Toddlers are curious people. The quest for more information often leads these little explorers into uncharted territory, from bugs in the backyard, to Mommy's makeup drawer, to examining their own body parts…even the private ones.
This is completely normal says Joyce Penner, author of Sex Facts for the Family, available through her ministry's website at www.passionatecommitment.com. "Toddlerhood is the stage of sexual development that is particularly associated with genital discovery. Just as 18 month to three year olds poke their fingers in their ears and up their noses, they find their genitals and discover that they feel good to touch."
Although a toddler's recent find may force some parents out of their comfort zones, Penner says how a parent responds is crucial for healthy sexual development. "How effectively we master each stage of sexual development has an impact on our adult sexual adjustment. The confident mastery of this stage of sexual development leads to positive acceptance of one's genitals and the ability to affirm our God-given sexual feelings, while making wise decisions about controlling our sexual actions."
Since self-control seems to elude most toddlers, it's up to parents to create an environment with proper safeguards that protect innocence. Here are a few tips on how parents can encourage appropriate physical boundaries:
The most helpful response is to acknowledge that touching his or her own private parts feels good and that God designed it to have those special feelings. If your child becomes too focused on touch, try to redirect to another activity.
Respect your toddler's privacy
Even though your child may be inconsistent with modesty – running naked through the house one moment, and then refusing to undress in front of a sibling the next, respect their wishes anyway. Provide a private place for her to change, go to the bathroom or bathe without an opposite sex sibling (with parental supervision, of course).
Keep the Parents' Door Locked
Be sure to lock your doors when making love with your spouse, even after your child has gone down for the night. Children can become traumatized when they overhear or are exposed to parents' sexual activities. If your child has accidentally walked in on you, make sure he knows it's not his fault. You might explain that Mommy and Daddy were just playing around, having fun and loving each other.
Teach Your Toddler About Inappropriate Touch
Even though your child may not understand well enough or completely enough to entirely protect him from harm, teaching about bad touch is a learning process. After all, we start teaching toddlers not to run into the street long before they can be counted on to follow that instruction. Be sure to communicate the message that because God made our genitals with special feelings, they are private and we have to take very good care of them. And remember, when a parent practices respect toward a child, it will empower him or her to stand up to others when something doesn't feel right. A helpful resource is the Good-Touch/Bad-Touch® Web site.
Teach Positive Image
Delight in your toddler, speaking words of affirmation. Keep your child looking good so that others will respond positively to her also. Everyday, verbalize how much you love your child. Give specifics about what you like about him, even about how he looks. Don't worry about making your child proud. We all get enough negatives in life that we need all the positives we can get.
*Compiled with Joyce Penner, Co-Director Passionate Commitment Ministries