Starting the SRH-Talks: Ages 0-5

Starting the SRH-Talks: Ages 0-5

2020-07-02

Talking About SRH: It’s Not Just One Conversation

Confused about when to start the SRH-talks? Don’t worry! We got you.

We’ve put together a series of age-by-age guide articles to help you navigate the discussion. They are by no means exhaustive, but rather, a starting point. The details you go in to depend on your child’s needs, questions and current level of comprehension. Gently introduce new topics and always ask your child what their understanding and feelings are.

The Very Beginning: 0-2 Years

Yes, you read that right – babies need SRH education too. This doesn’t mean talking about the ins and outs of reproduction – here, a child needs to be given the basic knowledge regarding genitals, their functions and how to explore them. The main aim is to normalize talking about body parts and nudity, not only to set the groundwork for future conversations but develop confidence with one’s body.

  • Correct anatomical words for genitals: Penis, testes, vagina, vulva – all of them! Point these parts out during changing and bath time. These are parts of your child’s body, just like their limbs, eyes and nose. It is important that your child knows the correct words for these areas, so that if anything is wrong and they are in pain, they can tell you.
  • The functions of body parts: Urine and poo – the works! Talking about down there is often seen as being “vulgar” and “crass”, due to the associations with sexual and reproductive processes. These areas are approached with a “hush hush” However, they aren’t just for reproduction – they are also involved in ridding our bodies of waste. Discuss the normal textures and colors – so your child knows when to tell you if something isn’t right.
  • Gender & Genitals: Children develop an understanding of gender and the differences between each, early on. It is important to educate on the different types of genitals, while also being mindful of establishing the fact that gender identity is not determined by genitals. Use inclusive, gender-neutral language such as: “people with penises” and “people with vaginas”.
  • Nudity & Touching: Babies often like to roam around in their diapers. Here it is important to teach them when and where being nude is acceptable eg. while changing, bathing or in private. It is normal for toddlers to touch themselves – if you see your child doing so, instead of reprimanding them, calmly explain when it is appropriate to do so. Again, normalizing these topics helps to promote a positive self-image in the future, any negative reactions to a child’s actions can unintentionally teach children to associate “shame” with their bodies.
  • The Beginning of Boundaries: initial conversations on boundaries and consent need not be very complex. Reinforce the idea of needing to receive or give permission to touch, by asserting your own boundaries – telling your child “please ask me before sitting on my lap” or saying “I don’t feel like playing this game right now”. Of course, it is important to remain gentle and calm the entire time – anger will result in your child associating even basic acts of intimacy and love with punishment. Tie in this conversation with the topic of nudity, and explain to your child that no one should be touching their genitals, unless in certain situations eg. you are bathing them.

3-5 Years

At this age, children may become more intrigued by the idea of pregnancy and babies. “Where do babies from from?” is a question many children begin to ask. Here it is important not to jump to conclusions: don’t panic and think oh god, my child is asking me about s-e-x. Children at this age are more concerned about whether babies really do grow in tummies where food is. Always ask your child what they’ve heard about the topic, to establish where their curiosity is coming from and what their current understanding is. Build on that, while being careful not to overshare – stick to the facts and to the original question. Regularly revisit conversations to reinforce topics and ask your child about their understanding and feelings. You want to establish yourself as their main source of information, someone they can talk to about anything.

  • Reinforce Anatomy: Build on previous knowledge of the anatomy and functions of genitals. Explain what the uterus is and its function in pregnancy. Briefly acknowledge eggs and sperm and simply state how they ‘meet’ to form a baby. Create a familiarity with the idea of reproduction, the organs involved and the differences between people’s bodies.
  • Birth Stories: when explaining where babies come from, it may be helpful to tell your child about their own birth story, tailored to your family. If you’re a part of or surrounded by many non-traditional families – your child will pick up on it. Even if that isn’t the case, it is important to highlight that there are “many ways of having a baby” and that this is something that adults Let them know you’ll add more details later. The important thing is not to lie and not to reinforce the idea of there being one ‘normal’ way to do things.
  • Build on Body Autonomy: Continue conversations on consent and boundaries. Establish that your kids have control over their bodies and they decide when to let someone touch them. Highlight that no one should be touching their genitals, and that if such an incidence does or has occurred, they can tell you. It is important to emphasize that you are there to support them, not to punish or get angry. Children need to understand that their bodies are private, and that there are situations in which it is okay for someone to look and touch their bodies e.g. a doctor’s appointment and instances when it is absolutely not e.g someone telling them to keep a secret about touching them. Privacy and limits with regards to genitals and touching is vital to a child’s safety.