There are huge changes for children as they grow, and the process of developing as a sexual being begins at birth. As parents and caregivers, there is a lot we can do to help children and young people be healthy and happy at every age.
Birth to 3 years old
- Name all body parts with their medical names and convey that the body and its functions are natural and healthy.
- Teach them that nobody should touch their genitals and to tell an adult if this happens.
- Teach them that they should say no if someone touches them in a way they don’t like and to tell an adult if this happens.
- Encourage your child to explore activities that aren’t limited to their gender.
- Help them feel proud of their bodies.
4 to 5 years old
- Keep using medically correct names for body parts with your kids.
- Continue to tell them it’s okay to say no to adults that want to interact with them if they feel uncomfortable.
- Explain privacy and that there are behaviors that are only done in private.
- Explain how people's bodies work and explain pregnancy in simple terms.
- Talk about different types of families and ways people show their gender.
- Encourage them to come to you with questions.
6 to 8 years old
- Provide information about puberty — some kids may start puberty at this age.
- Explain that people have different sexual orientations.
- Notice if your child is trying to fit into gender roles, and let them know that you’ll love them no matter how they express themselves.
- Acknowledge that many people have romantic feelings for members of other genders, and some have these feelings for members of their same gender.
- Start talking about some of your family values on relationships and health.
- Kids may ask fewer questions at this age but they are still curious!
9 to 12 years old
- Explain that puberty is a unique experience for each person.
- Talk about how people can have different sexual orientations and genders.
- Help them understand that deciding to date or have sex is a big decision, and just because they are going through puberty doesn’t mean that they are ready for it.
- Be prepared to talk about the differences between emotions and sexual feelings.
- Point out that feeling embarrassed is normal, but there's nothing they should be ashamed of.
- Remember to respect their privacy, but encourage them to ask questions.
- You may also face questions about birth control and STIs — now is a great time to read up on those subjects on this website.
- You don’t have to know all the answers, you can find them together.
13 to 17 years old
- Avoid telling them what they can and can’t do.
- Acknowledge their responsibility to make healthy decisions.
- Facilitate their access to information and services.
- Remind them that even though they are becoming more independent now, they still need guidance.
- Talk about how someone decides to have sex.
- They should understand how pregnancy and STIs occur, and how they can reduce their risk. Even if your child has sex ed in school, it is important to talk about this.
- Use inclusive language even if your child is not LGBTQ+ to help them develop empathy and skills to be supportive of LGBTQ+ people.
- Explain what consent and boundaries mean.
- Coach them on how to get out of risky situations and what to do if something happens that they didn’t want to happen.
- Share that there are many ways that people show love and closeness without necessarily having sex.
- Talk to your kid about what your values and expectations are.
- Talk about what their goals are in life and discuss how pregnancy or an STI would impact those goals.
Over 18 years old
- It is important to talk to them like adults and accept them for who they are.
- Recognize that they have the right to make their own decisions.
- Keep the lines of communication open and talk about what your values are.