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Children under two years old are extremely curious about the world around them; they are constantly exploring and learning about their environment through touch and taste. Caregivers may find themselves repeatedly taking things out of their infant’s hands, their mouths, or even directing their child away from non-kid friendly areas of the house. Along with this curiosity for their surroundings, infants are also curious about their body. It is common for infants to frequently touch their body parts, including their genitals. Also, at this age they have no inhibitions around nudity.

Language Development: Learning the Correct Names for Body Parts and Labeling Emotions

While it might seem unusual or uncommon to think about teaching an infant about healthy sexual behavior and sexuality at this age, there are things that caregivers can do to begin the development of a healthy sexuality in infancy. As with any age, it is important to remember you are meeting your child where they are at developmentally. And so, during this stage, education about sexual development starts off with teaching your child the correct names of their body parts and labeling their emotions.

Dr. Larissa Hirsch of Kids Health recommends using a direct mater-of-fact approach when helping children identify the anatomical names of their body parts, such as penis, vagina, etc.
Researchers have found a child’s ability to correctly name their body parts is positively associated with building a positive body image and increasing communication between caregivers and children. Additionally, teaching children to identify their emotions increases their ability to manage their relationships and increase their ability to talk about how they are feeling.

Caregivers have the ability to build a secure foundation for their children, starting at infancy by using the correct anatomical names of body parts and teaching children to identify emotions. By providing your children with information about their sexuality, Caregivers are also developing and supporting their child’s emotional and social sexuality and increasing the child’s safety through the education of knowing how to identify parts of their body and learning appropriate boundaries.

Building a Healthy Attachment: Your Response is Key

The major emotional and relational milestone in infancy is the formation of a healthy attachment, which is developed through the relationship between infants and their caregivers. It is through this secure and trusting relationship, caregivers are teaching their children how to respond to the world around them. From the very start, you can begin to help your child develop healthy relationships by teaching them healthy boundaries and how to interact with other children and adults appropriately.

The way you respond to your child’s behaviors is just as important as the information you are conveying to your child. It may feel uncomfortable or awkward to see your child explore their body through touch, for example, but remember not to scold your child or overreact when you observe these behaviors. Children learn through modeling and by not overacting or scolding, you are modeling a securely attached positive behavior when you educate or redirect your child’s behaviors. Having an even tone, relaxed rate of speech, open body language and inviting facial expressions while you are talking to your child creates a safe environment for these conversations to occur, thus allowing your child to develop an emotionally secure sense of self with their sexuality. (This can be compared to a caregiver who is anxious when talking to their child which may in turn lead to a child internalizing this anxiety around their sexuality or a caregiver who gets angry with their child’s behavior which may lead to a child developing shame around their sexuality).

Teachable Moments

As these situations occur, use them as opportunities for teachable moments to educate your child about healthy boundaries and your rules around their behavior. A few examples may include telling your child not to touch themselves in public, talking to them about body parts that are private, or redirecting your child when they are trying to undress in public.

Remember, when it comes to teaching your child about sexuality and sexual development, you are the best teacher! You can convey to your child your family’s values and expectations around sexuality and behavior. It is never too early to start the conversation about healthy sexual development. Starting these conversations at a young age, makes later conservations about sexuality and sexual development easier and normalizes them as part of your everyday life.

Hirsch, L. (2020) Teaching Kids About Their Bodies. Kids Health. Retrieved from:
RAACE (2015). Why it’s important to teach your kids the correct name for all body parts. Race Against Abuse of Children Everywhere. Retrieved from: https://www.raace.org/why-important-teach-kids-correct-name-body-parts?journal=2
Mincemoyer, C. (2016). Talking with preschoolers about emotions. Better Kid Care. Retrieved from: https://extension.psu.edu/programs/betterkidcare/early-care/tip-pages/all/talking-with-preschoolers-about-emotions