Talk to toddlers about anatomy and sex

Dear Mayo Clinic: I have two children — a 3-year-old son and a newborn daughter. My son is beginning to be more aware of his anatomy, touching his genitals and asking about his sister. He is aware that her anatomy is different from him. He also asked how she got in and out of my body. Do you have any advice on the best way to answer his question and deal with any other curiosity that may result?

Answer: Sex education often begins with curiosity about the child’s body. Here’s how to get ready for sex education and how to answer your child’s questions.

Sex education is a topic that many parents want to avoid. If you have young children, you may think they are off-hook for at least a while. However, this is not always the case, especially because of questions raised during recent pregnancies.

Generally speaking, sex education can be started at any time, but it’s best to let the children set the pace of their questions.

Early exploration

As children learn to walk and talk, they also begin to learn about their bodies. Open the door to sex education, perhaps by teaching your child the proper name of the genitals while taking a bath. You can incorporate information to answer your son’s question about his sister.

If he points to a part of the body, simply tell him what it is. This is also a good time to talk about which parts of the body are private.

Don’t laugh, laugh, or be shy when your child asks questions about your body, or your body. We take your questions at face value and provide direct age-appropriate answers. If your child wants to know more, they ask.

Expect self-stimulation

Many toddlers express their natural sexual curiosity through self-stimulation. Boys may pull the penis and girls may rub the genitals. Tell the children that masturbation is a normal private activity.

If your child begins to masturbate in public, try to distract them. If that fails, set your child aside for a reminder about the importance of privacy.

Sometimes frequent masturbation can indicate a problem. Perhaps the children are anxious or are not paying enough attention at home. It can even be a sign of sexual abuse.

Tell your child that you are not allowed to touch your private parts without permission. If you are worried about your child’s behavior, talk to your healthcare provider.

Curiosity for others

By the age of three or four, children often find that boys and girls have different genitals. As your son noticed, his sister is different. It is worth giving a brief explanation such as “The body of a boy and the body of a girl are made differently”.

When natural curiosity develops, you may play doctors or examine the genitals of other children. Such explorations are far from adult sexual activity and are harmless if only young children are involved, but as a family issue it is advisable to limit such explorations. ..

Every moment is the key

Sex education is not a single argument that speaks for itself. Instead, take advantage of daily opportunities to discuss sex.

For example, if your family is pregnant, tell your child that your baby will grow up in a special place called the mother’s womb. If your child wants to know more about how the baby got there or how the baby was born, please provide those details.

Consider the following example.

• How does a baby get into mom’s tummy? You might say, “Mom and dad hug each other in a special way to make a baby.”

• How are babies born? For some children, it may be enough to say, “Doctors and nurses help babies who are ready to be born.” If your child wants to know more, he might say, “Usually the mom pushes the baby out of the vagina.”

As your child matures and asks more detailed questions, you can provide more detailed answers. Answer specific questions using the correct terminology.

If you feel uncomfortable, go ahead. Remember that you are setting the stage for open and honest discussions over the next few years.

— Edited by Mayo Clinic staff

Generally speaking, sex education can be started at any time, but it’s best to let the children set the pace of their questions.



Talk to toddlers about anatomy and sex

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