A Child's Curiosity

Children are natural explorers; we want them to be! We encourage their questions and even fuel their curiosity because we enjoy seeing their minds at work. They want to learn, especially from their caregivers, which is why they come to ask questions. A child’s curiosity is natural, normal, and healthy...even when it’s about sexuality.  

Where do babies come from? Why is my body different than yours? What is masturbation? Why is my body growing hair? What do I do if my boyfriend/girlfriend wants to kiss me and I do not want to kiss them back? When will I know I’m in love? What is sex?  

Why is it easier to support a child’s curiosity when it comes to discussing how planes fly, why carrots grow underground, or why koalas sleep so much, but we freeze at the idea of talking about bodies, relationships, or sex? We want to be nurturers of all things educational, which should include sexuality. Discussing development is a necessary, ongoing responsibility. We should support their curiosity, but how?

Ask the question back and use language at their level.  

Your 5-year-old says, “Mommy, where do babies come from?” Some parents may wonder, “Is my child asking about sex?” Not necessarily. This is a time to clarify. Parents can take this opportunity to repeat the question to the child: “Where do you think babies come from?” Maybe the child’s response is, “I think babies come from the hospital”. Or your little one may say, “I think babies come from momma’s belly.” Great. Both of these responses are age appropriate and correct. By asking the question back to the child, a parent is able to gain knowledge about what their child already knows and lets the child lead the conversation. It’s also a time where parents can separate fact from fiction and incorporate family values. The conversation will look different if a 9-year-old child was asking, and again if a 14-year-old child was asking. Using language at the child’s level will support their development and nurture their curiosity.

Allow time to talk and explore.  

We can’t expect or assume children will seek understanding from their parents if the parents aren’t starting the discussion. Parents can support a child’s curiosity by asking them questions. This may seem intimidating, but there are things around us every day that can help start the conversation. For example, if you are watching TV with your teen and two people kiss, you could ask them about that kiss. “What did you think about that kiss? Do you think he/she wanted to be kissed?” Or “That kiss made me feel uncomfortable, how do you feel about it?” Asking questions in these moments allows time for conversation and time to explore in a safe space.   

Be open and honest.  

Being honest teaches honest behavior while building trust between parent and child. When parents are honest, children gain self-confidence and a sense of security. Honesty reassures children and shows them that their parent supports their curiosity because they are providing truthful information. Being open may seem scary because you aren’t sure what they are going to ask. What’s important is not that you will have the right answer without hesitation. It’s that you’re open-minded to their questions and concerns. You do not have to have all the answers before you talk with your child about sexuality. If you are unsure, let them know by saying, “That’s a great question. Let me do a little research and we’ll talk tonight after dinner” or another designated time. This provides security because they know that the questions they asked are important to you, especially when you set a time to talk.

Children are curious by nature. They are trying to understand the world, relationships within it, and their bodies. Talking about sex is only a small slice of that pie. You can support your child’s growing curiosity by talking with them about sexuality at every developmental stage and using simple language they can understand.

If you are hesitant to start a conversation, or want more information or additional resources, reach out to STSM. Our parent-centered program, Kitchen Conversations, may be right for you!

Alek Reaves

Alek has served as STSM's Elementary Education Coordinator since January 2017, but has been with the agency since September 2015. Previously, she worked as Richland County CASA’s Anti-Human Trafficking Project Coordinator and as STSM's Prevention Education Coordinator. In her current role, she provides primary prevention education to youth and their families throughout the midlands. She passionately believes in adult responsibility for the safety of children, as well as supporting parents in having ongoing, age appropriate conversations.