Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sex-Ed for... Day Care/ Pre-school ?

Dahlia has been going to one of the best day cares/ pre-schools on the island since the (way too young) age of 3 months. This is the same day care that I have gone to, my older brother, even my nearly 40-year-old cousin went there. In any case, Dahlia is now a few days away from turning 3 years old and there isn't a dull day if Dahlia's around. I usually pick her up from school around 5 pm and most of the kids play around until their parents pick them up.

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. 


  1. Hi Wendy,
    nice topic to discuss! I think in a lot of what you are writing here you are right, for example, that it's good to talk about your kid about this topic in an early age. I looked op some information about the topic that might make you think about some things. The information is all from specialist who did research about children sexuality. Most of the information I got from the GGD (that's the dutch organization that informs people of healthcare).

    In the age between 2 and 4 years your kids will discover themselves and each other and be curious.
    In this exploring there are some ground rules that parents and teachers will have to make sure will be followed.
    *the age difference between kids cannot be to big. * there must be no manipulation or forcing. * There cannot be anything pushed inside the anus or vagina. * Not one kid against a group of kids.
    (most of the rules are not special, they are rules that are necessary to learn in all games and social situations, some kids can go to far and make a mistake in that, they are still learning, so you'll have to watch and guide them, just like you do when they are playing house.)

    Also its good to read the following:
    Kids play sexual games, they make drawings of private parts, make jokes about it and (sneaky) look at other kids/adults undress themselves. It are expressions of there own sexuality and curiosity. It's not always fun (for us) but it does give them the change to develop there sexuality.
    * make sure your kids don't experience there sexual feelings as something that is not good or inappropriate. Don't punish them for experimenting.
    * Kids do have sexual feelings and often express this in games. If you forbid them to play these they will play them secretly (so you/the teacher is not there to supervise!) Sexual feelings will get a secretive, mysterious character.
    * the sexual games are age-related. They peak between the age of 3 and 6. Then they will get less, or stop.

    - In the age of 2-4 years kids are in a fase that they will like to explore the difference between boys and girls they want to feel there own parts and see each other parts.
    - In the age 4-6 they kids go further in exploring, they play doctor for example.
    - 6-8 kids are more aware of what's appropriate. They will not show there private parts in public anymore, or touch each other. In this age the first feelings of falling in love can develop.
    8-10 The kids are showing role behavior. Girls are acting like girly girls and boys as cool guys.
    10-12 beginning of puberty. Kids get interested in grown up sexuality. Boys can have there first ejaculation and girls can start to menstruate.

    In this content I can totally understand a teacher learning kids (with dolls) about there private parts. It's age appropriate and fits with the interest of 2 to 4 years old kids. If there are kids that are not interested (yet) they will pay less attention, and maybe ask for it on a later time.

    I think also that the teacher might know about this development of kids, and keep it with just naming and showing the difference between the private parts of kids. Maybe it's a good idea to ask for the reason for giving this little lesson. I know parents and schoolteachers can follow classes in children sexuality on Aruba. I once got invited for one of those classes.

  2. Oeps, sorry for the spelling and grammar mistakes, English is not my first language as you can see.

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