Frightened Mom

Friday, May 18, 2012

Question

My six-year-old son asked me recently where babies come from. I bought a picture book about reproduction. We went through it, and he seemed to understand the information. But a few months later, he asked me the same questions all over again. I reminded him of the picture book, but he didn't seem to remember it. So we went through it all over again. (I'm glad I didn't throw it away!)

I just read a newspaper article that says children who show too much interest in sexual matters may have been molested. My son does go to daycare three days a week. I am absolutely terrified that someone has done something terrible to him. How do I find out for sure? I want to protect him, but I am not sure what my next step should be.

Answer

It never hurts to make a surprise visit to your daycare to make sure that everything looks safe. Talk to other parents to see how their children are reacting to the setting there. Of course you want your son to be safe! But I think there is another explanation for his frequent questions about where babies come from.

Developmentally, children's memories are not at an adult level. They often forget things that adults would remember. Sex is usually not a daily concern in a child's world. They are more concerned with learning how to tie their shoes or put a puzzle together. Your son will ask you about sex when it comes up (perhaps when a woman he knows has a baby) and then discard the information until the topic becomes important once more.

Don't worry about getting frequent questions on this topic. Your son will ask you about sex every now and then. Give him a simple answer in language he can understand. As he gets older, you can make your vocabulary more adult and give him more complicated information. Eventually it will be appropriate to talk to him about sexual health, birth control, masturbation, and developing a code of ethics to govern sexual conduct. But for now he probably just wants a reprise of the basic sperm-meets-egg and baby-grows-in-mom's-tummy story.

Children vary quite a bit in this area. Some children will only ask for sex education once a year or once every year or so; others will want to talk about it much more frequently. This by itself is not a warning sign of child abuse. I would be much more concerned if your child had any signs of genital injury or irritation, or began engaging in seductive, flirtatious, or otherwise inappropriate behavior.

There is such a thing as age-appropriate sexual play, although a lack of research on this topic makes it difficult to say exactly what that looks like. Some children will initiate investigation of a playmate's body; others won't. Some children will spontaneously engage in nudity or curiosity about what body parts are called. It's important to give them the information they want while setting boundaries for private versus public conduct. If you can, do so without shaming the child or making them feel that their bodies are dirty or the topic is taboo.

You sound like a cool mom who is able to get information in a format that a child would appreciate and be able to assimilate. This is just the start of a whole lifetime of teaching and mutual learning. Thank you for not freaking out. Being matter-of-fact and helpful now will make a big difference in your kid's future happiness.