Early Childhood Education | Child Abuse Prevention

Today we’re going to address one question posed by a facebook friend…”How do we start the education early?”

Adults Need to Educate Themselves before Educating Children

I’m going to assume she’s asking how do we start to educate children regarding sexuality. First off, I think as adults, we need to articulate what sexuality is? We, ourselves have such conflicting notions, taboos, fears and issues surrounding many of the topics of sexuality. So first, before you begin to educate a child, I think its important that adults educate themselves, question their notions and beliefs systems, deal with their own issues, traumas and hang ups and then move on to thinking about educating a child.

I had a facebook friend post a picture of a doll. It looked like it was a transgendered doll. I think. I was confused by the doll. I didn’t know if it was a male or female and she only showed the face of the doll. I wondered if the doll had a penis or vagina or both or none. Based on the responses, people were not happy that such a doll existed. What this tells me is that the children of the adults talking on the thread will grow up to say something mean, offensive or be totally disgusted by another kid who was born with a penis and vagina or a child who is confused or exploring their sexual identity.  That’s the thing. Gender issues and sexual identity is a prevalent issue. There are young boys who feel like they really are a girl on the inside. There are boys who are straight and very much a boy but they like wearing tutus. There are boys and/or girls born with both vaginas and penises. So if a transgendered doll disgusts you or you say you don’t want to see stuff like that….you’re teaching your children that too. Therefore, before you can educate your children on sexuality, you might want to one, educate yourself and two deal with your sexual issues and notions. Because no matter how you try to influence your child to be empowered, if they notice a subtle issue in you, they will pick that up.

Discussing Sexuality

I think no matter how old your child is, you should approach all the various topical issues involving sexuality. I wrote a whole post defining what sexuality means to me.  I made a list of 15 points as to what sexuality encompasses. Its my relative list. Your list could be different. My list includes….

  1. Sexual identity
  2. Gender
  3. Anatomy & Physiology (Body image)
  4. Sexual Acts
  5. Thoughts & Fantasies (Passion & Pleasure)
  6. Desires and Longings. (Attraction, Energy & Chemistry)
  7. Reproduction, Birthing, Abortions. (Have you ever seen “The Business of Being Born?)
  8. Contraceptives & Birth Control
  9. Disorders
  10. Deviance, Crime, Assault & Abuse
  11. Diseases
  12. Menstrual Cycles, Stages of Erection and Ejaculation
  13. Fetishes & Sensuality (Expression)
  14. History
  15. Self identity & Social relationships & Culture

So considering this is my list, I think as adults, whether your child is 5, 10, or 15, you should be having conversations regarding all these topics. Most parents talk to their children about some of these issues. I think every kid would benefit from having a conversation on ALL these issues. How young? Maybe a three year old doesn’t need a conversation on fetishes, but three year olds do touch their genitals because it feels good. Three year olds are masturbating. So you probably want to talk to your three year old about pleasure and expression in an age appropriate way. A child is actually NEVER too young.

I know this makes some of us uncomfortable. It sort of makes us cringe. And even the best book is not going to take away the awkwardness of talking to your kid about fantasies or desires or how they sexually identify but as I wrote in What is Sexuality……

…Let’s get back to “healthy sexuality.” When I think of what makes someone or something healthy, I realize it involves engagement. There is no passivity in healthiness. So why do we insist on a passive, distant approach to topics of sexuality? To be healthy one must exercise. There is progress and improvement. You have to nourish whatever it is you are bringing to health. Health involves movement. Remember, no passivity. So when it comes to sexuality, we can’t be mum. It can’t be reserved to the bedroom or for married couples only.

What will help you in having these conversations, is probably going to be age appropriate books. There are some out there. I can’t vouch for the inherent philosophy that drives the author but at least someone is writing these books. Some are….

  1. The Story of Me. God’s Design for Sex by Stanton Jones. (This is part of a five part series.)
  2. My Body Belongs to Me by Jill Starishevsky
  3. Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept
  4. Sexuality Books for Children –  (This is an entire list of books.)

But books aren’t the only thing and not every child or adult responds to books. One of my favorite things was MTV’s Sex with Mom and Dad. I think that show was ground breaking and showed another way parents could engage their children in issues of sexuality. The group talks, the various games they’d play…I really liked what Dr. Drew was doing with that show. I think it was great for teenagers.

What are other creative ways we can engage/teach children regarding sexuality? What would a sesame street segment look like? Its not the world’s responsibility to educate your child but sesame streets teaches your kids to count and to share and about global issues and healthy eating, so what would a segment on healthy sexuality look like? Maybe it already exists. But I could see parents now saying that would be inappropriate for sesame street to do? Why? Because again, you think that topics like that should be talked about in whispered voices, behind closed doors? Your children are already looking at porn, downloading vibrating apps and wondering what the lyrics, “soaking wet” means, so why would it be inappropriate for leading education/entertainment entities to have healthy dialogues on the subject matter.

When it comes to sesame street, I don’t mean a segment on stranger danger. Looking at my 15 points up above, what would 15 segments look like addressing those issues? What videos exist? Do you remember Psalty Songs for Lil Praises? What would it look like if they addressed issues of sexuality? Has someone created that?  What resources exist for parents?  What apps exists that kids can interact with that will teach them things? What games are there? Has anyone written a play for 5 year olds, for teenagers, for families? There are plays dealing with so many social issues. Where are the stage plays, the songs, the puzzles and the episodes of Arthur that deal with gender issues, pleasure, sensuality and sexual acts?

Your Childhood Wishes

When it comes to educating children about sexuality, another approach would be to think about the stuff you wish your parents had said to you. For instance, I wish I had had a conversation about menstruation with my mother. Sexuality was such a taboo topic to talk about so we never had that conversation. I learned about that from a book at the library. And because I couldn’t muster the courage to talk to my mom about my period, for probably the first year of my cycle, I would roll up wads of tissue and stick it in my panties. Then once I saw my mom’s tampons, I tried to insert one in my vagina. I was 12 years old. I was uncomfortable for hours. I had no clue what I was doing. My life probably would have been easier if I had just talked to my mom. And that’s just about my period. Imagine all the ways your child is trying to learn about stuff and the ways they must be experimenting in silence because they don’t feel comfortable talking to you. How can you create an environment where you and your children can really talk about this kind of stuff? If your daughter really feels like she’s a boy on the inside and wants to explore that and is a bit confused, have you created a family dynamic where she’d feel free to come to you with that?

I remember being 10 and having a crush on this boy at church. I didn’t want to be his girlfriend. But I was attracted to him. When he came around, I felt chemistry. My body was, in essence, turned on. I felt hot. My cheeks felt flush. I felt good when he came around. I didn’t want to have sex with him. But I had these sensations. I liked him. I don’t recall ever having a conversation about “crushes”, and DESIRE and SENSUALITY but it probably would have given me context for my attractions.

Empowerment is KEY

How do you educate your children about sexuality? Well, you empower them about EVERYTHING.

You can not expect a girl to say no to a boy trying to kiss her, if she’s not allowed to say no in any other context. If a kid is constantly told, “you are a kid, be quiet, I’m the adult, know your place”….. you are training them to be complacent in assault and abuse. You’re not intending to do that. You’re just trying to raise and steer and discipline your kids. But I believe you can discipline a kid without saying stuff like that. You can raise a child to respect and honor you, while you also respect and honor them.

Do Away with the Conflicting Notions

Another way to help educate kids would be to do away with the conflicting notions of sexuality and self. How is it that we teach our kids, “you can do anything you want to do,” “you can grow up to be whatever you want,” “ALL of your dreams are possible” and at the same time, you tell your daughter her sensual and sexual desires are naughty, inappropriate or should be left alone. Sexuality is an intrinsic and HUGE part of what makes us human. So its just weird that I can grow up to be a lawyer or maybe the first female president but the fact that I have a crush on the boy next door makes me fast and unladylike even though desire is NORMAL.

How about this notion? I see many people telling boys to learn that no means no. People want to make sure you teach your boys that they should understand what consent is. And I get that. No means no. And boys should pay attention to more than verbal cues too. Well boys and girls. Girls can take things too far too. But traditionally, we get on the boys about learning about consent but what does that even mean if you teach girls to be passive, coy, and quiet? How can a boy know & discern what a girl wants, when we’ve never given girls a chance to explore OR express what they want. You teach boys to be vocal and assertive. We teach them to negotiate and close deals. And in those same situations we tell the girls, “do not be an aggressive, cold hearted bitch.”

Its a bit off topic, but you know what irks me…when we shame girls into accepting what they don’t want to accept. We do it as adults too. There was a man I didn’t want to date because of conflicting issues with his religious beliefs. When I shared that with some friends, one friend was like, “give him a chance. that’s not a good enough reason. blah blah blah.” If I don’t want a man for whatever reason, its my prerogative. Why are you teaching me to just take whatever someone’s trying to give me. Kids are subject to this kind of pressure too. One girl tells the other girl, “He bought you lunch, you SHOULD be nice to him.” or “Billy gave you a valentine card, why don’t you want to be his girlfriend, Becky?”

So when it comes to these conflicting notions, its important that you RESPECT every person, including your children. Its important that you talk to them and NOT at them. It’s important that you treat them like a human, and not your little slave that’s to do chores and eat dinner and be quiet. Because how you treat your children is how they will let others treat them. If you yell at your kids all the time, swear at them, talk down to them when you’re mad…they will LET everyone else do that too. There is a direct correlation. Some kids shine through the bullshit their family dish to them and they still grow up empowered but you could make it oh so easier by treating your child like a HUMAN and not like your little bitch that does your bidding. I’m so tired of seeing that.

Giving Space for Self Expression

How many times have you heard or said, “she only wants attention.” We say it when our child is throwing a tantrum and we decide to ignore the child because really, all they are after is attention. We say it about the 15 year old that wears a skirt a little too short. And we say it about the 30 year old too. We say it as if its a foreign concept and as if desire for attention is what has ruined the world. No, the desire for attention is inherent to the human psyche. You’ve heard of the phrase, “being seen and being loved.” Most of us want to be truly seen for who we are and loved. In other words, in the thesaurus, that’s called attention. Instead of teaching children healthy ways to express their desire for attention, we negate the whole concept all together. If you want to educate kids about sexuality so it leads to them not being raped…. teach them about managing, understanding and expressing their desire to be seen and loved. If you shame them about it, … you’re helping to shame them about their bodies, their desires and their forms of self expression. Parents mean well. But I need them to pay more attention to what else they are teaching their kids, when they are teaching a basic thing. You may be teaching your kid a lesson on the bad ways they seek attention but connected to that is you teaching them, their desires are wrong. Please make the connection. Pretty please.

Recently a friend started a facebook chat about the father who beat his daughters for uploading a video of them twerking. People discussed issues of corporeal punishment and they thought the girls were wrong for twerking. I wrote….Also, some people are up in arms regarding the girls “twerking.” What bothers me is that we don’t provide safe environments for teens to explore and express their sexuality and sensuality. If we did a better job at having those conversations and empowering children & teens in that way, we wouldn’t see such overtness. But we typically teach girls to “be a lady” by acting in traditionally repressed ways and thus…well, they upload twerking videos because they have no other outlet to express an intrinsic part of their humanity.

So you want to empower and educate your kids on sexuality? Well give them a safe place to explore their own expressions….such as pole dance for girls. Yup. Check out Claire’s article here on Why Pole Makes You Sexually Empowered and Clementine Ford, Policing Young Women’s Sexuality.

What is Early Childhood Education

What is also key to educating children would be having a basic understanding of development, psychology, human behavior and sociology, to name a few. Wanna be a parent? Yeah, it takes a lot of work. Wikipedia “early childhood education”. Read through that and learn about how depending on the age of your child, you can alter how you engage and educate them, then figure out how to apply that to issues of sexuality.  This pdf on Responding to the Subject of Sexuality Development in Young Children says some great things. There’s also this pdf called “Children’s Sexual Behavior and Body Safety“. This book, Sensuality and Sexuality | Across the Divide of Shame has some EXCELLENT stuff in it. Its more of an academic book but I love it! Perhaps it should be required reading for humans. The description of that book says,

“Placed in a historical context, sexuality was once so prominent in psychoanalytic writing that sexual drive and psychoanalysis were synonymous. The exciting discovery of childhood sexuality filled the literature. Then other discoveries came to the fore until sexuality slipped far in the background. This book evokes the excitement of the original discoveries of childhood sexual experience while linking childhood sensuality and sexuality to adult attachment, romantic, and lustful love. This revised perspective offers the general reader insight into contemporary psychoanalytic thought, and presents clinicians with a perspective for exploring their patients sensuality and sexuality with renewed interest and knowledge.”

Wanna help your child? Read that book!

Be Mindful

What’s an adult to do who doesn’t have children but engages with children? The main thing I recall as a child is when adults would want me to hug or kiss them and I didn’t want too. I usually was pushed to let them touch me. They were well meaning and just wanted to express their adoration at my “cuteness.” But I didn’t want them too. My advice, stop making kids do that. Stop shaming them and telling them they are rude for not wanting to engage with adults…especially the ones who physically want to touch them, even in a nurturing way.

Another way to be mindful, would be to not freak out when topics of sexuality arise. I give you evidence A. A conversation I had with my seven year old sister after we had just been working out at a gym with music blaring in the background.

Dasia: How can a girl be soaking wet?
Sheena: Tou were just running Dasia. You’re sweating.
Dasia: No. The song says it.
Sheena: What?!?!
Dasia: The song says she was soaking wet. How?
Sheena: (realizes the implication) ugh…… When you get any kind of workout, that happens. O_o
Dasia: No. In this song, it says she…..
Daniel (my 17 yr old brother): (realizes the implication too.) Dasia. Just stop.
Sheena: (laughs nervously and wonders about these damn musicians making her have to explain shit to her 7 yr old sister)

This was a perfect opportunity to have some kind of talk with my seven year old sister about sexuality or attraction or how our bodies work. I could have said something like you know when you like something and you get all tingly and excited on the inside. You feel butterflies and you can’t wait. Like when mom’s coming home from a trip and you just can’t wait to hug her and you feel ansy or you’re about to eat ice cream and you feel so good right before you’re about to take that first bite. That’s because when we want something or desire something, our bodies get excited too. Sometimes we feel butterflies. Sometimes we feel tingly. And sometimes we can even feel wet? <— I don’t know. That seems like a better explanation that what I gave and my brother just asking her to stop talking about it. Because I promise you, someone else is going to tell her about “what it means to be wet”, so it might as well be her family.

So those are some of my initial thoughts on early education regarding sexuality. The answer is to have those conversations and to find and/or be the person that creates interactive, engaging resources that teaches kids at all levels about sexuality. I’m a writer and I make videos, so maybe I can script and film a short story that my 8 year sister would like and then another one that would be great for my 14 year old sister. I think I have some homework!

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April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. You can read more about the history and discover resources at Child Welfare.gov. April is also National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This year’s campaign focuses on healthy sexuality and its connection to child sexual abuse prevention. You can read more about the history and discover resources at The National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

YOU MAY ALSO WANT TO READ

  1. Empowered Living : Preventing Childhood Sexual Abuse
  2. The Conflicting Nature of Good Touch and Bad Touch
  3. Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept
  4. My name is…. Sheena LaShay
  5. The First Offense
  6. Why I Rise
  7. What is Sexuality
  8. Why Don’t People Report Sexual Crimes
  9. Why I lied to child protective services
  10.  The Least of These Things: Surviving vs Thriving
  11. Taking Control of the Healing Process
  12. I was the 1 in 4
  13. How to rescue victims.

If you have been the victim of sexual assault and need help, or you want to help a loved one, you can contact RAINN or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.

If you suspect that a child is being abused, or if you are a child or teen who is being abused, you can contact Child Help or call the National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD.

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