Age of Un-Innocence

Confronting difficult topics with kids

Your Six Year-Old and the Sex Talk

And You Thought It Was Just Child Play

         Ice cream soda, Delaware punch, What is the name of your honeybunch?

So goes the jump-roping rhyme of little schoolgirls.  Another common childhood rhyme follows:

         [Girl’s name] and [boy’s name] sitting in a tree

         K–i–s–s–i–n–g.

         First comes love, then comes marriage,

         Then comes baby in the baby carriage.

Such rhymes, sung out during playground games, show that children start wondering about and piecing together connections between love, sex, and their consequences even before puberty.

This wasn’t always thought to be the case. Sigmund Freud proposed a theory that between age 6 and puberty, children have no sexual feelings. This theory of “latency” is still accepted by many parents, possibly because it puts their minds at ease.

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It took Freud’s daughter, Anna Freud, to prove that her father’s theory was not entirely accurate. By conducting extensive analyses of data on children’s games, sports, entertainment, and interactions, her research team found plenty of evidence for sexual curiosity and budding awareness of sex—expressed directly in games and jump rope rhymes.

While your children may not be as blunt in asking about “private” things at age 6, don’t think their curiosity is on hiatus. Rather, your children have started to learn that sex is a somewhat “private” topic at the same time as they start to develop more social self-awareness and monitoring skills.

Instead of worrying—or feeling relief—that those questions aren’t in the air, it may be time to tune your parental radar and start to admire the creativity our children have in finding ways to satisfy their curiosity through games, humor, and other socially acceptable forms of exploration. We need to be aware of how sexually charged life is, even for kids still young enough to be playing playground games—and to be supportively guiding their development.

What can I expect from my primary school child?

•   Aware of physical differences between sexes.

•   Identifies gender stereotypes.

•   Expresses desire for privacy.

•   Uses playful words for sexual behavior.

•   Openly shares observations of sexuality with parents and peers.

With primary school kids, parents should NOT:

•   Avoid discussions about sex.

•   Miss what kids try to communicate verbally and nonverbally in play.

•   Present poor models of relating and interacting with others.

•   Permit your child to bully or be bullied.

•   Speak above your child’s head about sexual topics and miss an opportunity for genuine connection.

•   Let children interact with those whose values you do not endorse.

•   Permit children unmonitored media or Internet access.

Recommended activities:

•   Discuss positive models of healthy relating and behavior. Talk about their satisfaction in their friendships and how they may improve their relationships with others.

•   Build a positive environment where your children may share concerns and grievances with you.

•   Establish a two-way respectful dialogue and make time to talk.

•   Discuss news events or school situations to get your children’s perspective and help them make sense of the world.

•   Practice responses to life situations they may confront on the school bus, playground, or in the locker room.

•   Listen to your children so you can understand the trends and forces that shape their lives in the school community and greater culture.

•   Come up with role-playing situations together or discuss various scenarios that require them to use judgment and make decisions (such as responding to an inappropriate gesture from a friend or bully).

•   Provide special time to talk about “stuff” and always love them.

 

 

John Chirban, Ph.D, Th.D., is a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School.

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