The very public conversation we’re having right now about things that until recently have been kept secret, offers us a valuable opportunity to begin taking steps toward a lasting cultural shift -toward better relationships and equity in the workplace and beyond. It also provides a most teachable moment for critical lessons about friendships and healthy relationships of all kinds.
In a recent article in the New York Times, Talking to Boys the Way We Talk to Girls http://nyti.ms/2srOsvl author Andrew Reiner presents a strong case for examining how we communicate with our sons. His primary point is that our language and interaction, from birth onward, is minimal in contrast to our communication with our daughters, and as a result limits our sons’ emotional development.
Young children are alive with curiosity about their world, how it works, and their place in it, now and in the future. At ages 4, 5 and 6 they are especially eager to find out all about how bodies work, where babies come from, what makes a family. When you welcome their questions and respond to their curiosity with honest information, you keep that wonder and awe blossoming and establish your role as the trusted adult who can be relied on to tell them the truth. If they’re asking the question, they’re ready for the answer, as long as its simple and to the point, and, of course, truthful.
When approaching the time of body changes and the onset of puberty, the number one question on children’s minds is, “Am I normal?” For 8 -12 year olds, the changes in their own bodies and those they see around them provide a full menu of questions, concerns, fears and confusion. For this reason, talking about bodies and how they change should begin, at the latest, by the time children are 8 years old or in 3rd grade.
When the child or student hits you with a question about sexuality, it’s easy to get caught up in racing thoughts, frozen in fear, worrying about finding just the right words that convey what seems at the time an enormously important life lesson, and your only chance to get it right! First order of business… breathe… and know that this can be the first in many small conversations about the subject, it’s not your only chance to get it right. Most important is that you convey a warm response, one that communicates that you welcome your child or student’s questions. Then remember to tell the truth and answer just what was asked. Best way to know exactly where you’re going, ask, “What do you think?” Listen to the child, and you will know where to begin.
It seems that it’s coming earlier and earlier – the self- consciousness about their bodies, the intense focus on appearance. It takes us by surprise, and we worry when we hear 9 and 10 year old girls talking dieting and weight loss. It is most definitely something to concern us, and to address. But should it really surprise us when we live in the epicenter of the beautiful- model thin women and well buffed men- with seismic pressure to adopt each new discovery diet and sweat the latest, most intense exercise regime?
As is true for so many areas of their lives, the early years are the best time to lay the foundation for healthy relationships in adolescence and adulthood. We can do so by talking about friendships.