Budding Sexuality – Guide to Your Toddler

Your Growing Toddler (Chapper1): Physical Development: HOT TOPIC: Budding Sexuality

Nose, eyes, ears, belly button—toddlers love to learn the names of things. So expect your child to ask what her genitals are called. Out of surprise or embarrassment, parents often are tempted to use made-up names or to ignore the subject altogether. Most experts advise seizing the opportunity to instill a healthy attitude toward sexuality: Use the real names— vagina, vulva, penis—just as you do for all the other body parts.

By age 2, children gain an awareness that girls and boys are different, and they’re clear to which group they belong. Exploration is part of this gender discovery, especially after toilet training begins. Your child may play with his penis, try to insert objects into her vagina, ask about your genitals or breasts, play in the potty, smear feces on a wall, or otherwise experiment.

And all toddlers revel in running around naked. Take these very normal activities in stride. Making a fuss only injects unwarranted overtones of shame or embarrassment. If a child is exploring himself in a circumstance that makes you uncomfortable, you can introduce the notion of appropriate places for touching oneself. Say something like, “I know it’s interesting [or feels good] to touch your penis. You can do that later at home, when you’re in private. Right now, let’s go see that fish pond.” Distraction works wonders.

What You Can Do

Frisky toddlers need their exercise several times a day. Of course that doesn’t mean putting them through a pint-sized video workout. It simply means that you should provide regular opportunities for physical play every day, to release pent-up energy and help your child flex her growing muscles. One-and 2-year-olds are proud of all the new things they can do. Beware, however, that younger toddlers, especially, have little common sense about what’s safe, foolish, or impossible.

Fearlessness and exuberance can be a dangerous combination. That’s why it’s now more important than ever to make sure your child’s play area is free of obvious dangers, and to keep an eye on his play.

Some ways you can promote motor skills safely and channel energy: Head outside. Properly dressed, a young child can play outdoors in almost any weather. Plan the day to include two or three outings.

Provide active toys.

Give your child toys that involve running, moving, and throwing. Examples: balls, punching bags, plastic sports equipment (such as golf clubs, bowling pins, a low basketball hoop), push toys (such as play lawn mowers, grocery carts, buggies, slides and swings, tricycles).

Don’t overlook less obvious outlets: a toy tool bench or clay for pounding, small pools for splashing, instruments for making music, rocking horses to ride. Create an indoor obstacle course of boxes, pillows, and books to practice coordination.

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