by Amy Stephens
When my son Nicholas was almost 4 years old, he crooked his little finger at me one day and said, “Want a kiss?” Getting my active son to stop long enough to hug and kiss me was always a challenge, so naturally I said, “Yes!”
I remember he closed his little eyes and kissed me. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I had this vision of him kissing a teenage girl! My eyes popped wide open, and in my mind, I could hear myself scream, “AHHHHHH.”
The vision seemed as real as though I’d watched it on live television. I took it as my wake-up call to become more intentional with the messages I was giving Nick about love, sex and relationships. In fact, after he finished his little kiss and ran off, I got busy thinking of ways to lay a positive foundation of healthy relationships in his life.
Ages 0-7 are an intense time of brain development; children are at many different levels of emotional, social and character maturity. Girls are often ahead of boys, and this must be considered when you talk to your child about love, sex and relationships.
You wouldn’t think so, simply because of their young age, but these years are very important in laying a foundation of healthy sexuality. What does it require from us? It requires us to be intentional, prayerful, informed and committed to talking often with our children.
The days of “the talk” are over. There are too many messages in the media and other sources vying for our kid’s attention. We could all learn a lesson from Disney about communicating with kids. Think sound bytes. Know your key messages. Really connect with your children, broach the messages briefly and then return to them later for more explanation.
Key Messages We Want Our Children to Remember
What themes are good to focus on as early as 4 years old?
- God made your body, and it is special
- Babies come from God; they are a result of marriage and love
- Your body is special; It is yours and no one else’s
- God made boys and girls different
- Because boys and girls are different, we practise modesty
- Boys and girls are both excellent; you are exactly as God wanted you
All these themes build as your child grows, but each message lays the foundation for creating stable relationships toward marriage. In this stage, you will also begin establishing the norm of marriage as the ultimate context for sex.
We want our children to see the sacredness of marriage and sense that you have faith they will one day be a great marriage partner. Viewing marriage as an eventual goal gives children a reason to later buy into ideas like abstinence … we save ourselves for our future spouse so our marriage will be as strong as possible, based on trust and exclusivity.
We want to be able to point our child to what they can say yes to rather than no. We say yes to positive relationships with both sexes, yes to respect for others, yes to our right to control what happens to our bodies, yes to a positive future. Too often, we tell our children no without offering anything as an alternative.
Self-Concept Is Critical
I remember the first day of school for my son. I cry every time I see the picture. Such a sweet, innocent face — what would this new experience hold? All the students looked so full of wonder and excitement. I remember thinking that junior infants was the starting block for their foray into elementary school and that some would race ahead while others fell behind. It was a bittersweet feeling.
True to my feeling, I’ve watched as some girls that started out confident in senior infants are now experiencing self-doubt and poor self-concept in fifth class. I’ve watched happy boys become angry boys over a parent’s divorce. This all plays a role in a child’s ability to practise abstinence and sustain healthy relationships. Abandoned little girls will seek an unsuspecting boy to fill the void in their heart. Angry young men can become emotionally distant to protect themselves from pain — never letting someone close enough to have their heart.
The themes for ages 4-7 are easy, everyday themes you can impart to your child without exposing them to too much information. Overexposure can be just as damaging to a child as too little.
Protecting your child from sexual images is also critical because of their cognitive and emotional development. So prevent young minds from being scarred; carefully monitor television, Internet and video content.
Connect With Your Eyes, Your Touch and Attention
The best advice I ever received on connecting with my child came from two men I respect immensely – the late David Gatewood, a former Focus on the Family counselor, and of course, Dr. James Dobson.
I was carrying my newborn son in the lift with Dr. Dobson one day and he said, “Amy, kiss him and hug him often because there will come a day when you won’t get to do it as much.” I took his word to heart. I think Nick is an affectionate kid because of his advice.
When I was a new mother, David Gatewood told me that to connect with my son I needed to look him right in the eye attentively when he was talking to me, touch his hand and be sure to let him know that I heard him. When you’ve had a long day that is a hard lesson to follow. But I’ve seen it work. My son knows when I’m really “with him” and when my mind is wandering.
Connecting with our children is the key to preventing all kinds of at-risk behaviour. Build on your themes now, because they will carry you to the exciting elementary ages of 8–12.
Themes to Discuss With Your Child 0-3 and 4-7
God Made Your Body:
Your body is a gift from God. You are unique; there is no one like you. Appreciate your body and take care of it. We eat good food to keep it healthy, we exercise to keep healthy, we keep our mind healthy by guarding what we watch, and we keep our emotions healthy by praying and by having true friendships.
Babies Come from God — They Should Be the Result Only of Marital Love:
Babies are all made by God. This is why we protect their life right from the beginning. How do babies come into the world? The best way for a baby to come in to the world is through the love of a married man and woman. Sadly, this doesn’t happen all the time. However, God’s best plan is for a baby to be born with a mother and father that are married. Marriage is God’s best idea to create a family for years to come.
Your Body Is Special — It Is Yours and No One Else’s:
Your body is a gift from God, and He expects you to take care of it. No one has the right to touch your body but you. We allow the doctor to touch your body in order to take care of your health, or Mum and Dad may need to help you with your body for health, but no one else is to touch it. If someone tries to touch your body or asks to touch your body, you immediately run and tell your parents or other trusted adult. There is no such thing as keeping that kind of secret from your parents. We (parents) will always be here to help you.
Boys and Girls Are Different:
God made boys and girls different in order for both to become lifegivers. When you are older and married, you may someday have children. Girls have babies — boys don’t. Girls have the ability as they get older to birth babies. A baby is a gift from God and grows in the womb in Mum’s tummy. It takes nine months to grow a baby, and during that time we protect the baby’s life by practising healthy habits like eating right and getting enough sleep. The best place for a baby to be born and raised is with a married man and woman. As you grow and get older (around middle school) your body will change. That’s a great thing because we all change as we get older.
Because Boys and Girls Are Different, We Practise Modesty:
Because our body is special and a gift from God, we protect it in how we dress and act. The best and first place to practise modesty is in the home. We can practise modesty by how we dress. We can practise modesty by knocking on Mum and Dad’s door while they are getting ready for work or church. We practise modesty by not barging in while our brother or sister is getting dressed. You can set an age when this should be in full practise — 4-year-olds may not be ready, but a 6- and 7-year-old should practise this at home. We also practise modesty in public by not being rough with the opposite sex. We don’t hit or kick each other even when playing, especially not in the private parts of someone’s body.
Be a True Friend:
What is a true friend? A true friend likes you for who you are without demanding that you be something else. What are the character qualities of a true friend? A true friend is honest, loyal, kind, compassionate and faithful. A true friend will not reject you to run off and play with others. A true friend will not tear you down or mock you privately or in front of other people. A true friend will care when you are hurting. A true friend will be honest with you when you are doing something wrong.
Friends Will Disagree — Resolve Conflict in a Healthy Way:
Disagreement is a part of life. How will you resolve disagreement? There is a healthy and unhealthy way. Sometimes we need a cool-off time before we speak. You may need to leave a situation and come back later. We don’t call people names. We practise “I” messages rather than “you” messages. We are honest about how we feel. It is a good idea to pray when we have a conflict so we can ask for God’s help in settling our differences.
Affirm Your Child’s Gender:
“Isn’t it great to be a girl!” “What a strong boy you are.” These messages affirm your child’s gender identity. Do not (even jokingly) put down or make fun of your child’s gender. “What a baby” or “What a sissy” does not help your young son. Affirm your daughter’s unique beauty. Let her know how special she is, particularly in Daddy’s eyes. Go on special dates with your child to affirm her self-concept. Try to refrain from faces or grimaces when they are trying something new and fail. They aren’t perfect little people.
We Don’t Get Everything We Want:
Every family has standards, and your standards may not be those of the family next door. Say “I know so and so gets to do this, but your dad and I have a different standard. This is the standard for the Stephens home.” Making your child work or save for something he wants teaches him to practise delayed gratification. “I know you want this, but it isn’t in your best interest right now — or you may have this later.” “Others may be able to watch this show, but we aren’t watching this in our family because.…”
Copyright © 2005 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.