In this report, I discuss how the tweenager (age 7 to 12) can be prepared by his/her parents for the wonderful changes and corollary upheavals of adolescence, and how those curious, and often unexpected, queries can be answered. The pre-teen’s blunt interest in facts makes him a good subject for certain aspects of sex education. Your daughter’s first period should be natural and expected and something to be proud of, rather than a chocking surprise.
When your child leaves home for regular school, his family ties are very strong, but his school teacher, school-mates, their parents and the highly-admired football hero or class leader offer information and points of view that also help to shape his outlook on life. He will hear more, do more, deal more, and watch more TV, than ever before.
Sometimes a Junior School child (7 to 9) seems to have forgotten all about sex. Smith is extra coy, John is not one bit interested in the bare bodies of the other sex, Susan objects to being seen without her clothes. It means that your child has begun to sense the customs of the world he lives in and is trying to adjust. Sexual questions are less frequent and your child may even refuse to hear you talk about sex.
Several things seem to contribute to the lessening of sex desires at this age. There is a change in the sex glands; growth hormones become more active and sex hormones quieten down (for a few, short years!) There is also the more varied and active life that your child leads. He is able to do and understand more things and has less need to find bodily pleasure in every experience.
This does not make the Junior School child an utter blank, sexually. Obviously, children vary. Some may shift their interest to and from sex at one age, some at another, some not at all. Some may delight in telling dirty jokes or using swear words.
It is up to you to try to encourage self-confidence and strengthen the areas that are blossoming, cheer accomplishments, answer any questions that come up promptly, patiently and truthfully, so that wrong information, that has to be later undone, is not picked up. And do expect to have these all-important questions come up over and over again. Answering them will be basic preparation for the time when sex begins to concern him or her more personally.
Nowadays, some schools keep animals which give a chance to the children to become familiar with mating, birth and suckling of the young. It is easier for children to learn these facts in an impersonal situation in school and they can discuss and clear up further questions at home.
Sometimes you may have to explain ‘bad words’ briefly, just to dispel the notion that there is something mysterious and special about them – after which you can make it plain, without punishment, that such talk is a form of bad manners, like nose-picking or urinating in public, and that it is offensive to most people.
Middle-schoolers (9 to 12) have to be formally prepared for the great and vital changes which bring their bodies to maturity. It is a time that tries the patience and understanding of even the best parents – the child answers back, is sloppy, noisy, and disobedient. On the other hand, the pre-teen’s blunt interest in facts makes him a good subject for certain aspects of sex education.
So, although your daughter may talk brashly and openly about sex (that is, if you have a good rapport), and your son may show an unholy appetite for lurid magazines and movies, they are merely extending a growing interest in all areas of life. Their own sexual development is not very mature and they are not yet troubled by the urges of the adolescent.
What are the kinds of questions you can expect to hear from your pre-teen? Most probably, the questions they have asked you before, except that the terms are grown-up. Sometimes they’ll sound as though they don’t know anything. Even so, they are ready and need more exact knowledge. Make the information as specific and matter-of-act as possible, using correct words and terms.
Don’t be afraid if, at this stage, your child shows an interest in “unwelcome” subjects like rape, adultery, out-of-wedlock babies, violence and tragedies. Here’s your opportunity to dispel unpleasant and perhaps frightening misinformation and give a balanced view so that your child doesn’t get the idea that these troubles are the rule rather than an exception. You can also bring in the role of communication and love in a meaningful relationship.
If sexual curiosity seems too intense and troubling, look behind possible causes like a new baby in the house, parental neglect or the absence or infidelity of a parent.
Now sometimes, even if you are ready and willing to talk frankly, your child may find it hard to think and talk about sex. Some children smother their curiosity, some feel that grown-ups are embarrassed and consult their friends.
Perhaps you should examine your own attitude. Was your past communication incomplete, unclear or dull? Admit it and start afresh on a more realistic footing. You may have to look for openings to give your child the information he needs to know or to bring out bottled feelings. A wedding, a pregnancy or a birth are good casual starting points. And when your child discovers that you can talk freely, he will become less fearful and more ready to air his thoughts.
Here are some guidelines to help you provide factual information for your child between 7 and 12, to prepare him or her easily and comfortably for the deeper issues of adolescence.
“How did you make me?” “How did I get inside Mummy?”
Sixes and sevens may be content just to hear that Daddy starts the baby inside Mummy.
For an older child, who wants to know more, explains it thus: There is a thick fluid in Daddy’s body which contains many tiny cells and he puts this in Mummy’s body where it joins another cell and this starts the baby in a special place called the womb.
What does daddy’s cells look like?
They are shaped like tadpoles or apostrophes. Each has a round head and a long, tapering tail which sways back and forth to take it to Mummy’s womb. About 250 of these measure one centimeter.
What does mummy’s cell look like?
It is round and about the size of the head of a pin. It is 125 times bigger than daddy’s cell.
How do daddy and mummy’s cells get together?
The fluid containing daddy’s cells comes out through his penis and joins mummy’s egg cell inside her body. This is called mating or sexual intercourse. It is done when two people love each other and want to be close.
Your child will certainly not understand this the first time it is explained. He’s too innocent, too inexperienced. He might find it funny – peculiar and silly rather than sexy. However, he’ll probably see it as just one more amazing aspect of his great, big, wonderful world.
When he is on the threshold of his teens, you can explain that, during intercourse, the father’s penis increases in length, becomes stiff and stands up at an angle from the body. This is an ‘erection’. It allows the father to insert his penis into the mother’s vagina where the cells are released in the thick fluid or ‘semen’. This is also the time when you can substitute words like ‘sperm’ and ‘ovum’ for male and female dells, adding that only one sperm can fertilize an ovum.
How does cell become a baby?
Once daddy’s cell enters mummy’s cell, it is ‘fertilized’ and starts dividing into two and then four and then eight until it becomes billions. And then these billion cells become the fingers and toes, legs and arms, nerves and muscles of the complete body.
At two months, the bay is 1½ cm long and floats in the womb in a bag of water; at four months it weights a quarter kilo; at six months, the mother can feel the baby move; at nine months, the baby is ready to come out into the world. (Show your child a pregnant neighbour or relative).
Can you get a baby every time you mate?
No, unless one of daddy’s cells finds and penetrates mummy’s cell, a baby will not be started. You might add at a later stage that just one cell is formed in mummy’s body each month and it lives for only a few days.
Why can’t mummy’s egg go into daddy?
Because men’s and women’s bodies are made differently. Daddy’s body has no place in which a baby can grow. Mummy’s body has a womb (don’t say ‘tummy’) which is at the upper end of the vagina, where a baby can develop and grow.
Make your son feel that being a daddy and supporting a family is just as important as bearing a baby.
When do mummy and daddy mate?
You don’t have to feed him unnecessary details. Just say that mating is a part of loving and wanting to have babies.
Is ‘semen’ the same as urine?
Since there is only one opening in the penis, your small son may imagine that semen and urine are the same. The answer is: No, Semen is a special, thick fluid whose only purpose is to carry male sperm cells to the outside of the body. Urine, which is a body waste, uses the same passage-way through the penis, but comes from a storage sac called the ‘bladder’ and never appears at the same time as semen.
How is baby born?
When the time comes, the mother gets signal from her stomach muscles. They get ready to push the baby out into the world through a special opening in her body which gets larger to let the baby out. Usually the baby comes out head first. The mother goes to a hospital where the doctor will help her deliver the baby.
Childbirth is often painful – ley your child know this – but reassure her that the body is built to manage the process successfully. Your child will be thrilled to visit a newborn baby.
How big is the baby when she is born?
About 2½ or 3½ kilos – sometimes more, sometimes less. (Show her a baby-size doll). You were 3 kilos when you were born. If a baby arrives much earlier than it should and is very small, she may need special care.
How does the baby breathe inside the mother?
Baby doesn’t breathe air through her lungs the way you do. She gets her air from the mother’s blood, which reaches her through a tube called the ‘umbilical cord’.
Why do I have a belly button?
This is where the umbilical cord attached you to Mummy’s body. After you were born it was cut and tied. The place where it was is your belly button. You must keep it clean.
Does it hurt when the cord is cut?
(A child connects cutting any part of the body with pain.) An umbilical cord is made of tissue and there is no feeling when it is cut. It’s like cutting a nail or hair.
WHEN I GROW UP, I WANNA BE LIKE MUMMY.
What’s in that packet?
They’re just some sanitary pads that take up moisture. Mothers and big girls wear them to protect their clothing from a discharge that appears now and then. This discharge contains some waste blood and other substances that are not needed in the body at that time. The pads are used like a bandage.
What’s matter with my Sister?
Your son may wonder why his sister doesn’t join him with gusto in his games on certain days. This is a good time to tell him that she is having a ‘period’, as she is growing up to be like Mummy. Then explain in slightly more detail keeping the nitty-gritty for when he is older.
What is menstruation?
The word means “monthly flow” and it describes one part of the process by which your body prepares itself every 28 days or so for having a baby.
Every month, about two weeks before ‘menstruation’, an egg cell is formed in one of the two ovaries, the oval-shaped organs located at either side of the womb.
When one of the egg cells leaves the ovary, it finds its way into one of the fallopian tubes, of which there are two. This is called ‘ovulation.’
If the woman has had ‘intercourse’ and the egg is ‘fertilized’ by a male sperm cell, it travels down the tubes and attaches itself to the wall of the womb. Here it begins the great and wonderful process of creating a baby.
In getting ready for this, the lining of the womb thickens into a velvety surface with an extra supply of rich blood which nourishes the fertilized egg. If ‘fertilization’ does not take place, the womb doesn’t need the lining and it is drained away. It is this flow of blood from the vagina that we call “menstruation”.
This happens every month although it may be irregular for some time. It usually starts between 11 and 14, but each girl develops, at her own pace. Eventually it usually takes place once every 28 days, and lasts for 4 to 6 days.
It is wise to prepare your daughter from the age of nine. Tell her: During the next few years, your breast will appear, your hips will widen, hair will sprout under your arms, and in your ‘pubis’ (explain where it is), you will grow rapidly in height and weight (more so than boys of your age, that is, between 9 and 12), your skin may break out in pimples. And you may have your first period.
Her first period should be natural and expected and something to be proud of, rather than a shocking surprise. Help mould a healthy acceptance by the ease with which you can explain it; let your own childhood bad memories now become your strengths.
Unfortunately, old wives’ tales and taboos have led many women to regard menstruation as unclean, probably because it was believed that the person was ill and that the discharge might contaminate food. This led to all kinds of unhealthy restrictions – no baths, no exercise, no fresh air, no cooking, even no sitting at the dining table, so that it is even called a “curse”. It is better to use the term “period” (although the jocular school-girl term, “chum” will do) and to stress that menstruation is not an illness but a basic and beautiful aspect of being a woman.
Put your daughter in the right mood by giving her a belt and a box of pads, and help her look forward to the day with anticipation. Help her select her first bra.
When the flow begins, teach your daughter how to wear the pad, how to use a deodorant, how to ensure cleanliness and bathe daily, how to continue her normal routine and what to do about the slight discomfort she might feel. An adequate supply of vitamins and minerals, especially an iron supplement, will keep her generally fit. Make the first day happy and memorable by planning a little private celebration.
Remember that doctors stress that quite often menstrual discomfort is psychosomatic, so a lot depends on a good relationship between you and your daughter and on your own attitude to menstruation.
I’m scared! Why does it have to happen?
Some girls are not too happy about what has happened to them and may not even relate their depression to menstruation. They become withdrawn, irritable, function poorly in school, sleep restlessly, overeat or lose their appetites.
Sometimes there is a cry for attention. Your attention. Make your daughter understand that it is assign of growing up, of womanhood, of being like Mummy. Tell her that if she did not menstruate, she could never have children.
Sarah feels odd because she is the first in her class to menstruate. Reassurance and time will erase this feeling.
Susan overflows into her uniform, much to her embarrassment. A sanitary panty and an extra pad to change into in school can help.
Jeannie is too shy to buy her own sanitary pads – so her mother keeps a plentiful supply in a handy place.
Quite often a father who cuddles and dandles a little girl on his knees stops doing so abruptly when she reaches puberty. Make her feel that being Daddy’s Big Girl is as important as being Daddy’s Baby Doll. Do grown-up things with her; teach her to waltz, buy her a pretty dress and high-heeled shoes.
Parents, both of you together, can see her through this stage with sympathy, understanding and patience.
Does it hurt?
Usually not. But if it does, an aspirin and a hot-water bottle will make you well.
Cramps are often a sign of tension and worry. If your daughter’s periods are unusually painful, check with your doctor.
Why does menstruation begin before I want to have a baby?
It’s Nature’s way of getting you ready, a sign of growing up and becoming a woman, proof that you are perfectly healthy and normal.
When will my periods end?
Again, this depends on the woman. Generally, it ends between the ages of 47 and 52. They may stop suddenly or they may lessen over some years before finally stopping. This is called menopause and marks the end of a woman’s child-bearing years. Menstruation also stops for the nine months when a woman is pregnant.
LITTLE BOYS BECOME BIG BOYS, TOO
When will I become a man?
An eleven-year-old boy should similarly be prepared for the changes that will occur in his body. He may grow taller, hair will spring out of his armpits and groin, a beard will begin to appear, the size of his genitals will increase, his voice will change and embarrass him by slipping into soprano, he might get acne because of the chemical changes that are taking place in his blood.
These are Nature’s signs that he is coming of age, that he is becoming a man.
It is better for a father to explain all these changes. If you’ve been friends all along, that’s fine. But it’s also a good time to start, before you find the gap between you too large to bridge. After all it’s hard to delve straight into ticklish issues like masturbation and night emissions, which will affect him later in his teenage years.
BEWARE OF THAT ONE
Continue warning and educating your child about strangers and other suspicious adults. There are wicked, nasty sick people who harm children although they are not into majority. Be cautious about any adult who seems to be highly interested in your child and wants to spend a lot of time, especially nights, alone with him or her. Without being over-scary, stress that he or she must…
- tell you about any improper advances made by adults, any adults – be they family members, teachers or coaches or priests.
- ignore requests to give directions when he or she is alone.
- not accept gifts or job-offers from a stranger and inform you when such an offer is made.
- not keep any secrets from you.
- differentiate between good and bad ‘touching’. Sometimes, seemingly innocent play leads to intimate body contact.
- work out ways, like running and screaming, if threatened or abducted.