Children’s Questions About Sex

Child’s Question: Where was I when you and mom got married?

Father’s Answer: A part of you was in mommy and a part was in daddy?

Child’s Next Question: Where was my HEAD?

My reaction:

It may be more prudent to provide children with accurate information when they request it, to the level which they can understand. What you said IS clever, but obviously part of your cleverness is your success in being accurate, in a sense, but evasive and deceptive in a larger sense of OMISSION. With all the media available to children, they will put two and two together and figure out a lot. So, they may look back on such evasive answers and feel that you were less than honest, or perhaps they will sense some level of shame about simple facts of life. My step son is now 25. I came along when he was 7. I always treated him like an adult with each question that he asked. My approach seems to have worked out ok so far. I think he always felt that he could ask me about anything and I would give him an honest, sincere answer and not talk down to him as a second class intellect. My parents, in the 1950s, gave me evasive answers. In retrospect, I felt betrayed.

I grew up in the 1950’s. EVERYONE answered children in that fashion, and did so, because it was a time and culture in which one could NOT say the word “pregnant” on the Jack Paar Tonight show. You must say “expecting”. Words like “pregnant were considered filthy.

We lived in a world of euphemisms. When I was age 5, my mother scolded me for saying that someone was “stupid.” She explained that stupid is a naughty word, and that I should instead say that someone is “silly.”

When I was age 10, I received a megaphone for Christmas (how DUMB is THAT to give a kid a MEGAPHONE). So, of course, I decided to begin reading GENESIS aloud into the megaphone. When I got to the part that says “Adam knew Eve and she conceived” my mother came storming out of the kitchen to stop me. Then, she paused in mid air like one of those Bugs Bunny cartoon double-takes typical of Daffy Duck or Elmer Fudd or Porky Pig or Wiley Coyote…. she was upset that I was saying something improper.

Parent: She is only age 3

Response:

I was curious about the age, and assumed she must be very young. I am not criticizing you. Like I said, I lived in a generation of parents who spoke about storks, cabbage leaves, tooth fairies, etc. But it is an interesting topic to blog about. When my stepson was age 4, his mom HAD to take him to day care. She felt that she HAD to tell him a lot of things about a problem which is an obvious concern in these times, e.g. “if ANYONE ever touches you down here, even if it is a relative, you MUST tell me, and even if they tell you something bad will happen, you still must tell me… etc.” So, at age 4, he knew a lot about sexuality because of all the concerns about the problem of abuse. I have vivid memories from age 3 and 4. She now has notions that her head was one place, while her body was another. I don’t know if that is preferable to simply hearing something different and more accurate. I know I harbored misinformation from the age of 4 that did me more harm than good.

I know there are whole series of books and videos, perhaps on the Teletubbie level, designed to answer toddlers curiosity about gender and toilet and birth and other mysteries. I have no idea if they are beneficial or harmful. The only real wisdom I ever remember about children’s questions is this: “If they ask something, they are ready to learn something. Give them little increments of accurate information, until they seem satisfied. When they stop asking, then they know enough for now, and dont need further info or greater detail.”

Obviously you can’t turn the clock back and relive the moment. But, suppose your answer had been “You were not born yet.” Now, the ball is back in the child’s court. Perhaps she will feel satisfied with that answer. Perhaps she will ask something about what it means to be born. If she did ask that, you might show her a picture of an expectant mother and say, “see, the baby is in the tummy.” She might be content with that information, and stop asking questions. If she questions what that means, or how the baby gets in the tummy, then you might say “Well, lets get a book and see what it says, because books are the best way for us to learn things.” Now, each step of the way, you have given a reasonable true answer which is not misleading or evasive. And her questions might have turned to the nature of books, and why they are the best way to learn things. This line of dialog avoids notions of disembodied heads.

Parent: Perhaps you are over-analyzing.

Reply:

I went through St. John’s. The word “over-analyze” has no real meaning for me. I read Denniston’s massive tome on Greek Particles. How many jumping jacks, push ups, sit ups are “too much?” Ask Jack LaLanne who is doing them in his 90s. This is what I do every day. No one “pushed my buttons”. I stumble across an interesting topic, and then I try to think deeply about it. Look at my posting history for 10 years on the internet. This is my mental habit. It is neither wise nor foolish. It is just what I am, my nature. Who knows, perhaps something that I say will help someone to make a decision in some future circumstance. Or perhaps I am misguided and will cause harm by expressing my opinions. To overdo anything means in some sense to do harm. More dangerous than the unanswered question, is the unquestioned answer.

I did think that this three-year-old must be rather brilliant to deduce that her head was in one place, while the rest of her was somewhere else.

Piaget devised an intelligence test for small children, in which the child is show a short squat cylinder of water, which is then poured into a tall slender container (giving the illusion of MORE water). The child is then asked which container held MORE water. A 5 year old in India pointed to the first, squat container, now empty. The psychologist asked her “Why?” The child said not a word, but dipped her finger into the empty container, to moisten it, and then touched her finger to the dirt floor, and held it up to demonstrate that, indeed, more water had been in the first container, for some drops still remained.

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