Teaching Kids About Sex (Part 1)

There are few situations that fill parents with more dread, confusion, and anxiety than talking to kids about sex. Thankfully, Sharon Maxwell, Ph.D., author of The Talk: What Your Kids Need to Hear from You About Sex (Penguin), offered to give us a hand and answered questions about the issues that have Cookie staff members freaking out.

My 4-year-old nephew keeps pulling down girls' shorts and lifting up their skirts at the playground. His parents keep telling him to stop, but he doesn't. Is this just a phase, or do his parents need to take more drastic action?

Drastic action isn't necessary. It is quite common for children your nephew's age to have a great deal of interest in looking at "private" parts. Parents can respond as they would to any socially unacceptable behavior. At his eye level, in a clear, calm voice, tell him that it is not okay to touch other children or pull their clothes, and remove him from the playground for five minutes. He can then return and try again.

Sometimes the way we respond inadvertently supports the negative behavior. Let's look at this from your nephew's point of view. I imagine that when he causes these playground episodes, a great deal of excitement ensues—a big drama where he is the center of attention. Often when an adult sees children act in ways that look sexual, their first reaction is to gasp, laugh, or make a joke. Sometimes you can even hear a sense of pride in the parent's voice. Even if the parents do not respond this way, often other adults or children do. This kind of attention can be very exciting for a 4-year-old. When there is no gain, just a calm, consistent response, the behavior will eventually stop.

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