My son started locking the bathroom door when he showers. It doesn’t surprise me. In fact, I often lock the bathroom door too to keep little prying eyes from coming across me in my vulnerable, naked state.
He also is quick to let me know when he finds his 3-year-old sister unashamedly doing naked froggy jumps down the hall from the bathroom to her bedroom. (I admit, it’s quite the sight — but one that I can’t help but laugh at.)
My son’s newfound interest in privacy is very typical at his age.
You may have noticed this interest in privacy in your own kids. I’ll help you recognize other common behaviors. But first, let’s talk about what sexual growth in kids actually means.
What does sexual growth mean at this age?
Sexual growth is not just about your child’s physical development.
It also includes sexual-related knowledge, sexual beliefs or opinions that start to form, and sexual behaviors that kids start to show.
Now, I’m not talking about sexual understanding as adults know it. I’m talking about a basic framework of learned attitudes and understanding about genders, gender roles, body parts, privacy, consent, and body curiosities.
These curiosities about gender and bodies are right in line developmentally with 6-year-old, 7-year-old, and 8-year-old milestones. These kids are cognitively becoming more aware of details and processes. They have more ability to express compassion and are establishing an internal compass of right and wrong.
All of these developing skills naturally come into play with other topics like gender characteristics and how bodies work.
So, positive sexual growth for 6 to 8-year-olds is about developing attitudes and opinions that foster respect for their own self as well as the people around them.
Factors that influence sexual growth
Every child’s sexual knowledge and behaviors are influenced by several different factors.
- Your child’s age which influences typical cognitive, social and emotional ability.
- Your child’s observations of sexual behavior between family and friends.
- Are couples appropriately affectionate in front of kids?
- Is a single parent dating?
- Do family members give hugs or snuggle on the couch?
- Is there any exposure to sexual violence?
- What your child is taught from religious or cultural influences.
- Are there certain behaviors that are unacceptable?
- Is there an influenced perception of guilt or shame with particular choices?
- Are genders expected to behave in distinct ways?
All families have various values and perspectives with which they see these topics. While we might not all agree how things should be done, it’s important to carefully consider the environment we want for our own family.
Are our words and examples contributing to a positive environment for sexual growth? With some reflection, we might discover there are things we’d like to change for our own family.
Sexual development milestones for 6 to 8-year-olds
Six to eight-year-olds MAY…
- Want and need privacy.
- Become more curious about adult male and female bodies — they may want to see these bodies naked.
- Conform to normal gender roles and perceived appropriate behaviors, even when these gender roles are not taught in the home environment.
- Be ready to hear basic concepts about the upcoming changes of puberty.
- Show an increased interest in pregnancy and childbirth and may ask for more details.
- Be ready to learn about both male and female reproductive anatomy to better understand the process of pregnancy and childbirth.
- Engage in spontaneous, unforced sexual type play with other kids — this play is motivated by innocent curiosity, not a mature cognitive understanding of sex.
- Take more notice of sexual attitudes and behaviors displayed in videos or other online material, images and song lyrics.
Become a source for healthy growth
There’s no doubt about it — our kids routinely come across sexual information in their normal activities. And while parents should do their best to help kids learn and grow in a safe environment, they should also help kids make sense of situations that are not ideal.
I want my kids to understand that they can talk to me about anything. Don’t you?
So what I can do is become my kids’ best source of accurate and positive sexual information. I can craft my family message about sexual values and limits and routinely weave these messages throughout normal, every-day conversations.
As always, these conversations should be age appropriate. In general, they will be brief and simple even when answering your child’s questions. After the conversation, ask questions such as, “Did that answer your question?” or “Is there anything else you wanted to talk about?”
How parents can encourage positive sexual growth
- Respect their child’s desire for privacy.
- Have conversations about the birds and bees and establish themselves as their child’s best source of information.
- Educate their child on what to expect during puberty and how to cope with these changes.
- Help their child develop strong communication and decision making skills.
- Identify and share family values about sexual behaviors and relationships.
- Model appropriate behavior, including healthy interactions within relationships.
- Answer their child’s questions without judgment.
- Find parent approved resources like books and websites that their child can look at for information.
- Check in regularly with their child about sexual behaviors since many of these behaviors may be explored privately.
- Recognize that exposure to sexual material through media, even in supposedly family and kid-friendly media, can have a strong impact on a child’s behavior.
- Routinely check in on play dates with friends and interactions between siblings.
- Set rules for appropriate technology use and educate children on technology safety.
- Recognize that most children are naturally curious about sexuality and can turn experiences into teachable moments.
- Teach their child how to identify risky social situations.
- Communicate that pictures of private body parts should not be shared over technology.
- Educate their kids on the negative effects of pornography.
- Yardsticks: Child and Adolescent Development Ages 4-14 by Chip Wood
- Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). “What is Normal Childhood Sexual Development?” Families are Talking, vol. 3, no. 4, 2015, https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/FAT_Newsletter_V3N4-Normal-Childhood-Sexual-Development.pdf.
- National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth (NCSBY). https://www.ncsby.org/content/childhood-sexual-development#link2. Accessed 20 May 2021.
- The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN). “Sexual Development and Behavior in Children.” https://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/resources/sexual_development_and_behavior_in_children.pdf.