Birth to Age 2
From the time they are born, and until they are beginning to grasp the concept of language and communication, you should be teaching your child the proper labels for body parts.
This is important in case your little one needs to communicate issues or injuries involving those areas. It is recommended that proper terms, such as penis and vagina, are taught to children at a young age.
If using these terms makes you uncomfortable, be sure that any approximations you use are unique to that area and sound similar to the actual. For example, calling a vagina a “cookie” can be confusing for a child and cause miscommunications between a child and a trusted adult. Same goes with calling a penis a “bird” or “weiner”.
During this age there is no need for a sit down discussion on what these parts are called. You can incidentally teach these labels to your little one during diaper changes and baths.
By the age of 2, your child should have a basic understanding of privacy and know that it is not okay to show people their privates or allow others to touch them (except for trusted parents and doctors).
Ages 2 to 5
Before a child begins school, they should have a strong concept of consent when it comes to any form of physical contact, but especially with private areas. They should be capable of saying “no” to unwanted physical touch, including kisses and hugs.
As your little one begins school, there may be instances where curious kindergarteners are touching each other during play. These innocent games should not be chastised but a conversation should be had about who can touch their privates and why. Explain that only Mommy, Daddy and doctors can touch or look at their privates and only to check for ouchies.
During this age you may be getting the infamous “Where do babies come from?” series of questions. Simply provide your child with an age appropriate explanation.
When my daughter poses this question, I explain it like this: You need two parts to make a baby. Mommy had one part and Daddy gave her the other part. Then you grew in my belly.
As she ages, I will give her more specific labels such as sperm and egg. Until then, she is satisfied with this answer and, while vague, is accurate.
Also during this time your child is beginning to notice and recognize families and relationships. They may question single-parent families or same-sex couples. Again, being age appropriate when providing explanations is key.
Ages 6 to 8
With so many children able to navigate their parents smartphones and tablets, you need to be real vigilant during this period of your child’s development. As they gain more independence, they may be acquiring more privacy when it comes to online browsing.
Teach your child about internet safety and the importance of ignoring strangers online. Also be prepared to discuss the concept of pornography since, in all likelihood, they are probably going to see a little of it online.
Simply explain that what they saw is entertainment made for grown-ups by grown-ups. Make sure they know that pornography is not a reflection of real life relations between adults.
During this age you may walk in on a very private moment between your child and their nether-parts. They may become curious about touching themselves. The most important message to give your child is that it is perfectly okay – but it should be done in private and they should pay attention to their hygiene in those areas.
Ages 9 to 12
Get ready to talk about – Puberty!
Your child is getting ready to experience some major physical and emotional changes. The key here is to normalize these changes – assure your child that what they are experiencing is totally normal. Let them know that you are available to answer any questions they may have.
With the onset of puberty comes an interest and curiosity about sexual intercourse. They may begin to have relationships and begin to question what it means to experience physical intimacy. Prepare them for these urges by teaching them about safe sex and the risks associated with intercourse, such as pregnancy and infections. Discuss different options when it comes to birth control.
Up until this age, all those previous discussions about puberty and sex are going to establish a relationship of healthy and open communication between you and your child.
Now is the time to not be judgemental about sexual activity. Keep reinforcing the idea of safe sex and the consequences (both physical and emotional) of having sexual intercourse.
Emotionally, intercourse should be a connection between two people, but at a young age this idea of commitment is confusing and scary. There may be feelings of regret or withdrawal following physical intimacy that may be difficult for your teenager to deal with.
Also, your teenager should have a clear idea of what consent in a relationship is and how they can protect themselves against relationship violence. Overall, your child should be encouraged to follow their gut feelings and act upon their instincts if they feel something is wrong.