Understanding Early Sexual Development
To parents of infants and toddlers, their children's sexual development may seem a long way off. But actually, sexual development begins in a child's very first years. Infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and even young school-aged kids develop an emotional and physical foundation for sexuality in many subtle ways as they grow.
Just as they reach important physical and emotional milestones, like learning to walk or learning to recognize mom or dad, young kids hit important milestones in how they recognize, experience, and feel about their bodies, and how they form attachments to others. The attachments established in these early years help set the stage for bonding and intimacy down the line.
By understanding how your kids grow and learn, you can play an important role in fostering their emotional and physical health.
Infants and Toddlers
Babies' earliest emotional attachments are formed with their parents through physical contact that expresses their love. Being held and touched, kissed and hugged, snuggled and tickled allows babies to experience comforting, positive physical sensations associated with being loved. The unique type of physical intimacy and emotional attachment between parent and infant can be the early foundation of more mature forms of physical intimacy and love that develop later as part of mature sexuality.
Many parents have called their doctors expressing concern because their kids touch their genitals during diaper changes or their baby boys have frequent erections. They're reassured that these behaviors are perfectly normal and told that even the youngest children naturally explore their bodies. And many kids, especially toddlers, enjoy being naked. How you react - your voice, the words you use, your facial expressions - is one of your child's first lessons in sexuality. By not responding with anger, surprise, or disapproving words, you teach your child that this curiosity about his or her body is a normal part of life.
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