We have to recognize that our kids face challenges and pressures at school that we may find difficult to imagine. But our response can still be comforting: The more we stay aware of the pressures our children face from their peers, the more we can equip them with the tools to explore their sexuality in a healthy and values-rich way.
In primary grades, kids learn to follow rules and develop discipline , especially through sports. Their growing bodies allow them for the first time to demonstrate strength and grace. They are already developing physical models of masculinity and femininity, and you will notice that they identify with particular styles as they develop their personalities.
Though somewhat uncommon, it is not unheard of for 7- or 8-year-olds to develop secondary sexual characteristics such as budding breasts and pubic hair , so it is important that you begin talking earlier rather than later about the changes that happen to our bodies as we grow up.
During primary school, children are often introduced to rudimentary sex education or science classes that give specific information about differences between male and female anatomy and the stages of human reproduction. You want to make a link between this information and your own talks about sexuality—particularly because kids may take sexual information as secretive if it is not also addressed at home.
You want to show that you understand sexuality as natural and support them so they feel comfortable with it.
Children at this age begin to develop stronger friendships and often develop best friends. These friendships become more and more important as they get older. You may want to observe this play and use it as an opportunity to point out that many women also go to work, and men also take care of children, cook, and clean. In primary school, children begin to be aware of sexual activity, and their reaction tends to be mild aversion: Jokes begin to develop around sexual humor , and kids will laugh and sing songs about who likes whom.
School, friends, and activities take children out of the home more and more. As they expand their definitions of love, you will notice that they begin to initiate caring gestures—from bonding gestures in sports events such as patting a teammate on the back to embracing a friend after a long summer vacation.
Though kids at this age primarily gravitate toward friends of the same sex, the opposite sex is beginning to be increasingly noticeable. Primary school children begin to understand different circumstances that lead to marriage or divorce.
They observe that relationships often evolve from friendship to courting, then dating , then falling in love, and finally, marriage, and they also may learn that having kids does not mean that people are necessarily married.
Primary school kids begin to learn how to manage conflicts and develop long-term relationships with others, identifying qualities that they admire and desire in friends. At this time, children become aware of differences in communication and interaction styles between homes and individuals.
This is an appropriate time to help your child deal with and understand why he or she is valued or not by peers. By taking the time to discuss friendships and qualities that nurture healthy relationships such as kindness, fair play, generosity , and understanding , you help your child to develop practices that will serve him or her throughout life.
Through exposure to religious traditions other than their own, primary school kids learn how different religions or belief systems can have different values. This age is a ripe time for discussing the values that are important in your family as they relate to lifestyle choices and current events. Value systems are important in helping kids later understand why sex is appropriate at some ages while not at others. As they come to understand and accept these values, they can see how values determine whether sexuality is seen as positive or negative, that it may be abused or used improperly, and that it is something to be handled with care.
If you make the effort to engage in an open dialogue with your children about your values and your perception of God, they will be equipped to develop a spiritual life, providing them with yet another resource besides parents!