You walk into your classroom and overhear two voices in the cloakroom, “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours,” or you’ve noticed one girl frequently rubbing herself against the side of her desk. What do you do? Although you know sexual behaviors such as masturbation, exploration, and sex play are a natural part of children’s growing up, if you’re like me, you at the same time feel compelled to put an immediate stop to them.
Sexually inappropriate behaviors pose a delicate area for many teachers. You may find yourself in the uncomfortable position of discussing with children topics you do not like talking to anyone about, or having to tell children that although sexual behavior is normal, they are not allowed to do it in school, or in some cases, not at all, until they get older. All the while you must assume a matter-of-fact posture, so children are not too alarmed or intrigued by what you are saying.
You should anticipate a certain amount of curiosity from schoolchildren about what their body parts look like and feel like. It’s when a child’s curiosity turns into a habit or experimentation that a problem develops. Children may engage in too much masturbation if they feel unwanted by their parents, derive little satisfaction from other aspects of their lives, have few friends, feel stress or anxiety, or think they’re a failure at school. Sex play may be prompted by children watching their parents engage in sexual activity, curiosity, or peer pressure.
- Try to keep children busy, so they don’t have the time to develop captivating interests in their bodies. Encourage free-time activities such as team sports, clubs, and games.
- Do not leave young children alone for lengthy periods of time without checking on them.
- Answer children’s questions about sex in a truthful, straightforward way. Explanations can dispel the need for exploration. The tricky part in explaining topics concerning sex is saying enough so children understand, but not too much that you leave them more confused than they were originally. A good rule of thumb is to answer only the question which a child asks you. For example, one mother recounts how her daughter came home from school one day and asked her, “Where do I come from?” The mother launched in on a long explanation of the birds and the bees. “No,” said the child impatiently. “My friend Susie comes from Boston. Where do I come from?” Misunderstanding is often created by giving children either the wrong information, or too much information, more than they can put meaning to.
- Ask your school guidance counselor to present a class on sex, tuned in to the relevant concerns and vocabulary of your students.
- If a child is masturbating, tell him there’s nothing wrong with what he’s doing, but school is the wrong time and place for doing it. Explain that playing with his body is a private activity, which he should only do privately, in his bedroom at home, for instance.
Children who are engaging in sex play must not feel that what they are doing is weird or perverted; but at the same time they must understand it is not appropriate for them to do. It is an activity they are too young to understand, and will discover more about as they get older.
- A child may be masturbating because he’s nervous or worried about something. Ask him if anything has been bothering him lately, and if there is, try to work out a solution for the source of his problems.
- If you notice a child masturbating, ask him to place his hands clasped together on the top of his desk. This is a subtle time-out procedure which lets the child know what he is doing is inappropriate, as well as stops him from continuing it.
- Overreacting to or criticizing children’s sexual behaviors, regardless of how offensive you find them. Too much of a big deal may confuse children, make them feel afraid, or encourage them to explore it further.