The following is a guideline of how children develop and age appropriate topics for discussion.
Questions are often asked by children as young as 3 about bodies & babies as they try to find out about the world. A simple, short answer will do.
There is an awareness of girl/boy differences at this age. Try to use the proper words for body parts like penis, vulva and vagina, breasts and clitoris. This can help to make your child more confident about their body. It may also keep them safe from abuse as they can accurately name body parts. They will also go on to use the words at school.
Using books that show parts of the body can be useful to raise topic even when children don’t ask questions. You can find out more about these in our resources section.
Opportunities will arise to explain acceptable behaviour in public and in private.
It is common for children of this age to touch their own genital area for comfort or because it feels good. It’s okay to say this should be done in private, but try not to shame or embarrass them about being naturally curious about their bodies.
Unwanted touching: it’s important for all children to know that their body belongs to them. No-one should touch them and they shouldn’t be made to touch anyone (e.g.cuddles and kisses) without their permission or agreement. Parts that are usually covered by a swimsuit should never be touched. There may be some exceptions to this rule such as washing a child, being checked over by a doctor etc. Discuss with your child when this is okay. For example, it’s okay for a doctor to touch you there if mum/dad is there and they’re trying to help you, it’s okay for mum/dad/carer to wash you in the bath but no-one else. They should also never be asked to touch someone else in these areas.
They will also start to mix with other children at nursery/school & learn things from them. If they use new words or are asking questions you’re surprised by have a simple chat about what they’ve heard.
They will be mixing with more children at school & learning about families & friends, stranger danger, different feelings & where living things come from & how they grow.
At around 8 years old children will discover more about how bodies work but will need more info about how their bodies are changing.
Hormonal changes may start in girls including mood swings & breast development between 8 & 10 years old. Some girls may start periods as young as 8 so it is important to start having conversations about managing this.
It is also important for boys to know about male & female body changes as, although they usually start developing later, they will notice the changes in girls in their class.
By the time your child reaches upper primary it’s a good idea to have discussed the following:
Respecting self & others
Different kinds of relationships (including gay and lesbian relationships)
Expressing & dealing with feelings & emotions
Keeping safe (including online)
Developing positive & supportive relationships
Conception (how babies are made)
Children at this age already being exposed to messages on TV, films, online etc. – use these images to chat about reality vs. fantasy, positive body image and gender/sexuality stereotypes
Most boys start going through puberty after age 10/11. These will probably be emotional (mood swings etc.) to begin with & you may not notice any physical changes. Wet dreams may start once the body begins producing sperm.
12 is the average age for girls to start their periods (although many start younger)
Receiving many different mixed messages & very influenced by media & peers.
Sexual feelings may begin around 10 to 12 years old and both boys & girls may start masturbating & develop crushes.
By 13/14 most will be attracted to the opposite or same sex. Some may feel worried about fancying people of the same sex. Some young people will never develop any sexual feelings but may still want to have close relationships.
Romantic & maybe sexual relationships will begin.
More independence from family & more time spent with friends (unsupervised)
Young people will start to have more freedom online
At this age young people need help to:
Develop communication skills for healthy, respectful relationships
Understand their rights and responsibilities
Explore feelings & emotions
Delay sexual activity until ready
Resist peer & media pressure
Develop healthy body image
Develop confidence to say no
Develop negotiation skills around what feels right & safer sex
Develop skills to manage online life as effectively as the offline world
Accurate info around contraception and Sexually Transmitted Infections
Knowledge of helpful services (free condoms etc.)
Understand culture and how it impacts on sex and relationships (this includes conversations around pornography and sending/sharing indecent images)
Teens may hold back because they are embarrassed, feel your embarrassment or think they know it all (or should know it all.) They may be aware sex is not discussed in family or worry that they’ll appear to be sexually active by asking.