Child Sexual Health: The Parents’ Role & The Talk

Couple of weeks back, we had a Child Sexual Health week at my Facebook Group. The decision to do that was “promoted” by recent reports of child abuse and promiscuity among really young children.

The latest a 10 year old who is already actively involved in sexual activities and a 15-month old girl who was discovered to have been sexually abused when her creche nannies noticed the widening of her vagina. This particular one has been troubling me.

How come her parents never noticed when the creche workers had been observing it for 2 weeks before they voiced out their concerns? How come?

I feel that talking to children and educating them about their sexual health is one of the solutions to the problem. You might ask what do you tell a 15-month old about sexual health? Absolutely nothing. But as a parent, you can prevent it by being extra protective. Here is what I told my members – hopefully you pick a thing or two from it and start educating your children.

THE PARENT’S ROLE

I know it can be daunting talking to children about their sexual health. Sometimes we wonder what exactly we should say and how to go about it.

Sometimes, we get so worried that we would say something that would make the children explore more than they should.

Sometimes we wonder what is age appropriate, right? We need to provide guidance and information that will help children grow into healthy responsible individuals.

We should never be scared to talk about their Reproductive parts.

I was at my friend’s some weekends ago and her house help had gotten her first period. The house help was clueless and was scared to talk about it with her boss. If they are educated early enough, they won’t be scared to share those moments.

You might worry that talking about these things might encourage your children to “experiment”. But did you know that telling them about it delays their need to explore?

Call these parts by their real names. Vagina, Penis not willy or prick or those fancy names we tend to come up with. I am guilty of this too and quickly correct myself when I fall short so don’t worry if you think transitioning to the real name will be hard. It will get better with time.

This topic of sexual health never came up when I was growing up. I knew I would one day get a period and when it came luckily I knew what to do. I learnt from conversations around me.

As parents and guardians, you are already indirectly teaching your children many things about sexual health. We have conversations we have no idea children are absorbing. One reason I’m always careful what I say around kids. I was with my little nephew (barely 3 years old) a few days ago and we saw a mosquito. I said to his mum “kill am!” My little nephew saw another and said “kill am”. I nearly wept. I had to tell him to say “kill it” and that I was speaking pidgin English with his mum which is an adult thing. I was a little ashamed he picked those words from me.

Children already have ideas about sex and sexual health because they listen to and hear conversations we adults make. Cartoon these days is filled with all manner of atrocities. What are you feeding their eyes and minds with? What kind of music do they listen to and watch?

I remember the sexual health talk I had with some pupils a while ago. One of the questions anonymously asked was “what is sex?”. I was alarmed that an 8-year old could ask me that. I was too scared to answer so I pretended not to see the question lol. But now I know to answer and tell them why it isn’t meant for children. You might be wondering what an 8-year old knows about sex, right?

Once while in Uni, my landlord came around with his 5-year old son. We lived in a shared apartment and I had a male roommate doors away from mine who lived with his partner. This 5 year old boy actually asked me if I was having sex with my roommate? This was in London. I quickly said no, he is just a friend. We share this house together and he is married. I also quickly ushered the boy out of my room because I wasn’t sure what next he will say and I didn’t want to get into trouble with the authorities. Alarm bells were just ringing in my head.

So believe me, children know these things. But most importantly, we need to answer their questions and not dodge them. Think of an easy way of explaining things to them. Their lack of knowledge is what gets them into trouble!

THE TALK

Let’s face it, the talk isn’t always easy but it is absolutely necessary.

It requires multiple conversations for reinforcement. You cannot speak to your child once and expect all to be well. The world has become such a dangerous place especially with technological advancement so we can’t afford to take chances.

Every day speak to your child. Don’t always make it a lecture, it could be just a chat or an affirmation. If you keep warning the child and say don’t do this, don’t do that, you will put that child off and they could get rebellious. Let that child see you as a friend, an ally not “my tough mum” or “my tough dad”. They need to be able to tell you anything.

Sometimes I hear some things and to not embarass the child, I try not to display the shock on my face but in my mind I am crying and praying this child hears me when we talk. I put my arms round the child’s shoulder and we take a walk and talk. We chat about many things not just puberty or their sexual health.

Some children are sensible all by themself. That is a miracle but don’t assume your child doesn’t need that talk because you are a pastor/devout Christian and they never miss Sunday school. Does Sunday school teach sexual health? Religion alone is not enough. A parent’s help, education and support along with religion is way better.

Some years back, my colleague at work came in late. Why? She had spent her entire morning at the police station. Her 15-year old daughter had reported that her boss where she interned was trying to groom her. He chatted with her on Whatsapp and ask what she was wearing and tried to get “randy” with his talk. She immediately took this chat to her mum. Her mum called the police and the man was arrested. That was in London. In Nigeria, what would the police have done? I leave you to answer that.

This girl was well trained by her mum. She spoke to her daughter all the time. She knew she couldn’t protect her from the world so she made her strong and empowered her to face the world. She never sugar coated the realities of sex and puberty. She was well informed and it didn’t mar her or make her explore sex way before she was supposed to. We had a good rapport and she once told me she would remain a virgin till she got married. How that gladdened my heart.

The key to having that talk is to start early and be able to talk to children about anything in a way that they would understand and that is age appropriate rather than create a scary or fake explanation because you feel they are too young to get it. There is a time and a place for scary. Tell them about puberty and the changes that will happen in them and in the opposite sex.

Older children don’t want the talk as they think they know it all already. Start early and if you are getting them a book on puberty, make sure you have read it first just incase there is something in there that goes against your values.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” — ALBERT EINSTEIN

As a parent, it is your responsibility to know what you’re talking about. Both parents should agree on how to have this talk, when and what to say so you don’t end up saying different things. I always advice that we also pray about it. My belief is that prayer provides a protection from things you might never find out.

Start as early as possible so that as they grow older, the definitions and concepts can be naturally complex but easy to grasp. Just like when we teach a 4 year old tens and unit, you don’t get to the point of carrying over so as not to confuse them. As they get older, it is easier to solve more complex tens and unit and even graduate to hundreds, thousands and ….. As they get older they no longer tell you 1 minus 4 is impossible. You get what I am saying right?

Children are different. You know your child and what makes them tick. Use the knowledge of your child to your advantage when it’s time to have the talk.

What do you think?

#BeHSEWise