Teaching Without Shame: Understanding Your Child’s Curiosity
By Amanda Grossman Scott
Recently my sister came for a visit. We’ll call her “Shelly”. My very curious 8 year old knew Shelly was taking a bath in my room. He repeatedly entered the room for questionable reasons until it became obvious that he was trying to catch a glimpse of Aunt Shelly in the tub. Quietly (and without embarrassing him) I explained that his Aunt needed privacy. I called him into my sitting room (privately) and told him it was completely normal for him to be “curious about what a grown-up lady looks like when she’s naked”.
“Really?” he asked.
“Sure!” I answered. I pulled out our kids’ anatomy book we use for teaching our kids about sex and he groaned and buried his head in my lap.
“Mo-om!” I guessed I needed some new material. I pulled out my laptop and (after entering in the password for my porn filter) came up with images of fine art including several semi-nude paintings to share with my son. I found beautiful paintings by artists like Edgar Degas and Georges Seurat, not of perfectly airbrushed women and men in provocative poses: but of normally proportioned human beings. Women sleeping, breast feeding and bathing, men swimming, working and lounging. None of the images I chose to show him were what I would consider shameful or pornographic. All of these showed him that the body is beautiful and that for hundreds of years people have had an interest in studying it and depicting it in various forms of art (we have recently discussed the chasm of difference between the disgracefulness of pornography and the respectfulness of art). I told him that of course he was curious about what a female body looked like. In fact, he would probably be curious about what his own grown body would look like as well! I told him we could look at these lovely paintings or the anatomy book together any time he is feeling curious or has questions.
I then explained to my son that Aunt Shelly, like he, I and everyone else is entitled to privacy. I reminded him that, at a certain age, he started bathing by himself because he didn’t need me anymore and he would probably feel uncomfortable if I started watching him bathe or washing him again. Needing privacy feels just like that, I told him.
Every child is different. My 8 year old is my second son. My older son never tried, to my knowledge, to see me or any of our guests naked. My older son, who is 10, is not embarrassed (not yet anyway!) to tell me that he sometimes dreams about girls but that really he just likes making them laugh and playing games with them. He has never gotten embarrassed when we talked about sex or puberty. We have had very matter-of-fact conversations that ended mostly with his excitement at the prospect of getting underarm hair. My point is, every child is different and methods that work with one child may not work with another. But if we are patient, slow to react, and never make a child feel ashamed for his or her curiosity, we can teach them the lessons they need to learn and they’ll trust us enough to come back with inevitable follow-up questions. For the next 10 years. Good Luck!
• Never make your child feel ashamed for being curious. In all honesty, it is a perfectly normal curiosity.
• Try to react slowly: give yourself plenty of time to formulate answers to yours kids’ questions. Don’t be afraid to say, “You know what? Let me think about that.”
• Don’t take yourself too seriously. Odds are, your child is going to giggle each and every time you talk about nudity, sex, body parts… let them know that it’s okay to laugh by smiling and laughing with them.
• Do take your child seriously. In the near future your child may come to you with a concern that, while trivial and silly to you, is very serious to him or her. Never laugh off these concerns. Never make light of or point out a child’s changing body to others.
• Know that you will may mistakes. None of us are perfect parents. There is no shame in telling your child you were wrong or handled something inappropriately. In fact, as long as we are willing to apologize and correct our mistakes, we can be a tremendous example to our children.
Ready to talk with your kids about curiosity, healthy relationships, or other great, intimacy-related topics? Check out our books 30 Days of Sex Talks (for ages 3-7, 8-11, and 12+) for awesome conversation starters!
For other great family night discussions that help teach your kids to fill their emotional, physical, intellectual, social, and spiritual “accounts,” grab a copy of 30 Days to a Stronger Child. This phenomenal book features critical discussions to teach kids like positive self-talk, respect, empathy, leadership, and much more.
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