This is part two of a three-part series on talking to your children about sex.
The Second Stage: Ages 4-8
Parents guide their children through questions about sexuality that arise from television, school, and natural curiosity.
By the age of 4, a child is developing a strong sense that he is a boy or she is a girl. He is confident about his body and feels safe and content. He feels heard and affirmed. He has a bonded relationship with both parents. He also is beginning to understand that God loves him just like you do.
Your child is bombarded with sexual images and messages. A trip to the grocery store can expose him to more sexual content than was in pornography 20 years ago. The Internet can bring pornography into your home. You can no longer wait until late childhood to tell your child about the mechanics of sex.
The Mechanics of Sex
Physically, it is important to explain the biology of sex in basic terms. Be relaxed and comfortable in talking about it. Your relaxed attitude will open doors for future conversations. Your child will pick up any anxiety or embarrassment you have. Both parents should sit down with a child and talk simply about sex. Teaching body parts is an ongoing process. Your child will not learn it all at once. Use correct names for body parts when situations or questions arise naturally. There are a variety of simple and appropriate picture books that can help.
During this stage, you will want to be careful about nudity in your home. Do not act unnatural or embarrassed about it, but become more discreet. Children at this age can be introduced to the concept of privacy. Decide how much privacy your child can handle responsibly and establish boundaries for bathing, dressing, and toileting.
Body Awareness & Feelings
Emotionally, build on your child's sense of his own body and being able to control it. Tell your child about the privacy of his own body. He needs to know that healthy boundaries mean that no one should touch him inappropriately or have access to his body. Encourage him to talk to you if anyone approaches him in frightening ways.
Model healthy expression of feelings and encourage your child to express his. Talk about normal feelings. Avoid messages that can emotionally cripple such as, "Big boys (or girls) don't cry" or "It is not Christian to feel that way."
Boys & Girls, Male & Female
Relationally, your child will be launching into more social situations at school. Monitor his progress. Children have different personality types. Some are outgoing, others are more reserved. Either one might be normal for your child. Do not force your expectations on him. Affirm him for his good qualities. Provide him opportunities to be with other children.
Do not put too much pressure on your child to compete at sports or other areas of life. Sex is not a game to win or see how much you "score." A child's sex is biological; a child's gender is determined largely by culture. Gender roles and norms are changing. A cultural trend is that boys and girls seem to be much more comfortable being with each other. Consider what gender roles you are modeling to your child. He is watching how you and your spouse treat each other. Affirm him for positive attitudes toward the opposite sex. Healthy friendships with the opposite sex will be a foundation for a healthy relationship in marriage. Be aware of your child's friendships. Many children find out about sex when experimenting with friends or are introduced to pornography by older children. If this happens, do not overreact and shame your child. Affirm your child for his natural curiosity. Explain boundaries, what is appropriate, and God's plan for sexual expression in marriage.
Spiritually, model your healthy relationship with God. Teach your child Bible stories and truths to provide a foundation for making his own decision for Christ.
Where do babies come from (or any specific question about sex)? Be specific and direct. Even when children are young, tell them the truth. Use specific names for body parts and sexual activities. Inventing or using euphemisms may reflect your own discomfort. Children have filters and will screen out what they do not want to know or do not fully understand.
Why I am different anatomically? This is a great time to begin talking about God's design of men and women. God makes them different so that they can help each other. Men and women each have unique and special roles.
Why wait? Sexual fulfillment in marriage is different than sex that is just biological or not based on a long-term commitment. This is something that can only be experienced spiritually when you have had time to really know your spouse spiritually and emotionally as God intended and commanded. It is hard to wait, but through it you can learn patience and true dependence on Him.
How far is too far? An activity is too far if it triggers a person into biological sexual longing that is uncontrollable. Keep your mind on the vision of waiting until marriage for sexual intimacy.
What were you doing last night? Your child may have heard or walked in on you having sex. Do not overact, shame him for coming in, or act as if nothing happened. Be honest. You may need to wait until you are calm and relaxed.