Sex Ed for Preschoolers

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The other day at rehearsal, Silas was running around on the stage while I was talking to an actor. As Silas ran past, the actor, a 16-year-old boy (and, I should say before I get too into this story, a SUPER NICE KID), reached out and grabbed Silas. He started tickling him. Silas made a sound that could have been giggling or could have been crying. As soon as I saw his face, I realized that he was terribly upset. “Put him down!” I said, and the kid did, right away, and apologized.

Silas was really freaked out by it. On the way home, he kept asking me why the kid had done that. I realized, that hasn’t happened to Silas before. He hasn’t had a teen or an adult just snatch him up and tickle him. In our family, I’ve set strong boundaries about that kind of thing. If I’m hugging Silas and he says he doesn’t want a hug, I back off. We stop tickling or wrestling or whatever the instant one of the kids says “Stop!” I haven’t had a sit-down talk with his uncles about this kind of thing, but we demonstrate over and over that he doesn’t have to touch anyone or let anyone touch him, so they always check in first. We even say things like, “Would you like to give Grandma a hug or a high five?” when we’re taking our leave. We let Petra and Silas wrestle, but we break it up as soon as one of them says, “I’m done!”

We care about listening to what our kids are telling us about their bodies and their comfort. When Silas was only a couple of months old, someone was holding him, and he started to squirm and cry and reach for me. I tried to take him back, and the person wouldn’t let me. “You just can’t stand to hear him cry, can you?” she said. I relented, and he howled for another ten minutes, while she bounced him and shushed and insisted that he was fine, that babies just cry sometimes, that he didn’t want or need me. But I understood what he was saying–I’m not happy right here, and I want my little two-month-old body to be with my mama. Sure enough, as soon as I got him back, he settled.

People ask me how I managed to have Silas 90% potty trained by 18 months, and all the way diaper free by 2 years old (and, I should note, Petra is pretty close to done with diapers, too). I think the answer is that we always, always encouraged them to listen to their bodies. So when we said, “Is your body telling you it needs to pee?” this wasn’t a new concept.

I see this as sex ed for preschoolers. The big lesson is: Your body is your own. No one gets to tell you what to do with your body.

Now, we make exceptions, of course. I require them to let me brush their teeth and hair. We’re not slobs, here. But for the most part, I protect my kids’ right to bodily autonomy and self-determination. It’s so much a part of our family culture that I hardly think about it any more. So I was caught off guard by the fact that it was so normal for this kid to scoop Silas right off the floor.

After the other night, I wondered if I take the whole thing a little too seriously. After all, I am certain that adults in my life picked me up in play when I didn’t particularly want them to–and I’m a happy, well-adjusted adult, right? This teen was just playing. People are going to do that kind of thing to kids, and maybe I should get them used to the idea so that they aren’t so completely freaked out when it happens.

And then I thought…wait, do I want him to think it is normal for a big, powerful person to snatch him up, without asking if it’s okay? Do I want him to think this is the normal world? How would I feel if an adult man did that to an adult woman? How do I want Silas to treat people?

So…I guess I’m still pretty humorless about that kind of thing after all. And I’m stunned that I have been able to protect him from that for four years.

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