a parent, this came in the job description. Just like that annoying co-worker trying to shove that one annoying, painstaking task off on you each time, many parents have failed to fill the role of sex-educator. Instead, they push it off on teachers, Family Planning organizations, schools and even their children's peers, all for the sake of being a prude. This has to change for several reasons;
- Human Sexuality is part of life, and curiosity of such is a normal and healthy part of development
- If you don't talk to your child, someone else will, and chances are, your kid won't hear factual or appropriate information
- To protect your child
Human Sexuality is part of life, and curiosity of such is a normal and healthy part of development
Have you ever seen a baby discover he has hands, or wait, the best one, feet! This self-realization fascinates the human baby to such an extent, that for some days, and even weeks, all they can do is play and obsess about that foot. Sucking on it, looking at it, playing, twiddling and fiddling with it. Curiosity about our genitals is no different. After all, a penis or vagina is simply an organ, a sex organ true, but it remains an organ much like our liver, lungs and brain.
Interest in genitals can arise at any age in a child, or a manifestation of interest can not be shown at all. So because of this, there is no standard age that kids should get "the first talk". Dahlia mentions her genitals, but only if she's showering or on the toilet. She doesn't talk or obsess about it outside of those places, but I do know kids who do mention their genitals in their day-to-day dealings. One day, when I picked up Dahlia from daycare (here we go again) I met up with a 3 1/2 year old boy in her class proclaiming loudly "I have a penis! I have a penis!" over and over and over again. When the teacher finally paid attention to what he was announcing to the world, she scolded him for uttering such a thing, and he quickly stopped. Yes little boy, you do have a penis, but, here's the thing, I don't want to be walking in a crowded supermarket one day when Dahlia decides to shout at the top of her lungs "I HAVE A PENIS!". I'd prefer to avoid that
please-make-the-ground-open-up-and-swallow-me-now situation. Thank-you.
As I was saying. It's not dirty that a child realizes he has a sex-organ. To him it's just like a finger (for lack of a better illustration). It's how we react to his interest that can influence and affect his view on genitals, sex, and the right context. How have/would you react if your son or daughter asked you what a penis, or vagina/vulva was? Did/would you clam up and distract his attention away from his question? Would you break out the juice and cookies and have a man-to-man talk about the birds and the bees? Or have/would you simply answer the question, and gauge his interest and curiosity to see how much he knows and wants to know (of course, in an age appropriate manner.)
If you don't talk to your child, someone else will, and chances are, your kid won't hear factual or age-appropriate information
I decided long ago that I would speak to my child, at an early age, about his/her genitals. I would teach my child that girls have a vulva, and boys have a penis. Yes, I know the boy in school says it's a 'pipi' or the girl called it a 'nunu', but the real word for it is, penis and vulva. Why should I euphemize a body part? Because it's 'dirty', or 'taboo'? I for one don't think so. When we sugar coat, genitals, or the act of intercourse, we instill a shame of a natural act that has a time and place. If we shut down when it comes time to talk about these things, our children, whether child or teen, will get the hint that we are just too embarrassed to talk about it, which will in turn make them feel dirty for wanting to ask naturally occurring questions. Get over how you were raised, your hang-ups because how you feel about this can forever affect your child, for good or for bad.
Which brings me to my next point
To protect your child
Remember when I mentioned how I would raise my future child? Here's where the important part lays, I would teach him/her that his genitals are parts that no-one should touch, only mommy or daddy. Doctors may touch, only if mommy says it's o.k. And what about if someone who isn't allowed to see or touch those parts did so? Well, you tell me or your dad, right away. But firstly, you tell the person firmly, NO!
Children are more likely to be abused if they are not taught, from a very young age, what is correct and what isn't when it comes to their genitals. Children are all too easy prey for the perverted teen or adult seeking to "educate" the child what to do with those parts. Safeguard your children. Take the time to assess your own feelings about sex, and about talking about it with your child. Talk to your partner, what is his/her view on the matter? Is it something you've concluded both of you should do, at the same time? Separately? Only one parent will discuss it? These are things you need to consider before you start having kids.
Have practice sessions. Sit your child down, (perhaps preemptively or immediately following the question, depending on the situation) and let them ask or share with you what they know/heard. Remember, the older the child is, the more sense they have, the slower you should be about speaking or answering. With a young child, it's best to keep these sessions brief focusing on quick main points, and repeating it for emphasis. Don't underestimate the efficacy of repetition. Just like a child needs to be taught over and over which color is blue and which color is green, so should you be in educating your child, what actions are appropriate and what actions aren't, it's just more likely to stick that way.
Who should be the one responsible for sex-ed?
Honestly, I sincerely think it starts at home. A parent is responsible for teaching his/her child educational and protective measures. But because it may deal with sex, everybody is up in arms whenever the words sex-ed are mentioned. Some feel that a teacher has no right to sit and talk about this stuff with their child at all, yet some feel it's o.k as long as the parents were notified. I must admit, I'm glad I heard the teacher and her mini- "lesson" because Dahlia may have well come home and asked me "Mama, what is a pipi?" and I would be up most of the night wondering where on earth she heard that word from?!
What if a parents refuses, either outrightly or passively, to educate his/her child? Then I certainly think it may be beneficial, with parental consent of course, to teach the child age-appropriate information about his genitals, always encouraging him to go to his parents first whenever he feels like asking a question about that topic. You don't want to take over a parent's duty, but you also want to be discerning enough to detect an urgent need for this kind of information. You never know, it might protect that child one day.
All in all, I think this incident opened my eyes to the reality that my baby, is not an infant anymore. She is nearly three years old, and she's becoming very aware of everything around her.
I'm also going to nicely speak to the head of the school to see what's up with the spontaneous sex-ed? A little heads up next time would be appreciated.