Fun with Toddlers: Sensory Play

img_20140522_095756848.jpg

A sensory bin is a simple toddler play activity: take a plastic tub, fill it with rice (or another filler), add scoops and containers to pour into (or other tools) and a few of your child’s small toys, and let your child play. The benefits for your child are: learning to use tools, using fine motor skills, and sensory exploration. The benefits for you are that your child will play independently for quite some time while you get other things done! (Expect some clean-up time when you’re done!)

Learn all about sensory play in: The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Play.

Advertisements

Summer Movies 2018

Whether you’re looking for outdoor movies to enjoy those warm summer evenings, or indoor movies for those hot summer mornings when you really just need some A/C, or a drive-in movie, here are some options in the Seattle / King County area for summer 2018.

Kids’ Summer Movie Clubs

As you may remember from your own childhood, these are probably the cheapest, easiest way to entertain your kids for two hours on a summer morning…

Outdoor Movies

Note: all outdoor movies start around “dusk”. This being the Pacific Northwest, that usually means around 9 – 9:30 pm in July and 8:30 – 9 in August, so outdoor movies aren’t compatible with early bedtimes. Get some handy tips / etiquette advice for outdoor movies here and here.

Tuesdays

Downtown Movies in the Park at Bellevue’s Downtown Park (by the mall). July 10 – Aug 28. Free entertainment, popcorn and movies – each week has a non-profit partner, and you’re encouraged to donate to support these programs. Most movies kid friendly. https://parks.bellevuewa.gov/special-events/outdoor-movies/downtown-movies-in-the-park/ 

Wednesdays:

Movies at Marymoor in Redmond. Wednesdays, 6/28 – 8/29. Some weeks are kid movies, some are teen/adult movies – check schedule. $5 per person ($6 credit), $5 to park. Live entertainment, trivia, food trucks, vendors. www.epiceap.com/movies-at-marymoor/

Thursdays:

Fridays / Saturdays

Friday / Saturday

Saturdays:

Drive-Ins

Movies start at dusk… see note above. There aren’t many classic drive-ins left… and when you search for them online, you’re likely to find out of date listings. For example, http://www.driveintheater.com/drivlist.htm lists Samish in Bellingham, which was demolished in 2004, and http://www.driveinmovie.com/WA.htm lists Valley in Auburn which has been closed for several years and Puget Park in Everett, which closed in 2010. Here’s what’s still open within a two hour drive from Seattle:

The only other one in the state is Auto-vue Drive-in – Colville, WA. 6 hours from Seattle. www.facebook.com/Auto-Vue-Drive-In-Theatre-120740527937813/

If you go to a drive-in, PLEASE spend lots of money at concessions!!! That’s what will keep these classic theaters open in future summers!

Summer Movie Guide and Parental Guides to Media

If you’re looking for advice on whether a particular movie is kid appropriate, check out Common Sense Media which provides reviews of movies, books, TV shows, games, apps and websites. In their movie reviews, they look at educational value, positive role models, positive messages, violence and scariness level, sexy stuff, language, consumerism and substances, providing information so parents can make their own informed decisions about what’s right for their child.

Kids in Mind also offers film reviews which rate, on a scale of 1 – 10, the level of sex/nudity, violence/gore, profanity and substance use in a movie. They also give detailed descriptions of each incident they counted, for parents to consider.

Other Activities for Kids in the Seattle area: If you’re looking for other fun ideas for the summer, check out my series on “Cheap Dates with Toddlers and Young Kids”,  or reviews of Eastside Parks or find hands-on STEM enrichment activities for kids age 3 – 7 at www.InventorsOfTomorrow.com.

For school year activities, if you have kids age birth to 7, check out info about info about fabulous classes at local community colleges that are great for kids AND include parent education for you,- register now before they fill up!!

Note: If I missed any outdoor movie series in King County, let me know!!

Talking with Children about Death

cemetery

Parents in my classes ask: “when should I talk to my child about death?” I say: whenever the opportunity presents itself. Because death is a part of life. There will be plenty of chances to talk about it. Here are just some of the opportunities I’ve encountered with my youngest child in the past year or so.

On the walk to my son’s kindergarten, once we saw a dead squirrel, another time, we found the leg of a bird, and there was a lost cat sign up for months, which led to lots of discussions of what might have happened to the cat. On the way to first grade, we drive past a cemetery. On Memorial Day, he asked whether we would have a party for this holiday, and I explained why we don’t “celebrate” Memorial Day, which led to a whole discussion of death, war, what is a generation, and so on. A member of our church, a teacher at school, and a student at school have died, and he heard people speaking about these deaths and being sad about them. His older sister’s pet gecko died and we buried it together. We heard on the news about many people being killed in a shooting. (I try not to listen to the news much around him… but this was a TV that was on in a public place.) His pea plant died. We see flowers on a sign post on the side of a highway where a fatal car accident occurred. Somehow at school, a discussion came up of the danger of thunderstorms, and he worried for a few days about whether his dad would be struck by lightning and killed. He was wondering about heaven. He’s seen death occur in many books, movies, and TV shows. Each time one of these ‘teachable moments’ came up, we talked openly about death, the dying process, and grief. None of these were long drawn-out, or stressful conversations. Most were brief (one minute?) discussions, where I try to be as matter-of-fact about things like decomposition as I am about things like new buds coming out on a tree. I try to talk about grief as a natural emotion similarly to how I talk about other emotions.

And… then his grandmother died. My mom had Alzheimer’s and had been fading for a few years. We had been open with my son about this and the fact that she was no longer able to do the things she had done before. This April, I had to travel to be with her for a few days as we moved her into hospice care, and then my husband and I traveled for her funeral. Around this time, we have lots of long conversations with my son about death.

I was so glad that we had a long history of open and honest conversations about this part of life. I can only imagine how hard it would be for a parent who had tried to avoid this subject for years to suddenly have to explain it for the first time when she is managing her own grief over the loss of a parent and the child’s loss of a grandparent.

When talking with a child about anything, it always helps to have some knowledge of their developmental stage, and what they’re likely to be able to understand, versus what might simply be over their head at this age. Here is how children’s understanding of death evolves:

  • Preschool age (3 – 5). Even if you explain what death is (when something living stops functioning – stops breathing, growing, etc.), they may not be able to grasp what you mean. They may believe death is temporary and reversible. Although children see many deaths in movies and stories, they don’t really see a lot of what happens afterward when that character never returns.
  • Early elementary age (5 – 9): Children come to understand that death is final. They aren’t clear on what causes death. They also learn that all living things will someday die, but tend not to yet grasp that they themselves will someday die.
  • Tweens (age 9 – 12): They understand what death is – that organisms no longer function in the way they did when they were alive. They understand that death is final, and that they will die someday.
  • Teenagers: Begin to wonder about the meaning of life and form beliefs about what happens after death. Some begin taking risks, as if to test their own immortality.

When and How to Talk

Be thoughtful about whether you bring it up.

There’s typically no reason for you to push the topic or start the conversation, unless you believe a death will come soon to someone they care about. (Just as we’d talked to my son about his grandmother as she declined, we also have a 16 year old dog who is ailing, so when he has bad days, we let my son know that Rufty may not be with us much longer.) This allows them to build special memories, and say some goodbyes so there are fewer regrets later on about what was not done or said.

If they bring it up, don’t change the subject.

Let them know it’s OK to talk about it, and you’re glad they feel comfortable asking you.

If they’ve asked a question, clarify exactly what they’re asking. Sometimes they want just a simple basic answer and we go into the Big Talk about everything they’ll ever need to know about death and totally overwhelm them.

Turn the question around, and ask them what they already know. This lets you set a baseline for what you need to talk about versus what they already understand. It also allows you to correct misconceptions. For example, if they ask when someone will come back to life, we may need to explain the permanency of death, and how it’s different than when kids just “pretend to be dead” while playing.

Reassure.

Often when someone asks a question, there is an underlying concern behind the question. If your child seems worried when they ask you about something, think what fear might be behind the question. If a child asks you “can parents die?”, they’re really asking “will you die? Who will take care of me?” If you suspect this is the case, you can put it into words for them: “are you worried I won’t be here to take care of you?”

First, unless you have reason to suspect otherwise, say “I don’t expect to die any time soon. I know that idea feels scary to you, but I expect I will live for a long time yet.” (Note, you didn’t promise anything, because we can’t ever really promise that.) Then reassure that even if that were to happen, they would be OK: “But if I did die, here’s who would take care of you.”

Think about key points to make about what death is.

There are a few key ideas to convey at some point – not all at once, but in multiple minute-long conversations through their childhood:

  • Death is the cessation of life functions. Use simple terms and concrete examples from their life experience. “When an animal dies, it no longer breathes, or eats, or moves or feels hungry.” “Do you remember when your pea plant died, and it stopped growing?”
  • Death is caused by physical reasons. Describe in a simple, non-graphic way what caused a death. Explain enough that they understand… for example, don’t just say “she died because she was sick”, because then the next time your child is sick with a cold, they might think they might die. Explaining something like “she’s really sick, with a disease called _____. It’s not something I would expect you or me to get…”
    • Note: Children are inherently self-centered – their world view rotates around themselves. This can often mean that if someone dies, they wonder if it was their fault. “I said ‘I hope you die’ and then they did!!!” This can lead to a lot of guilt and shame. Reassure them that the death is not their fault.
  • Death is permanent.
    • Don’t confuse them by saying the person “went to sleep” because then it can be scary to go to sleep, or saying the person “went away” because then they will worry when you “go away” to the grocery store that you may never come back. Using the word death is actually helpful to reduce these anxieties.
    • Saying that the person who passed away is “watching over you”, or asking your child to “draw a picture for grandma to tell her how much you miss her” may confuse children about the permanency of death. If the idea that someone is watching over you from heaven fits into your belief structure, it’s fine to say this, but just be aware of this possible confusion effect.
  • Everything that is alive will someday die. You may also address that different things have different expected life spans. We might expect some pets to only live for a few years. We expect people to live for many decades. (Again, you may need to reassure them that you or other important adults expect to be around for a long while still.)
    • At some point, we’ll need to acknowledge that not only old people / animals die. It can happen to someone very young, it’s just less likely.

You may worry that you don’t know what to say about things like what death feels like, or what happens after you die. It’s OK if you don’t have all the answers. You can say to your child “No one knows for sure. I believe ________.”

Share your own beliefs.

One of the reasons it’s important to talk to your children about hard things (read “Better You than YouTube”) is so  you can share your own values with them and talk about the beliefs that are important to your family.

Note: one thing that can confuse children is when parents say things like “he’s happy up in heaven now” but the parent is clearly grieving and sad. They may not understand why you’re sad about something that makes the departed one happy. You can explain that you are sad the person is no longer with you, and you can’t spend time with them any more.

Talk about how we might feel about death.

Don’t be shy about talking about grief. It is one of many emotions that we humans experience. (Emotional literacy is a key life skill we want our children to gain.) Sadness about someone’s loss is a reflection of the fact that they mattered to us. Share what your feelings have been about various losses in your life.

But also talk about the wide range of reactions that people may have. Some may be sad. Some may be angry. Some may not seem to react at all. And some may react on a different schedule. It’s all OK.

Know when to move on.

Sometimes your child may ask more questions in the moment. Sometimes not. If your child has initiated a discussion about death, then seems ready to move on before you think “we’re done”, follow the child’s lead and move on. Prolonging the conversation will only cause discomfort.

Children learn through repetition, so expect that they make ask some questions again and again.

When a child is grieving.

Sometimes there losses that we would consider big in a child’s life where they don’t seem to react. Give them time and space for their own reaction. And other times, there are things we think of as small sadnesses – seeing a dead bird by the road, or a death in a storybook, where our child may suffer deep grief. Don’t dismiss them or tell them “don’t feel bad.” Honor their right to their feelings, whatever the cause.

Don’t avoid talking about the person who has died. Even though they’re no longer here, you can still remember them. They may want to do a ceremony, or create a shrine to help them remember. You could establish new traditions of continuing to do a favorite thing they did with the person who has passed away.

Your child may need help remembering the person won’t come back. They may ask again and again when they will return. They are not doing this to upset anyone. They’re just wrapping their minds around the permanency of death.

Your child may “play” death. They are just trying to understand. It’s fine to use puppets or stuffed animals to tell the story or play things out. It may also help your child to draw their feelings and memories.

Many children will regress or have behavioral challenges after a death of a loved one. Be patient and understanding with them, but don’t overly coddle them. Normal family rules should still apply. The sooner you get back to normal routines, the better. This helps you all move forward to the “new normal” of what your life will look like in the future.

Here are two helpful resources: 10 ways to help a grieving child and When Families Grieve from Sesame Street.

Funerals: If a loved one has died, you may decide not to have the child participate in the funeral. If they will attend the service, be sure to prepare them – telling them who they will sit with, how they should behave, and what will happen. For example,

 “Lots of people who loved Grandma will be there. We will sing, pray, and talk about Grandma’s life. People might cry and hug. People will say things like, ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ or, ‘My condolences.’ Those are polite and kind things to say to the family at a funeral. We can say, ‘Thank you,’ or, ‘Thanks for coming.’ You can stay near me and hold my hand if you want.”  (source)

If the person’s body will be at the service, talk to your child about that. (Note: although people worry that seeing a body would be upsetting to children, they typically take it in stride). Explain burial if they will go to the cemetery. Explain if there will be a wake or reception of some sort – explain that people will talk and share happy memories of the one who has passed.

If you expect to experience a lot of strong emotions at the funeral, you may want to either not bring the child or ask another adult to help care for the child and sit with the child during the service. Remind your child that it is not their fault you are sad.

Using Media to Start the Conversation

There are several excellent books and some shows that are explicitly designed to help children understand death and manage grief. There are also many excellent books and movies that include a death that you can use to help you start a conversation.

Here are recommended books: https://imaginationsoup.net/childrens-picture-books-grief-death/https://www.familyeducation.com/videos/12-childrens-books-help-explain-tragedies-deathhttps://pjlibrary.org/blog/january-2017/childrens-books-about-death.

Find  movies and shows listed here www.ranker.com/list/kids-entertainment-dealing-with-death/matt-manser, and here https://whatsyourgrief.com/death-in-disney-movies/

Resources

Here’s a free printable handout on Talking with your Child about Death that you can share with others.

To learn how (and why) to talk about other difficult topics with your child (including sexuality, “tricky people”, scary topics, and more: read Better You Than YouTube.

Talking with Children about Gender Identity

Gender is a complicated mix of our biological sex, how we like to dress and wear our hair, our interests, our identities, and what other people expect us to do based on their perception of our gender. How can we talk to kids about gender?

When do we talk to children about gender identity?

We probably started moments after their birth, with the first announcement of “it’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” By 2 to 3 years, children begin to label themselves as male or female. By 3 – 4 years, they start categorizing things as “boy things” or “girl things”, and by 4, they may say “only boys can do that” or “girls never do that.”

So, young children are very aware of gender. Even if we avoided talking about it, they would absorb lots of messages from their environment. If we talk to them about it, we have the chance to share our own values with them, and to help to shape their understanding.

What is gender?

Let’s start with a few definitions.

Biological Sex: A person’s body parts / hormones. Can be categorized: male, female, intersex.

Gender Identity: A person’s internal sense of who they are. (No one else gets to define it.)

Gender Expression: How a person chooses to dress, wear their hair, and behave.

Gender Roles: How other people expect you to act, or what they expect you to be interested in, based on their perceptions of your gender.

Those are all separate from sexual orientation. Gender is about who you are. Sexual orientation is about who you are attracted to.

Sometimes all these pieces line up just like cultural and generational stereotypes would predict, but sometimes they don’t. Many people are cisgender – their identity aligns with their biological sex. Some people are transgender – their internal sense of who they are (identity) does not line up with the sex assigned to them at birth. Others may identify as gender non-conforming, non-binary, genderqueer, or other variations. It is estimated that between 1 in 100 and 1 in 400 people are transgender.

But there are also many cisgender people don’t fit a stereotypical understanding of gender. In terms of gender expression, some women prefer to wear ‘men’s clothes” and some men like to wear dresses or makeup. In terms of gender roles, we all acknowledge that boys may like dolls and dresses, and girls might like trucks and baseball. Women can be doctors, and men can be dancers. Yet, there is still surprise in our society when people run across a male preschool teacher or a female heavy equipment operator.

Defining Your Family Values about Gender

Parents are their children’s most important teachers. The way you talk about gender, and your unconscious actions, will shape your child’s early perceptions about gender. So, spend some time reflecting, and talking with the other significant adults in your child’s life, to figure out what your family values are about gender identity, expression or roles. Then, pay attention to how you’re manifesting these values. Some things to consider:

  • When buying clothes or toys for your child, or choosing activities to sign them up for, ask yourself: does my kid like things like this, or am I picking it because of gender? Does this choice expand or limit their choices and expectations about gender?
  • If you hear your child (or other people in your child’s presence) make observations like “only girls wear pink” or “boys can’t do that”, ask them questions about why they think that, and talk about stereotypes and alternative views.

For more on gender, see: https://bellevuetoddlers.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/gender.pdf

What if your child is exploring gender roles or expression?

During preschool and early elementary years, many children explore what it means to be a boy or girl, and they may try out different roles. Especially in pretend play, girls may try out being a dad, boys may try on “girly” clothes. This is a normal part of children’s play, and part of how they learn about their world and their culture. There is no need to discourage this.

There’s also no need to overly encourage it. Just because a boy tried on the fairy wings at school doesn’t mean you need to immediately purchase full princess wardrobes for home. (If, over time, he tells you he really really wants a princess wardrobe, that’s fine… you just don’t need to jump in with both feet immediately.)

Don’t make assumptions about your child’s long-term gender identity or sexual orientation based on short-term interests or activities. Some children outgrow this and move on to gender expressions and roles that line up with their biological sex. Some continue to explore gender expression and gender roles, such as the “tomboy” who dresses and acts (expresses themselves) like a boy but still clearly identifies as a girl, or the teenager who may wear eyeliner and nail polish but identifies as male. Some people who blur these lines call themselves gender expansive or gender creative. However your child wants to express themselves, you can help them to feel safe and loved.

If children want to make non-stereotypical choices, some parents choose to inform them about what reactions they might encounter: “it’s fine to have a sparkly pink backpack, but some kids think that only girls like sparkly pink, so they might tease you.” Then if the child still chooses that, at least they had the information to prepare themselves for the response.

What if your child tells you they are transgender?

Gender identity tends to be firmly established by age 4. If a child occasionally swaps gender roles in pretend play, or tells you “I really like playing with girl’s toys” or tells you once or twice, “I wish I was a boy, so I could do that”, those are likely just short-term explorations.

There’s a big difference between that and a child repeatedly telling you that their biological sex does not match their internal identity. Transgender and gender non-conforming kids are: consistent, insistent, and persistent. They consistently identify as one gender, they don’t waffle back and forth. They are insistent about that identity and get upset when mis-identified. They identify this way over a long period of time. (Source)

If you are cisgender, you may not be able to really understand a transgender person. For me, as a cisgender woman, I have truly never questioned my identity – I’ve always known I was female, always been comfortable with other people treating me as female, and offended if someone mistakenly thought I was a boy. But imagine what it would be like if I felt that way as strongly as I do but I happened to have been born into a body with a penis. Imagine the challenges of that experience!

Transgender people often experience gender dysphoria, a distressing disconnect between the sex assigned them at birth, and their internal identity. Every time they look at their body, it feels wrong to them. Every time someone refers to them by the wrong pronoun, they may squirm inside. For some transgender people, this sensation is mild and manageable, but for many it is not. Transgender girls may talk about a desire to cut their penises off. Transgender boys may begin self-harming as their breasts begin to grow. Many transgender people (41%) attempt suicide to escape the pain of dysphoria.

If a child says they are transgender, we don’t need to know whether they will always identify that way. But, in that moment, we should listen to our children tell us about who they are, so we can provide the best possible support. Trying to change a child’s identity, by denial or punishment or whatever, doesn’t work, and can do long-term harm.

Amongst transgender people, rejection by their families can lead to depression and other mental health problems, homelessness, behaviors that put their health at risk, and suicide.

Family acceptance promotes higher self esteem, more social support, improved health, improved mental health, with reduced anxiety and depression, and a huge reduction in suicide attempts.

How you can show your support (for your child or others that you know):

  • Assure your child that they have your unconditional love and support
  • Use the child’s preferred pronouns and preferred name
  • Ask that others respect the child’s identity
  • If they ask to transition to a gender expression in line with their identity (e.g. clothes and hairstyle), many parents have followed the path of first trying it out at home, then trying it out on a vacation – what is it like to be out in public with that identity, then transitioning in their home community.
  • If children ask for a medical transition, there are options: adolescents can take hormone blockers to delay puberty – these put on a “pause” button while they make long-term decisions. Taking gender hormones (e.g. testosterone and estrogen) can help to move biological characteristics to line up more with their identity, and most of the effects are reversible if the hormones are stopped. There are gender-affirming surgeries as well. These are not common for youth, but can reduce suicide risk for children experiencing severe dysphoria.

You can find many more resources at: www.hrc.org/explore/topic/transgender-children-youth

What if your child asks about someone else’s gender?

Young children are trying to make sense of their world, and one way they do that is by categorizing the people they see. If they think they’ve worked out an understanding of gender, but then see a person who doesn’t fit that understanding, they may ask questions – quietly, or at the top of their lungs. Remember that if your child asks a question about something, they are trying to understand it, and they may also be asking you if you think that it’s OK.  (check out Jacob Tobia’s post on this)

So, your child might say “that boy is wearing makeup!” or “Why is that woman dressed like a man?” If you shush them, or avoid the topic, you imply to your child that what they have seen is bad or is a taboo subject. Try answering the question: “Yes, sometimes boys do wear makeup, and that’s OK.” Or “Yes, some women prefer to dress in men’s clothes. Or, that might be someone who identifies as a man, even though their body might look more like a woman.”

You can find some simple, matter-of-fact things you might say to a child about gender identity at http://muthamagazine.com/2014/01/mama-ella-has-a-penis-marlo-mack-on-how-to-talk-to-your-children-about-gender-identity/; and www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/its-not-that-hard-talking-to-children-about-gender_us_5899f3b0e4b0985224db5a3f

Interacting with a transgender person

Some other things you can do (and model for your child) about how to interact with someone who is (or may be) transgender:

  • Use the language a transgender person uses for themselves. (He, she, they, or whatever.) Sometimes you may just wait till it comes up in conversation with those who know them. Or, if you don’t know what pronouns to use, you can ask – or even better, share your own pronouns. “Hi, my name is Janelle, and I use she/her as my pronouns.” If you make a mistake on pronouns, apologize briefly and move on.
  • Some transgender people choose to medically transition, or change their names, or change their appearance, but some don’t. You (or your child) may be curious. Before asking questions, ask yourself “do I need to know this information to treat them respectfully?” and “Would I be comfortable if they asked me this question, or would I ask that question of any other person?” (So yes, it would help to know their name and pronouns, but there’s no need to know about the status of their private parts.) Some specific questions you would generally avoid: Asking their birth name, or asking to see photos of them from before they transitioned, asking what hormones / surgeries they’ve had, or asking about their sexual relationships.
  • Someone’s transgender identity is their private information. It is not yours to share.
  • Remember that you don’t have to understand their identity to respect it.
  • You can’t necessarily tell if someone is transgender by looking at them. So, many people are working to be gender inclusive at all times. You can encourage this process by sharing observations. For example, if forms you’re filling out have two checkboxes for male and female, encourage the provider to instead ask for gender, and leave a blank space for people to fill in. If there are single stall restrooms at a facility, encourage that facility to replace the Men and Women signs with “Restroom” signs. If you notice a teacher frequently divides a group into “boys” and “girls”, encourage them to consider other options: “everyone wearing jeans”, or “everyone whose birthday is in January – June” or “everyone who likes cats.”

Learn more about how to be a trans ally: https://bolt.straightforequality.org/files/
Straight%20for%20Equality%20Publications/2.guide-to-being-a-trans-ally.pdf  and https://transequality.org/issues/resources/supporting-the-transgender-people-in-your-life-a-guide-to-being-a-good-ally 

Handouts

If you’re an educator who would like information to share with parents, I have created two handouts. Both address the concept of gender identity, defining your own values about gender, kids who explore alternate gender roles and transgender children. Choose between Gender as a Spectrum and Talking with Children about Gender Identity which adds info on how to talk with a child about gender non-conforming people you may encounter, and how to be supportive of transgender people.

Resources for More Information

Overview: www.genderspectrum.org/quick-links/understanding-gender/ 

How to Talk to Kids:

Transgender Children:

Big list of resources:  www.genderspectrum.org/resources/parenting-and-family-2/  

Recommended Children’s Books about Gender Identity

Books for Children about Sexuality


A helpful tool for starting conversations about sexuality and sexual health with your child is an age appropriate book. For young children, age 8 and under, they might enjoy having you read the book to them and discuss it. Older children, especially tweens and teens, may not want to talk to you about the book – just put it on the shelf, let them know it’s there, and that you can answer any questions they have about what they read in there.

Other people’s recommended books can be found here:

I checked out many of the recommended books from these sites, and wrote up summaries of the books. I also created a comparison chart to show what topics they address, and tooks notes on details about specific wording they use to describe various concepts, so that you can find the one that best aligns with your values and with what you are ready to teach your child.

For preschool age:

For early elementary:

For upper elementary:

Comparison of Content


.
Amazing You: Getting Smart about Your Private Parts by Saltz.

  • Body Parts: Hands, arms… the parts you can see. Vagina, labia, urethra, uterus, ovary. Penis, scrotum, testicles. Illustrations of internal anatomy, and external in both children and adults. Puberty.
  • Privacy and Masturbation: Private parts hide under clothes or underwear. “It’s natural to be curious and private parts and want to touch them. This is something you should do only in private place, like your room.”
  • Conception: “When a man and a woman love each other… a man’s sperm joins with a woman’s egg.”
  • Pregnancy & Birth: “The baby grows inside the mother’s uterus…. Uterus starts to squeeze…. The baby will come out of the mother’s vagina
  • Gender: “If you are a girl, you have [these parts]…  if you are a boy, your penis and testicles will grow as you body gets bigger…”
  • Two page parent guide at the end about how to talk to children about sex.

It’s Not the Stork: A Book about Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families, and Friends by Harris.

  • Body Parts: Vagina, penis. Where pee comes out – penis, small opening between girls’ legs. Illustrations label thumb, ankle and so on, plus anus, buttocks, vulva, nipple, scrotum, circumcised penis, uncircumcised penis, clitoris. “X-ray” illustrations show bladder, urethra, vas deferens, testicles, ovaries, Fallopian tubes. Talks about puberty. Eggs, sperm.
  • Privacy & Masturbation: “The parts of our bodies that are under our underpants or bathing suits are called ‘privates.’ If you touch or rub the private parts of your own body because it tickles, or feels good, that’s an ‘okay touch.’”
  • Safe / Unsafe Touch: “Everyday hugs and kisses and touch and holding hands with our families and good friends are ‘okay touches.’ … during a checkup, the reason your doctor has to look at or touch ‘your privates’ is to make sure every part of your body is healthy… If a person touches ‘your privates’ or any other part of your body that you do not want them to, these are all ‘not okay touches.’… tell that person “Stop!”… If any kind of ‘not okay’ touch happens to you, tell a grownup right away.”
  • Conception: “A sperm from a man’s body and an egg from a woman’s body must come together. When grown-ups want to make a baby, most often a woman and a man have a special kind of loving called ‘making love’ or ‘having sex.’ [Illustration shows man and woman embraced under blankets.] Sperm swim from penis into vagina. [Addresses assisted reproduction.]
  • Pregnancy & Birth: Fetal development in detail. Muscles push the baby out through the mommy’s vagina, which stretches… Or doctor makes a cut into the uterus. Covers different kinds of families.
  • Gender: Boys and girls alike in many ways, difference is body parts.

What Makes a Baby by SIlverberg

  • Body Parts: Vagina, uterus, eggs. Sperm. Some bodies have them, some do not. Parts not illustrated, except uterus.
  • Conception: Egg, sperm, uterus – not all bodies have them. “When grown ups want to make a baby they need to get an egg from one body and sperm from another body. They also need a place where the baby can grow.” (This neutral description allows families to then add in any details they choose about what their process was.)
  • Pregnancy & Birth: After fertilization, “sometimes this tiny thing does not grow. And sometimes it grows into a baby.” (Allows parents to discuss history of miscarriage.) “…This usually takes about 40 weeks… Some babies are born by coming out through a part of the body that most people call the vagina. And other times, doctors will make a special opening….”
  • Gender: Completely gender free.

What’s In There: All About You Before You Were Born by Harris

  • Body Parts: Uterus. Penis. Vagina.
  • Conception: Babies begin as one tiny cell; half comes from a woman’s body, half comes from a man’s.
  • Pregnancy & Birth: Babies grow in a woman’s uterus (just below her tummy). Fetal development – how baby grows, where baby gets nutrients, baby can hear. Mommy’s muscles squeeze and push – baby comes out through a stretchy opening between its mommy’s legs, called the vagina. (Or doctor makes a special cut in the uterus.) “All babies are born into or adopted into their family.”
  • Gender: Pictures show a pregnant woman and a man, kids say “Daddy’s on the phone! Our new baby’s been born.” Baby grows a penis for a boy or a vagina for a girl.

What’s the Big Secret by Brown

  • Body Parts: Face, chest, navel… nipple, penis, scrotum, testicles, vulva, clitoris, vagina. Includes illustrations.
  • Privacy & Masturbation: “You may be curious about…. the parts usually covered up by clothes. Just remember everyone’s privacy needs to be respected…. Touching and rubbing your genitals to feel good is called masturbation. Some of us try this and some of us don’t. However, it’s best to do this private kind of touching off by yourself.”
  • Safe / Unsafe Touch: “Whether it’s hugging your parents, wrestling with a friend, or shaking your teacher’s hand, touching brings you closer to someone… If someone doesn’t want to be touched, then respect his or her wishes… If you want a hug you can say so. But no one has the right to touch you in a way that feels wrong or uncomfortable… tell a grown-up.”
  • Conception: “Inside a woman’s body are tiny eggs… a man has even tinier sperm. When a sperm combines with an egg, this now-fertilized egg is the beginning of a new baby. Usually the sperm and egg meet during sexual intercourse, when a man and woman fit his penis inside her vagina. It feels wonderful to share this special closeness when you love someone.”
  • Pregnancy & Birth: Illustrations of baby, umbilical cord, placenta in uterus. Talks some about fetal development. “When a baby is ready to be born, muscles in the mother’s womb start to tighten and relax… in most births, the baby comes out the vagina…”
  • Gender: “Boys and girls wear different clothes. Sometimes but not always… all sorts of toys, games, and activities appeal to both boys and girls…. The only sure way to tell boys and girls apart is by their bodies. If you’re a boy, you have….”

Where Did I Come From? by Mayle

  • Body Parts: Illustration of adult man and adult woman, nude. Woman has two round bumps – some call them bosom, titties, or boobs, the proper name is breasts…. The milk that kept you alive for those first few months either came from a bottle or your mother’s breasts. Hips. Penis, vagina
  • Conception: “Babies are made by grown-ups. One of them has to be a woman, and one a man. The two people who made you were your mother and your father… are lying in bed together… the man loves the woman… they kiss… the man’s penis becomes stiff and hard… the man wants to get as close to the woman as he can, because he’s feeling very loving to her… he lies on top of her and puts his penis inside her, into her vagina. Making love is a very nice feeling for both the man and the woman… it’s a gentle tingly sort of tickle… the parts that tickle most are the man’s penis and the woman’s vagina… the man pushes his penis up and down… something really wonderful happens which puts an end to the tickly feeling and at the same time starts the making of the baby.” Sperm, eggs, etc.
  • Pregnancy & Birth: baby grows in the womb… fetal development… a special kind of stomachache (called labor pains) get closer together… mother pushes the baby out through the opening between her legs.
  • Gender: Stereotypical. Talks about men and women, so doesn’t address some of the things that others touch on about how boys and girls might have similar interests and only body parts are different.

Who Has What: All About Girls’ Bodies and Boys’ Bodies by Harris

  • Body Parts: Head, ear, elbow, belly button… “Between their legs, girls and women have three openings… where pee comes out, an opening to the vagina, and an opening where the poop comes out. Boys… do not have an opening to the vagina.” Penis, scrotum. Shows illustrations of external genitals and internal organs on humans and on dogs. Ovary, uterus, testicles. Touches on breasts and breastfeeding.
  • Privacy: Shows that there are clothed people on the beach, and when it shows genitals, they’re shown on children who are in a changing room getting dressed. Text does not touch on privacy.
  • Pregnancy & Birth: “The uterus is where a baby can grow until it is born.”
  • Gender: “That baby is either a girl baby or a boy baby.” Most things are the same… (interests, activities, most body parts)… but some parts are different… what makes you a boy or a girl… will make you a man or a woman.”

A note about gender. In the chart above, I call something stereotypical if it only talks about men and women in a heterosexual, cisgender context. I say biology if it’s generally fairly diverse (in talking about how boys and girls can do all the same things, or talking about alternate family structures at all) but it still categorically says: what makes a boy a boy is a penis and what makes a girl a girl is a vagina. As modern culture is shifting toward thinking of gender beyond the binary, some of these books may change wording in future editions, but in the meantime, some parents may choose to supplement these books with Who Are You?: The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity.

To learn more about having difficult conversations with kids, check out Talking with Children About Sexuality, and Better You than YouTube.

Talking with Children about Sexuality

A lot of important topics fall under the umbrella of sexuality: anatomy, self care, body image, social norms, bodily autonomy, abuse prevention, consent, gender identity, sexual orientation, relationships and reproduction. These are not topics we save up for “the Talk” – one big conversation when our kid hits puberty! Instead, they are topics we can talk about a little at a time, in age appropriate ways, from when our children are very young. These open, matter of fact conversations not only give our children the information they need to stay safe and healthy, they also give us opportunities to share our family values, and to let our kids know that we are available as a resource to them. People who got accurate information from their parents, and know their parents are approachable for advice, are less likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, and less likely to have a teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection.  (Source, Source)

Here are common suggestions for topics to address and messages to share with your child. All families have their own set of values on these topics, and you know your own child best, so adapt these to fit your needs and what feels right to you.

  • Understanding Their Own Body, How It Works, and How to Keep It Healthy
    • Potty training (age 2 – 4) is a perfect time for teaching your child the names for their own body parts and products (penis, vagina, urethra, urine, bowel movement…) Teach the correct anatomical terms – this enables them to communicate with doctors in the future. (And can also help a child to clearly report sexual abuse.) Teach them how to care for their own bodies – how to wipe after using the toilet, and how to wash their own private parts.
    • When they become curious about other people’s bodies that are different from theirs (often age 4 – 6), answer their questions.
    • By age 8 or 9 – before they and their friends experience them, they need to know the basics of puberty, the menstrual cycle, and/or wet dreams / nocturnal emissions.
    • By age 10 – before they and their friends are likely to be sexually active, talk about sexual health, contraception, and prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STI). Also talk about the importance of delaying sexual activity till they are older.
  • How They Feel About Their Bodies – Body Image. Throughout your child’s life, be conscious of how you talk about your own body image in front of them, be aware of the impact of media messages and peer pressure, and reinforce healthy, realistic attitudes.
  • Understanding Social Norms about Nudity and Public vs. Private Behavior
    • Children under age 4 may naturally have ‘no shame’ about their bodies – they may show body parts to others, look at and touch other people’s bodies un-self-consciously. We want to teach them the idea of ‘private parts’ – the parts of the body that a swimsuit covers – and your family / cultural norms about where and in what contexts it’s appropriate to show them or touch them and where it is not appropriate. For example, some families say “It may feel good to touch your private parts, and it is OK to touch your own private parts, but only when you’re alone, and only in the bathroom or your bedroom.”
    • At age 4 – 6, children usually understand this, but they may occasionally try to sneak a peek at others, or touch others, or play “you show me yours, I’ll show you mine.” This is not deviant… Playing doctor is normal behavior at this age (as long as it’s between children the same age, it’s consensual for both, it’s motivated by curiosity and only happens rarely). However, you should set limits and calmly explain why this behavior is not allowed in your family. (Learn more baout sexual development and behavior in children: www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/resources/sexual_development_and_behavior_in_children.pdf)
    • This is also the time frame for potty humor, and then testing out swear words. Set limits for what is appropriate and in what contexts.
    • At age 7 – 12: Kids may play truth or dare style kissing games, look up words in the dictionary, or seek out pictures of nudity online. You can set parental controls and monitor media usage, but you should also talk to children about pornography and how it is designed for adults – tell them that if they encounter it on the internet, they should click away from it. (You might also talk about how pornography is often misogynistic and/or exploitative, and also that pornography sex is different than real world sex.)
    • It’s important for you to teach your child your family values and standards. For children ages 5 and up, explain that different people may have different standards.
  • Bodily Autonomy – Teach your children that their body belongs to them and ensure that they feel empowered to set limits on how others may touch them.
    • This can begin very young – when you are changing your child’s diaper or bathing them, you can talk with them about what you’re doing. Now, this doesn’t mean we ask permission to change a diaper. A lot of toddlers would say “no!” to that. But, we can still be respectful and explain to them what we are doing.
    • Don’t require that your child give hugs or kisses to anyone if they don’t want to.
    • Before tickling or rough-housing, ask them if they want that. Let them know that any time they want you to stop, all they have to do is say stop and you will. Also stop every once in a while and ask “are you having fun? Do you want to keep playing?”
    • For a child 3 or older, let them know it’s not OK for others to touch their private parts without permission. Even parents and doctors should ask if it’s OK, and explain why they need to touch them.
    • Talk about healthy touch – touch that is comforting, welcome, and pleasant – versus unhealthy – intrusive, unwelcome, uncomfortable. Tell them what to do, and who they can talk to, if someone touches them in a way that makes them uncomfortable.
    • Due to fears of abduction and abuse, we used to teach stranger danger. However, most crimes against children are done by people the child and the parents know. We need to instead teach about “tricky people.” Tricky people might try to arrange alone time with the child, ask the child to do something which breaks family rules, or doesn’t feel right, or ask the child to keep a secret. Learn how to teach about “tricky people” here: https://gooddayswithkids.com/2017/02/13/tricky-people/
  • Learning to Ask for Consent Before Touching Others
    • Around preschool, start encouraging your child to ask before giving hugs and kisses or climbing in someone’s lap. They should also not assume just because someone has welcomed their touch in the past means they want it right now. You might say: “I love having you in my lap, so usually I say yes, but ask first to be sure.”
    • You can apply consent in discipline situations: “Did you ask him if it was OK to hit him? If you had asked, what would he have said? Yeah, then it’s not OK to hit him.”
    • Read: “How Sex Educators Talk to their Sons About Consent
  • Gender Identity and Gender Roles
    • By 2 – 3 years, children begin to label themselves and others as male or female, By 3 – 4 years, they categorize thing as boy things or girl things, by 4 – 6, they say “only boys can do this” or ”girls never do that.” By 6 – 7 years children understand that boys grow up to be men, and that women aren’t “daddies.”
    • As they get older, their perception of gender roles will be highly influenced by peers, by the broader culture and by media. But the early years are an opportunity for you to share your family values and beliefs about gender roles and gender expression. Think about what you say and what you do, and how this shapes their views.
    • There are different components of gender: a person’s biological sex (their body parts), gender identity (do they view themselves as male or female), expression (how they dress, wear their hair, and move), and gender roles (what others expect them to be interested in or to do based on their perception of their gender).
    • Most of us were raised with a binary concept of gender – you are either male or female. There has been a significant cultural shift where the current generation of youth may have a view of gender more as a spectrum, which includes transgender, gender fluid, and gender non-conforming. To learn more about how to talk with your child about gender identity, see: plannedparenthood.org/learn/parents/
      preschool/how-do-i-talk-with-my-preschooler-about-identity
  • Sexual Orientation and Attraction
    • Kindergarten age children often explore the idea of couple relationships – “I’m going to marry her.” They may imitate relationship behaviors such as holding and kissing. 7 and 8 year olds may explore relationships “that’s my boyfriend” and may start to wonder about sex. They may be working to figure out the difference between liking a friend, loving a family member, being attracted to someone and being in love.
    • By age 4 or 5, most children have noticed in the families around them and in media messages that it is more common for men to marry women, and for boys to be in relationships with girls. Think about your family values about sexual orientation and same gender relationships and share those with your children with your words and actions. As your children get older, talk about how others may have different values.
  • Babies and Sex
    • Preschoolers will notice pregnant bellies and may tell you that babies come from mommies. And they may want to know how the baby will get out. But age 5, children may get curious about how the baby got in there.
    • For a preschooler, we might tell them that a man’s sperm and a woman’s egg make a baby, and the mother carries the baby in her uterus. For a 5 – 6 year old, many parents talk about how a man and woman lay together in a special way to make a baby. For older elementary students you may talk in more detail about sex, and also address the fact that sex can make a baby, but more often adults engage in sex because it feels good to adults.
  • Healthy Relationships with Others
    • Throughout your child’s early years, your words and actions, and those of other people in their lives model for them what to expect from relationships. Try to model healthy relationships. If there are unhealthy relationships in your environment, try to insulate young children from them, and talk to older children about them.
    • In general, a healthy relationship is one where you feel good about yourself, you feel supported and valued by the other person, and you feel safe with them.

When and How to Have the Conversation

Answer questions as they come up. (If the child is old enough to ask, they’re old enough to hear the answer.) But, be sure you know what question they’re asking, so you don’t either just tell them what they already know or give them way more than they’re asking for. Start with a brief answer, then ask “Does that answer your question?” or “Is there more you want to know?”

Look for teachable moments: When you happen to see something in a book, a movie, or while people watching that could lead into a conversation, just drop in a few little tidbits of information. Make these topics that are normal and comfortable to talk about. Watch their non-verbal cues for when it’s time to move on to another topic.

If there’s something you want to talk to them about, first ask them what they already know about that topic – that helps you set your conversation at the appropriate level of sophistication and also lets you catch and clear up any misconceptions they have.

Buy a book or two on the topics to keep on the shelf at home. For younger children, you may read them together. For older children, we often just have them available for them to use as a resource whenever they want to. They might not ever admit to you that they read the book, but you might notice some pages getting a little tattered over time as they seek out the information they want when they’re ready for it.

Recommended books for kids about sexuality:

For preschool ageAmazing You: Getting Smart About Your Private Parts, by Saltz. 

For early elementaryWhat’s the Big Secret? by Brown.

For upper elementaryIt’s So Amazing: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families by Harris. Age 7 – 10.

For additional book recommendations, and details on available books, check out my post on Books for Children about Sexuality.

Online Resources:

Sexual Development and Behavior in Children: www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files
/resources/sexual_development_and_behavior_in_children.pdf

Talking to Your Preschool Children about Sexuality: www.frfp.ca/parents-resources/parent-education/sexuality/talking-to-preschoolers-about-sexuality.pdf

Talking to Your Young Child About Sex: https://healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/preschool/Pages/Talking-to-Your-Young-Child-About-Sex.aspx

What Your Child Should Know… by 8 years old: http://birdsandbeesandkids.com/what-your-child-should-know-about-the-birds-bees-by-8-years-old/

Classes

Classes for parents:  Birds + Bees + Kids – Online or Seattle area

Classes for parents and pre-teens – Great Conversations – Washington, Oregon, and California.

Classes for kids: Unitarian Universalist churches and the United Church of Christ sponsor classes using a curriculum titled Our Whole Lives. They have programs for k-1, for 4th – 6th graders, for 7th – 9th grade, and for high school, and often welcome non church members to participate.

A Handout

If you’re a parent educator, and you’d like a handout on this topic to share, just click here: Talk about Sexuality With Kids. I also have free printable handouts on LOTS of other topics on my Materials for Parent Educators page.

Other Topics:

Are you wondering how to talk to your child about other challenging topics (like death, war, drugs and alcohol, and more? Check out Better You Than YouTube.)