Value their innocence while teaching them to respect the human body.by Grace Ketterman
My friend Florence called me one day in a panic. She had just discovered her 5-year-old daughter Lana with her playmate Nate from next door with their clothes off. They were busily looking at and gently touching each other's genitals. Florence was horrified, but somehow refrained from scolding them until we could talk.
Her story revealed some very useful facts:
I told Florence to sit down in the shade with both children, share a snack and have a talk with them. Explain calmly that you understand they were curious, I told her, but that sometimes curiosity can get us in trouble, just like it got Curious George, the monkey in the delightful children's books, in trouble.
I encouraged her to tell them that some things are supposed to be private, including the body parts we cover, so even if a person asks if they can see those body parts, tell them no, and don't let them show theirs, either.
Then, I finished, ask them if they have any questions, and move on to other topics. Read them the book, Curious George, or tell a story from your own childhood when you did something impulsive that caused a problem for you.
I warned Florence about stifling the children's truly healthy curiosity, which is a priceless quality that moves us to explore, learn and grow in knowledge. Yet, like the rest of life, curiosity must be balanced with consideration and caution.
"This sort of innocent curiosity should not create guilt," I said. "Guilt can put a stop to purposefully mean or naughty behavior — which this is not. Be careful to avoid making the kids feel ashamed, but do observe their play more closely. Help them find active, creative projects and games. I predict you'll have no more problems." Fortunately, that was true.
Remember that neglect can be a form of abuse. Had Florence failed to constructively take charge of this situation, both children might have become focused on and fascinated with their sexual selves. Or, had she scolded and shamed them, she could have dumped needless guilt on them with its far-reaching damage. Fortunately, she did neither; she found balance in her approach.
Let me offer one more illustration:
Four-year-old Elsie was enrolled in a clean, light and colorful preschool. The play areas were well equipped and lovingly supervised. The staff were trained, kind and seemed to have earned both the love and the respect of the children. Only one area somehow had escaped the careful supervision of the staff — the restrooms.
One day Elsie skipped innocently down the hall to the girls' restroom, where she was surprised to find two other girls with their panties down. They were looking at and touching each other's sexual parts with some intensity. Both of them insisted that she join them in their exciting new play activity. At first, Elsie tried to leave, but the girls, both bigger than she, insisted that she play with them. Finally the little girl joined them briefly, but she was relieved at the approach of footsteps, when the girls hurriedly dressed. No one else saw what had happened.
At that time, Elsie was living with her loving grandparents. She trusted them completely and told her grandmother exactly what had taken place. Her wise grandparents responded well and did three significant things that helped Elsie.
They quietly observed Elsie's conduct with friends, and supervised her closely for some weeks. Finally, they realized she had forgotten the episode and seemed to be restored to her wholesome self.
When sexual encounters in childhood are associated with fear or pain and the child has no confidant, he or she may have sexual problems as an adult.
Teach your child to respect the human body
Part of giving your child a healthy attitude about sex means teaching him or her to respect the body. The best way to do that is by example. Tease and tickle only in appropriate ways, not by pinching buttocks. Never tease a child when he or she asks you to stop or seems uncomfortable.
Play hard, wrestle some and cuddle, but remember that each part of the human body has a special purpose. Hands are for creating and doing tasks. Mouths are for talking and eating. The genitals are for excretion and ultimately for reproduction. They are not for finding excitement through the exploitation of a child.
Most people were horrified by the melee in Central Park in New York City. Some 50 young women were horribly mistreated and sexually abused in full view of the public, and no one came to the rescue of the victims.
A major part of the tragedy lies in the conduct of some of the young women. They were dressed provocatively, and initially they laughed and joined in the "fun." But then the conduct of the young men got out of control. A "mob spirit" surged through the crowd and tragic atrocities were committed.
Sex is no longer discussed only behind closed doors and in privacy. Television, movies and talk shows have brought the discussion out in the open. In the sexually charged culture in which we live, parents can help abuse-proof their kids by teaching them what it means to be sexually responsible.
Sexual responsibility means that one never exploits another person for sexual excitement. It means that sex is saved for marital commitment and that one must show respect in this area to friends and, later, friends of the opposite sex.
What else should parents teach their children about sexual responsibility? Here's a list to consider:
Just do it
I know that providing good sex education for your kids is a challenging assignment, one that will take much time, energy, and vigilance on your part. Watch for those golden, teachable moments. Don't be afraid to make mistakes; kids will forgive mistakes. Just be faithful in teaching your children about sex, and especially in teaching the sacred value of sex and the need for respect and dignity toward all sexual issues. Later on, if not now, your children will love you for your efforts.
Parents, you can do it. You can do it best. So do it!
Excerpted from Real Solutions for Abuse-Proofing Your Child (pgs. 68-74) by Dr. Grace Ketterman. Published by Servant Publications. P.O. Box 8617, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 48107. Used by permission.