One of my favorite poems is “Children Learn What They Live” by Dorothy Law Nolte, PhD. It is a powerful reminder of the impact that parents, grandparents and other adults have simply by the way we live our lives. It speaks clearly to the importance of modeling positive behavior for our youth.
Nolte says if our children live with shame, they will learn to feel guilty. Unintentionally, we often teach shame about human sexuality. When we don’t teach children the correct names for their genitals, we plant seeds of shame. When we get upset by their normal curiosity about their bodies or where babies come from, we instill guilt. On the other hand, if we praise our children — for example, when they take care of their bodies and make healthy choices — they will feel valued and learn the value of appreciation.
It can get more complicated when we talk about generosity. Generosity, Nolte writes, is taught by sharing. But when it comes to sexuality, it is equally important to talk about the limits of sharing. Teaching boundaries, self-respect and self-care in relationship to others is of high importance. And here it is good to remember that children learn as much — or more — from what they see us do as from what we say.
Our human sexuality is really quite an amazing gift, and “The Sex Talk,” as we often call it, is really a series of small conversations about sexuality that can begin at birth and continue for a lifetime. For more ideas about having those conversations, follow us on social media or visit www.berksteensmatter.org .
*You can find Nolte’s poem at:www.empowermentresources.com/info2/childrenlearn-long_version.html
By Nadine J. Smet-Weiss
Translation by Ana Villaman