According to Schwartz, the time to introduce the subject of sex is when a child wants to know what their "peepee" is. By talking to your children in a developmentally appropriate way, you remove the taint of taboo, she says.
Experts recommend that you consider buying a children's book on sexuality to guide you through the tougher topics, and when possible broach a sex-related subject in terms of a TV show or movie you and your child have seen, or a book he or she has read.
The goal is to inform and protect your children while making them feel good — not ashamed — of their bodies. Teach young kids about topics like:
- Privacy. Children need to understand from the time that they're very young that no one is allowed to touch their private parts unless Mommy or Daddy says it's OK (at the doctor's, for example), and that the child should tell a trusted adult about any such touching. Kids sometimes play doctor, or "I'll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours" — that's common because children are naturally curious about each other's bodies — but let them know in a gentle way, directs Westheimer, that other forms of play are better because they respect everyone's privacy.
- Safe Surfing. Kids have to know that when they surf the Internet, they shouldn't "talk" to someone unknown to them any more than they would if a stranger approached them on the street.
Beyond talking the talk, you can take action to limit your young child's exposure to inappropriate sexual messages. Take these steps for starters:
- Monitor the television shows and movies your kids watch so they don't become overstimulated and desensitized to sexual acts; keep any erotic tapes, magazines and books out of little ones' reach; and call your cable company about locking out channels unsuitable for youngsters.
- Go to GetNetWise.com or safekids.com for information and filtering software to help block children's exposure to inappropriate Internet materials.