It may surprise many parents of preschoolers, but children this age actually have a very strong gender identity. Boys don’t want to be mistaken for girls, and vice versa. One of the strongest ways that they can differentiate between boys and girls is by their bodies, and specifically, their genitalia. That’s why your child will often tell you ‘I’m a girl because I am a vagina. Daddy doesn’t, so he’s a boy.’
At this age, children also start to get curious about where they came from, and that leads to questions about sex and babies.
Of course, at this age, your child is likely to be frightened by the concepts of sex, menstruation and other things relating to gender, and is likely to want a short, simple explanation rather than a detailed and complex monologue.
You don’t want your child to grow up thinking that discussing gender or sex is taboo or embarrassing, so the best thing to do is to stay calm, and stick to the facts when your child asks a question that gets you frazzled.
At this age, a simple answer is best. So if your child asks where he or she came from, simply tell him or her that they grew in a special place inside mommy, until it was time to be born. Use the correct terminology for body parts, so refer to genitals as penis and vagina, rather than words that you make up. This helps children to understand that sexual topics are not anything to be embarrassed about.
You also want to answer questions only until your child is satisfied. So while your two year old might be okay with the idea that he or she developed in your tummy, a four year old may have more questions. Answer any additional questions simply and matter of factly too.
Let your child ask questions if he or she wants to, and make sure that you don’t try to avoid the question. Look for opportunities in every day life to point out reproduction at work – pointing out a pregnant woman on television for instance, or an animal on a farm that is going to have a baby. As long as you keep the explanations simple, easy to understand and non graphic, you’re giving your child a healthy start on understanding reproduction, which is a good foundation for later.
Another good idea is to make the concept of privacy one that it paramount in your home. Teach your child to knock before entering the bathroom or a bedroom, and do the same yourself. Also make sure that your child understands that his or her genitalia is private, and that only you, your partner, a care giver or a doctor may touch them. Encourage your child to report any touching that he or she is uncomfortable with.