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Gill Lough – Helping your child develop a healthy sexuality

Archive for the ‘5-9 year-olds’ Category

Is it normal for a 7-year-old to show his penis to classmates?

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A parent asked me this question after her son’s school principal called her about her son:

The school principal called to say my 7-year-old son had “taken his penis out on the bus”. The principal went on to say this was serious and was a matter that we, as parents, had to address this with our son as a serious misconduct.

My husband and I sat him down that evening to discuss the whole matter, he was very ashamed of what he’d done. He knows, but we repeated the fact that “private parts” are just that etc, etc.

My main concerns are: Is this normal behavior? Could this be an indication that he’s got a sexuality problem which may manifest later in life too?

My response:

Be reassured that your child’s behaviour does not sound very unusual. He was involved in an exciting “curiosity” game showing the other children his penis. Many children participate in this kind of game, usually as a “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” game.

You have quite rightly reminded him that this is a private part of his body and that this game is inappropriate. You need to be concerned if the behaviour continues and is repeated in a secretive manner involving other children in a way that upsets them. But otherwise you don’t need to worry.

Children’s sexuality from birth to puberty

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play21Regular readers of this blog may know (or maybe not?) that I have written a popular parenting book on children’s sexual development.

It’s titled From Birth to Puberty – Helping your child develop a healthy sexuality.

It features the topics that I have blogged here in more depth, with case studies and questions and answers. Order a copy from

9-year-old: What’s an abortion?

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Here’s an example answer to this question from a 9 to 12- year-old:

“When a woman has an unplanned pregnancy she must decide whether to go ahead and have a baby.

In the early stages of pregnancy a woman can have an operation or take pills to end the pregnancy. This called an abortion.

It is up to the woman to decide what will be best for themselves and their family, however her partner and others close to her will help her to make the decision. Having a baby and caring for children is a big responsibility.”

You may also say that some people believe abortion should be available to all women and others do not. Outline the legal situation where you live. You could also talk about people’s different cultural and religious beliefs and practices about abortion.

Written by frombirthtopuberty

November 24, 2008 at 8:13 pm

Does it hurt to have a period?

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Your daughter has not had her first period and she may be concerned about stories of painful periods from her friends or others.

Respond to this question carefully as you don’t want to give the impression that the pain is difficult to cope with. Expecting some discomfort and knowing that this is normal will help a girl cope with it when the time comes.

You could say:

“Girls usually experience some period pain and occasionally it can be severe. It may be low back pain, pelvic pain and may radiate down the legs.

Most women cope with the discomfort by doing gentle exercises, applying heat or using mild pain relief.”

Written by frombirthtopuberty

November 5, 2008 at 9:34 pm

What have periods got to do with sex?

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What have periods got to do with sex?

To this question from an 8-year-old your response could be:

“A woman has a period so she can have a baby. To start a baby a man and a woman have sex. So really the two are related because they are both needed to have a baby. Do you want to ask me some questions about sex?”

Written by frombirthtopuberty

October 21, 2008 at 8:14 pm

What does circumcised mean?

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An answer for a 5-9-year-old could be:

“Some boys have an operation when they are babies called circumcision. The skin covering the end of the penis is removed. In some countries the operation is common so a boy who hasn’t had this operation feels very different. In many western countries now boys are only circumcised for medical reasons.”

See here for my previous post on circumcision

Written by frombirthtopuberty

October 20, 2008 at 7:01 am

Young children touching their genitals

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Fay shared this story about her son at a parent evening:

John had developed a habit of holding onto his penis when he was anxious as a young child and continued to do it occasionally during his junior school years. He seemed unaware of the behaviour. Jane found it embarrassing and hoped he would stop but didn’t say anything to him about it.

When John was nine years old he had written a prize-winning speech and was asked to repeat the speech at the end of year prize giving. Standing up in front of the assembly of children and parents he gave his speech, with one hand firmly holding his penis. Jane felt so embarrassed for him as she heard the whispering and sniggering from his schoolmates. Now she wishes she had helped him by bringing it to his attention when it first occurred.

If your child is often touching or holding their genitals at age 6 or 7 it is probably because something is worrying them. Try to work out what the problem is. Telling a child who is masturbating for comfort or merely holding themselves for comfort not to do so is likely to make them more anxious. Try saying, “I can see you are feeling worried about something, come and I’ll give you hug.”

When a 4-year-old is under stress it is common for them to hold their genitals and to have the urge to relieve themselves. It may have become a habit by the time they start school. You can discourage this by quietly raising their awareness when it occurs so that the behaviour doesn’t persist.

What’s an erection? What’s masturbation?

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Answer these questions from your 5-9-year-old directly:

What’s an erection?

“An erection is when the penis gets bigger and harder. This is caused by the blood vessels filling up with blood. It can happen when a man feels sexy, when he wakes up in the morning or sometimes it just happens.”

What’s masturbation?

“Masturbation is when a person rubs the sexual parts of their body for sexual pleasure. It is something people do in private.”

Written by frombirthtopuberty

October 18, 2008 at 6:39 pm

What’s a wet dream?

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For a 5-9-year-old you could answer:

“Some boys have wet dreams when they go through puberty. A small amount of wet sticky fluid comes from their penis while they are asleep. It is a sign that they are growing to be an adult.”

A simple answer like this will help avoid your child developing a misunderstanding as happened to Simon in the following case:

Simon (6 years) asked his mother what a wet dream was. His mother asked him what he had heard about wet dreams and he said, “A wet dream is when something spooky and scary sneaks in to your bed on a dark night”.

Where could Simon have picked up this notion? He has been listening to others and has ‘put two and two together’ and this is his spooky conclusion.

Children see sexual behaviour in one way or another through television, videos and magazines. They read, see and hear about what it means to be a man or a woman, and how men and women behave. They often end up with misunderstandings.

Sometimes they see pictures of sexual violence and other sexual activity that they are not old enough to understand. Your child is influenced by these images. Keep in touch with what they are watching on TV and talk about issues as they arise. You will be more likely to clarify something that your child may have found confusing or disturbing at the time it occurs rather than trying to piece it together later.

Talking about sex to children aged 5-9

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The questions and answers in this blog’s 5-9 year- old category will guide you when answering your child’s questions about sex. Normal development between age five to nine means most children will:

  • Socialise with their own sex and tend to exclude the other
  • Be aware that sexuality can be a tricky topic for some adults, and may ask less questions
  • Begin to understand that intercourse occurs apart from making a baby
  • Find information about sex from friends and the media
  • May engage in sexual exploration with the same sex
  • Develop a stronger identity in terms of gender and body image

A concern you may have is that giving your child the facts about sex at this age will take away their innocence, the qualities of wonder and naivety children have. Researchers argue against this however, pointing out that children’s understanding is limited regardless of how much information they are given.

There is a large gap between child and adult reasoning and comprehension. This gap protects young children’s innocence. Although you give them information on sex and sexual matters, they do not understand or act on it in the way adults do.

While our replies to children’s questions are important, they are only part of how we influence them. If you are embarrassed, ignore or delay answering a question your child will quickly conclude that this is a topic that makes Mum or Dad uneasy. Children may think that the topic is just taboo – unmentionable. They may decide to find less reliable sources of information about sexuality such as their friends.

Non-verbal cues – body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, will show children that parents are uncomfortable. If this is how you feel it is best to tell them you are uncomfortable but you are pleased they asked the question, it is important and you are happy to discuss it. You could say that you would rather they asked you than their friends, and if you don’t know the answer you will find out for them.


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