Children and learning about sexuality
Primary school years
The following information can help you understand your child’s sexuality development during their primary school years.
Early primary school
By early primary school, children may:
- be more curious about adult sexuality and ask about gender differences, babies, pregnancy and birth
- enjoy using swear words, ‘toilet’ words or names for private body parts when telling stories or asking questions
- have heard about sexual intercourse and like to talk about it, often using words they have heard from their friends
- move from having friends of both sexes, towards same‐sex friendships.
By mid‐primary school, children have a greater sense of privacy. They may be embarrassed about nudity and modest in front of parents or others.
They may begin talking about sex, tease and joke with peers and play games about kissing or pretend marriage.
Primary school aged children may also play games involving parts of the body or looking under toilet doors. This kind of play comes from increased curiosity about bodies. Children usually enjoy these games like any other game.
If they are found playing them they can be embarrassed, especially if they see parents do not approve or are embarrassed or shocked. If asked to stop and play something else they usually do.
If you are not sure how to react, stay calm, take a deep breath and think about the message you want to give. What you say will depend on your child’s age and maturity.
- ignore it, if the children are quite young
- for four and five year olds, say ‘It’s OK to be curious, but people’s bodies are private. It’s not OK to touch other people’s bodies, or for other people to touch yours’
- tell them ‘It looks like you are interested in finding out about bodies. I will find a picture book for you that explains it’.
This type of play is usually nothing to worry about if:
- it’s between friends of the same age, size and power
- no one is being pushed to do something they don’t want to do
- they are not doing something that children of that age don’t usually know about
- it does not take over all their play time, and they are easily encouraged to do something else.
Tips for talking with your primary school child
The following tips can help you talk about sexuality with your primary school aged child.
Make sure your child has information before change happens
Tell your child about physical and emotional changes before they happen.
Puberty can start as early as eight, often by aged ten or eleven. It’s important that children have information about any changes before they happen - eg: periods, erections, wet dreams. You could tell funny stories from your own puberty if you have any.
Let your child know there is a wide range of ‘normal’
Children develop at different rates and can feel self-conscious if they seem different from their peers. Help them to feel confident and happy about being themselves.
Talk about friendships and getting along with peers
At age 9 or 10 some children may start to become attracted to others. Fitting in with peers will be a main concern.
Talk about sex and feelings in an inclusive way
Some children and young people are attracted to others of the same sex, or both sexes. This can make them feel different, confused and alone. Talking about sex and feelings in an inclusive way will help your child know they can talk with you, however they are feeling.
Encourage your child to view media critically
Teach your child to question what they see and hear in the media.
For example, are the versions of beauty or love they see on TV real? How do the boys, girls, men and women look and act? Is it real? What message does it give?
Talk with your child about relationships and feelings
Focus on respect and care. Talk about making good decisions that keep them and others safe.
Teach your child about their body and safety
Make sure all children know they can say ‘No’ or ‘Stop’ to any touching they do not like or want, and that unwanted touching should never be kept a secret. Help them understand that their whole body is private.
Read Step 3 of the 7 Steps to Safety on the Department of Children and Families website.
Talk with your child about online and mobile safety
Be aware that sexual matters may come up online for your children on mobile phones or computers. They may come across things that can harm, scare or worry them. There may be bullying, ‘sexting’ (sending sexual material or images by mobile phone) or pornography.
The best way to protect your child is to make sure they know they can come and tell you what’s happening. You can solve problems together and work out ways to keep them safe.
Listen to your child and try not to lecture
Good communication needs two‐way talk. Use open conversations about feelings and relationships to help them work out their values.
Talk about things even if your child does not ask questions
If your child doesn’t ask you questions, it does not mean they are not interested. They might think you don’t want to talk about it. In this case, you will need to be the one that brings it up.
Work out ways to talk with sons and daughters
Boys and girls benefit when both men and women are involved in this part of their learning. It’s important that both fathers and mothers are seen as reliable sources of information and that children, especially boys, get the message it’s OK for men to talk about these things.
If you or your child are not comfortable about talking about an area of their sexuality - eg: your daughter does not want to discuss periods with their father, you could:
- talk about aspects you feel comfortable with, and find books for the other parts
- or identify a trusted person of the same gender as your son or daughter who they could talk with.
Let your child know if you feel uncomfortable, or don’t know much about the topic. Say something like ‘I’m not sure what to say, but I think it’s really important we can talk about it. When I was a boy/girl, the only thing I knew about it was…’
Find out if your child’s school is teaching about sexual health
This can be a good way to start conversations at home.
Your local school or health centre also might run sessions for parents on children’s sexual health.
Last updated: 07 March 2019