'Sexuality and parenting' is a topic that gives many parents a headache. When do you start this? And how do you lead by example? What do you and don't you tell your children? From what age do you provide what information?
All questions that are probably familiar to you. I am grateful to my parents for the upbringing I had, but unfortunately little was said about sexuality. When I was eleven I found an 'information booklet' on my bed. I remember that the information in the booklet confused me and I didn't really dare to ask questions about it. When I became a mother myself, I thought this really had to be different.
For me too it was a process of searching, experiencing and making mistakes. I remember well that my son (then four) was in the bath with his sister and was looking very curious at her genitals. When he then wanted to touch it, I immediately took him out of the bath and punished him.
In hindsight, I wish I had handled this differently. Children are curious by nature and you should not immediately punish that, but see it as a starting point to talk to them and explain. After a conversation with my brother-in-law who then worked in youth care, he gave me a copy of a 'flag system' in which you could see what can be considered healthy sexual behavior in children and what cannot. This incident fell under the green flag, but you are still 'shocked' when it happens and you don't really know what to do with it.
Even when children are still young and uninhibited, you can already explain in a very simple way about their own sexuality and how it interacts with others. A simple example is whether or not your children give grandpa and grandma a kiss on the mouth. There is no right or wrong, but it is important that your child is given space and learns to indicate his own limits.
As your children get older, you grow with them and you can add more and more (explicit) information. I see the importance of that even more now. We were able to have a conversation with our son a few years ago, but now that he is thirteen and at the start of his puberty, it appears that he is no longer so open to a conversation. The standard response now is, "Yeah, I've known that for a long time."
Our daughter is now nine. This summer I discovered for the first time that there are already some physical developments going on with her. I had not expected this for a long time. In recent years I have had conversations with her more often about how her body works and what she can expect in the transition from child to woman.
Really, every girl goes through this development and gets breasts, pubic hair, gets her first period, etc. I'm glad I can talk to her about that and that her sex education doesn't depend on whether or not she understands a book. I promised her that she can always come to me with all her questions and hope that we can continue to have many more of these mother-daughter conversations together. And that son of ours… It will be really good with that!
Do you find it difficult to talk to your child about sexuality? Arjet Borger has written a very nice book that you can read with your child: Saar and Job talk about sexuality.