An evidenced based Relationship & Sex Education Programme for Primary aged children
It may be a long way off … but have you ever thought about what you hope for when it comes to your child’s first intimate relationship…? How do you hope they will they be treated…? And how will they treat their partner…?
What about their first sexual encounter…? Where will it take place…? How will they feel afterwards…?
We know it may be an uncomfortable thought, especially when they are so young…
Regardless of your particular moral, cultural or religious beliefs around sex – I am sure you hope your child and their partner will be having sex by choice… will be safe, and will enjoy the encounter. It will be consensual and leave them feeling positive rather than guilty, shameful or full of regret…?
If that is how you feel – what are we doing to make sure that perfect picture, becomes the reality rather than it being something they regret or worse merely something that happens to them rather than something they choose?
Many parents worry that their child isn’t ready – “they haven’t asked anything yet….” or are waiting for the opportune moment to have the chat...
However, all the evidence says if we should drip feed small messages over time. Building the foundations and giving positive reinforced messages when opportunities present themselves. Take every opportunity to answer questions or even better to ask them of your child…
Have you ever considered why so many of us wait for our child to ask before we talk to them about RSE? This is the only part of our child’s education that we wait for them to take the lead … We certainly don’t wait for our children to ask about fractions, crossing the road safely or having a bath – before we talk to them about it… no, we take the lead!
So… what can we do…?
We can talk about their bodies – give them positive menages about how fantastic it is, teach them about how it works and how to look after it. Prepare them for how it will change as they grow. But most importantly, help them to understand it belongs to them…
This leads on to conversations about consent and touching. Is my fun, fun for everyone? Asking permission to touch other people, talking about different ways to show affection, how to define their own personal boundaries and respect those of others.
Talk to them about similarities and differences between their friends and the families in their communities. Talk about different types of families and the positive qualities that families should have. Talk about healthy relationships.
Talk about their feelings and their behaviours. Give them the words to express how they feel… to talk about their fears or when they feel unsafe.
Talk about girls and boys and reinforce positive messages around equality. Answer their questions and encourage them to talk to us… give them permission to talk to us and ask what is on their minds… rather than leaving everything to google… I would suggest we can come up with more age appropriate answers than the internet or their friends can…
Over the next few pages we will talk you through some key topics, explain why they are important and give you tips and advice how to reinforce the positive messages we are giving out at school…
Talking to your child about…
There seems to be a misunderstanding when it comes to what people think we are teaching children about consent. We are not trying to stop safe adults from showing their children affection. Instead, it is about safe adults taking the opportunity to model positive behaviours.
Unfortunately, it is likely that your child will be in situations where someone who isn’t necessarily safe may try to get them to do something they might not want to.
Let’s put sex to the side for a minute and think about your daily life. Psychological studies show that we rarely use the word “no” in everyday life. A friend asks you out for a drink after work, it’s been a long day and you really can’t be bothered… when was the last time you felt able to simple say “no, thank you”. It’s more likely that you would either go anyway – not wanting to let your friend down, or if you did refuse the offer – you likely followed social convention and made an excuse hoping to let your friend down gently and not cause any offence.
Another issue with teaching children to simply say “no”, builds the idea and assumption that someone has given consent until it is removed, this puts the emphasis on the victim to speak up rather than the perpetrator to seek permission.
Instead, we promote a very simple set of messages that build a much stronger foundation for consent:
- We must always seek permission if we are touching someone else
- Not everyone likes to be touched or show their affection in the same way
- Just because I like something doesn’t mean everyone does
- Is my fun, fun for everyone?
- Giving permission once does not mean that someone has given permission all the time
- People have different personal boundaries and these need to be respected all the time
- Your body belongs to you and you get to decide how and if people touch you. No one should touch you without your permission, or in a way you don’t like
- The only time anyone is allowed to touch your private parts is if we are asking for help – for example if we are sore or poorly or too little to wash ourselves properly, but if anyone touches our privates parts, this should never be a secret
- If someone says no, or stop, these are really important words and should be listened to at all times
- If someone doesn’t listen, when we say no or stop, we can tell one of our safe adults
Conversations around consent are focused on children’s lived experiences, we begin with discussing activities like play fighting and tickling, not sex. We discuss topics such as; are cuddles always nice? (Well, it depends who is the cuddle with, what are the circumstances, who else is watching, how we feel at the time).
For example, when you are 8 a cuddle from mum when you are upset from a nightmare is very different from a cuddle from mum in front of all your friends at the school gates.
We have had many discussions with parents over the years who worry about how you manage a child who is playing up when you ask them to do something they don’t want to and yells “you can’t touch me or make me, my teacher says you can’t touch me if I don’t say so!”
Yes, there can be problems when you build a strong willed, independent child who is assertive and knows their rights, but there are ways to manage this…
We can explain calmly, that you are pleased they remember their lessons from school and they are right: no one can touch you in a way you don’t like, but equally as your adult/parent/carer, I have a responsibility to make sure you are safe/kept clean/looked after/eat healthy for example:
You are out and about with your child. They are angry with you because you have told them they can’t have sweets. You are about to cross the road and ask your child to hold your hand, they say no and start explaining that you can’t make them…
‘Well, done for remembering and listening in class. You are right that no one has the right to touch you in a way you don’t like. But as your parent, it is my job to make sure you are safe. We are by a busy road and we need to cross safely. I know you are feeling angry right now and that is fine. But for the next 3 seconds it takes to cross the road I need you to hold my hand, we need to cross the road safely – so can you hold my hand please? How about, instead you hold onto the buggy, or my pocket… what do you think?”
In this case, we are not undermining the lesson we are giving choices and explaining why sometimes we need to do things we don’t like to stay safe or keeping healthy.
The same goes for getting in the bath… “I don’t want to…”
“Your body belongs to you but you need to look after it and that means keeping it clean. So, you need to have a bath or a shower. Which one are you going to pick? Prove to me that you can do it properly, and you can do it by yourself next time.. Give me a shout when you’ve washed your hair so I can check its clean and all the shampoo has been washed out…”
The same goes for kissing Grandma. To be clear, no one is saying that we can’t show affection to our children or grandchildren. No one is saying you can’t kiss a child goodbye, they are explaining it is an opportunity to reinforce a message rather than to undermine it.
What message are we sending to children when we tell them to kiss someone goodbye and they refuse? “Don’t be rude, Grandma loves you, you will hurt her feelings and she bought you all those nice things.” Are we really trying to teach our children that if someone tells you they love you and buys you gifts you owe them affection and physical touch in return, regardless of whether you want to or not?
Instead, all it takes for us to change the interaction to a much more positive exchange is for us to say – “right, time to say goodbye and thank you to Grandma. How would you like to say goodbye? Give her a kiss? A cuddle? Blow a kiss? A high five or a wave?”.
There are so many opportunities for us as adults to reinforce positive messages about consent. Whether it is asking our child if we can help them dress or undress, reminding them about different touches when they are playing games with friends or reminding them to ask us before meeting someone new. These simple exchanges can make all the difference.
In the resource library we have a number of clips we use with the children around consent – if you would like to see them or watch them with your child you can find them here….
Throughout the programme from Reception to Year 6 we encourage children to use the correct terms for their private parts. We know from experience that a number of adults feel uncomfortable with this approach and would much prefer either not drawing attention to their children’s genitals in the first place, or using cutesy names like fairy, tuppence or winkey. There is a feeling that we are talking away children’s innocence by making a point about naming them correctly. However, there is a difference between innocence and ignorance.
Giving children the correct words for their genitals is important for a number of reasons. The most important being we know that if a child has the correct words for their private parts they are less likely to be sexually abused. The reason for this is that abusers use secretive language to hide the ‘games’ they play with children. Unfortunately, if we do not give children the language to expose abuse, abusers will give them words to hide it from the protective adults around them. Equally, when we teach children the correct names we also explain about appropriate touching.
Furthermore, it is also about giving children positive messages about their bodies. Evidence shows that by the age of six children tend to be socialised to recognise that their genitals are taboo. There is no better way of making something shameful than not giving it a name If children learn that you are not allowed to mention your genitals, this does not build very strong foundations for encouraging them to ask questions when worried or to ask for help.
It is essential that we are consistent with our messages and that we teach all children that they are in control of their bodies. From head to foot – no one has the right to touch them in a manner they are uncomfortable with.
But how can you be in control of your body if you cannot name all of it?
Encouraging children to use the correct names for their private body parts does not mean they cannot use other ones. Names you choose to use at home are OK- however, it is important that they know that a winkey is a penis!
The words we will be using are:
Boys – Penis, anus and later we will be using testicles.
Girls – Vulva, vagina, anus and later when we talk about puberty breasts become private too.
Importantly – please don’t forget mouths are also considered private.
When it comes to naming female genitals we would like to encourage you to use the term vulva instead of vagina. The vagina is part of the female sexual anatomy and has in the past been used to describe the entire female sexual anatomy, but the outside that we can see is actually the vulva. The vagina is merely the tunnel that leads to all of the baby making equipment inside. We would like to encourage girl’s to own their whole sexual anatomy including their pleasurable parts, rather than reducing it to merely their baby making organs.
For example if a child is sore; maybe she has been scratching, or not wiping properly, it will be her vulva that is sore, not her vagina. It is much easier to ask for help if you have the proper words.
Giving consistent messages to both girls and boys is why we use the word vulva. Traditionally, when it comes to puberty we tell boys that they get erections, ejaculate, have wet dreams, we may even go so far as mentioning masturbation! Boys get information about sexual responses and how their anatomy function sexually. Girls get periods…. this does not seem fair and may contribute to the understanding that sex is often seen to be something that happens to girls, rather than something they may choose or have any control over. The way we counteract these attitudes is here, by building small positive messages and empowering girls to take control of their entire bodies.
As part of discussing private parts with children we will be using the NSPCC Pants rules, including the Pantosaurus video.
You may also choose to watch the Pantosaurus video together too (although don’t blame us if you wake up singing it!)
Other Key Messages
Remember your body belongs to you and you get to decide how and if people touch you. No one should touch you without your permission, especially your private parts. The only time anyone is allowed to touch your privates is if we are asking for help; for example if we are sore or poorly or too little to wash ourselves properly… but if anyone touches our privates parts, this should never be a secret.
In Warwickshire where we are based, all schools deliver an additional programme called “Taking Care”. This is a safeguarding programme based on the Protective Behaviours Model. There are a number of key messages from the protective behaviours programme that we have chosen to include and reinforce. Two of the most important are a chance to review children’s Early Warning Signs (EWS) and support networks.
Previously “stranger danger” was the focus when discussing risks with children. Unfortunately that isn’t a particularly helpful message to give to children when trying to keep them safe. We don’t like to talk about the fact that the most likely person to hurt a child is not a stranger coming to steal them away, but actually is far more likely to be someone they know and trust.
Instead, we take a different approach. We talk to children and teach them to recognise their Early Warning Signs (EWS), these are the clues our bodies give us that we don’t feel safe. It is much easier for children to recognise the physical feelings they experience rather than expecting them to have the correct words for their complex emotions. Adults struggle with unpicking their emotional responses so we need to be mindful of what we expect from small children.
You may have already spoken to your child about their EWS but if not ask them to think about how they might feel when they are doing something ‘fun to feel scared’, like going on a rollercoaster or a high ropes course.This is a much better way of getting children to recognise their EWS. We never encourage children to think about or remember a time they actually felt unsafe. if a child has ever experienced real trauma, this could make them extremely vulnerable.
“Well, I feel like I’ve got wiggly worms in my tummy and my legs go all wobbly…
and my heart starts pounding and I feel like I need a wee…”
These are the same feelings that we get when we feel anxious, scared or unsafe. These are our EWS and everyone will have slightly different ones.
Once we can teach a child to recognise these physical symptoms of feeling unsafe, we can then give them strategies or things to do when they experience them.
There are things they themselves can do.
Then there are the safe people in our support networks we can talk to…
If your child or another child comes to you as one of their safe adults then:
Listen. Stop what you are doing and listen.
The child has picked you for a reason, most likely they think you are safe and trustworthy. They believe that you will be able to help and listen to their concerns, and that is the key point. No one expects you to have all the answers but we do expect you to be able to listen, so stop what you are doing and listen.
Thank the child for coming to you. Make sure that they understand that they are not in trouble and that there are people who can help.
Explain if you may need to talk to someone else to get help.
But most importantly make sure that they know you are grateful for them sharing and trusting you.
we can talk with someone about anything, even if it feels awful or small.
As part of teaching safe and appropriate touching, we need to also talk to children about touching themselves. If you have already read the The Healthy Sexual Development of Children, you will be aware that children of all ages tend to self-stimulate.
Many children even in early infancy will touch themselves because it feels nice – they may fall asleep with their hands in their pyjamas, as a comfort, self soothe when anxious or enjoy touching themselves in the bath. Children at this age will say that it feels nice but to be very clear -there will be no sexual undertone.
It is not until children reach puberty, when their hormones kick and they become more consciously aware of their genitals, that children may start to masturbate properly.
In the past adults have chastised their children when they have been caught touching themselves, often with joking-threats like “it will make you go blind” or openly telling them off and shaming them. However, this is not the best response on a number of levels.
We know that shame is one of the biggest barriers that prevents a child from asking for help or disclosing abuse.
If a child is anxious and is touching themselves to self-sooth as a coping mechanism – similar to biting their nails or biting the skin around their fingers shaming them is not going to make their anxiety better…
Distraction is a much better tactic – especially distraction that involves children moving around and using their hands can equal work. Then in a quiet moment simply ask the child in a quiet moment: “are you ok, you didn’t look very comfortable before…” We need to give children permission and opportunity to ask safe adults for help.
Shaming a child for touching themselves, when they may be fiddling because they are sore or uncomfortable, only serves to put barriers in place.
Equally, it is worth noting that abusers will often use shame as a means to control their victims. They will tell the child that they are dirty and no one will like them or believe them if they tell anyone what has been going on. As a safe adult we may be well meaning, attempting to merely to manage an embarrassing behaviour – but unbeknownst to us, we may well be reinforcing the words of the abuser – and pushing the child victim further away from asking for help…
Instead, when we tackle this as a topic in class we do not use the language of self-soothing, self-stimulation and certainly not masturbation (THIS IS NOT MASTURBATION) it is much better to focus on the private behaviours in private places message –
Now lots of people like to tickle or stroke themselves as it might feel nice. They might play with their hair, stroke their skin or they may even touch their private parts. This is really very normal. However, some people may get cross or say that it is dirty, especially when you touch your own privates. This is strange as it is really very normal, however, it is not polite to do it when other people are
about. It is something we should only do when we are alone, perhaps in the bath or shower or in bed, a bit like picking your nose, it is certainly not polite to do in class when everyone is watching.
This is an important topic for us to cover in the classroom in a safe way. At school children will get change for PE, perhaps go swimming and have to get undressed, will go to the toilet and will need to understand the difference between public and private spaces and behaviours.
Agree at home where private spaces are, usually these are the bathroom and bedroom. However, if your child shares the bath with a sibling, this is no longer a private space. Equally, if your child shares a room or they have a sleepover with a friend, their bedroom is no longer private either. Establish rules around shutting doors and knocking to preserve privacy and that everyone in the house respects each other’s right to privacy.
Having had many conversations with parents, there often seems to be a misunderstanding about what we are talking about here. And to be fair, it can be confusing – and as adults this is something we are not used to talking about…
We are not teaching small children about masturbation. Masturbation is a sexual behaviour driven by sexual needs and starts at puberty – this is covered during puberty workshops much later in the programme. In the earlier years, we are talking about self stimulation and self soothing – these are rarely sexually driven behaviours. They are coping strategies – or repetitive behaviours like biting your nails or eating your hair not sexually motived.
Despite the fact that children will have little understanding of sex, they will undoubtably have heard the word branded about, in hushed voices by grown ups, on TV shows they shouldn’t be watching and to fits of giggles by older children…
Indeed, I can guarantee you remember when you were little and curiosity got the better of you, so you picked up the dictionary up off the shelf and daringly turned to ‘S..E…X’ to find out what it meant and giggled with your friends… Today’s children are no different – except dictionaries are a thing of the past – why would you ever need one when you have google? Unfortunately, the answers that pop up (even on a safe search) are far more detailed than the three sentences you remember from your dictionary days…
The fact is, children are far better off getting honest open answers from safe adults in their lives, rather than it being left to the internet or older children with a smart phone.
By tackling the topic in a matter of fact manner, without embarrassment means that we take the mystic allure out of the topic – making sex no longer the secret taboo, you have to sneak around trying to find out about – and instead something we can talk about at the dinner table. However uncomfortable a proposition that may be it is far better than the alternative. For children these questions are not rude, they are simple natural curiosity. We can stop the topic becoming taboo and embracing when there is no need for it to be, making everything much easier for everyone later on.
Smaller children are more likely to have many questions that will pop out at any time. They tend to ask whatever is on their mind. However, at this early age children tend to be more interested in asking lots rather than listening to anything you might actually say in response! Often children are simply testing the waters to see if you will answer.
The best thing to do is to keep things short and simple, rather than going into long winded explanations, where children can become lost and confused… Remember, children’s questions about babies are not sexual in nature… at this age they will have no real understanding, expectations or notion of what sex is… it is innocent curiosity about where babies come from… As adults we often panic and assume the worse because we are coming from a very different perspective with all our own knowledge and baggage…
Below we have some very simple common questions and answer examples to help. These are all messages that are consistent with how these questions would be answered in school…
Where do babies live before they are born – where do they come from?
Before a baby is born it lives in a stretchy sack inside a mummy’s tummy. This sack is called a womb. It is inside a woman’s tummy just below her belly button. When she is pregnant the womb fills up with warm water to keep the growing baby nice and safe.
How do babies feed in mummy’s tummy?
Do you know why you have a belly-button…? that is how you were fed when you were in your mummy’s tummy. You see a baby doesn’t eat like we do… instead there is a special tube called the Umbilical cord, that attaches the baby to the walls of the mother’s womb – and through this the baby gets all it needs to grow directly through the mother’s body. When you are born it is cut and you are left with a belly button.
How do you make a baby?
Did you know it takes about 40 weeks – that’s 9 months for a baby to grow. But you can’t make a baby out of nothing – you need to start with something. You need a sperm cell from Daddy and an egg cell from mummy.
When the sperm and egg cells meet they join together to make something new.
Sometimes, nothing happens….
But sometimes, it starts to grow – just like you did – into a baby.
Thank’s to all the food from the mother’s body it slowly get’s bigger and bigger and BIGGER AND BIGGER… it grows arms and legs and fingers and toes and a nose and eyes and starts to kick its feet and wriggle around.
You will be able to feel it if you put your hand on mummy’s tummy and it will be able to hear you if you talk to it…
How do you make a baby for older children or children who have more questions or need more details…
You all know that men and women’s bodies are different – because their private parts are different. Men have a penis and women have a vulva. But did you know that inside their bodies they also have one of the two special parts that make a baby – one each.
This is an egg. These grow here in the ovaries, just above the womb inside a woman’s body. They have half of all the instructions for making a baby.
And this is a sperm. These grow here in a man’s testicles – the dangly sack that hangs behind the penis – And just like the eggs, these have the other half of the instructions for making a baby.
You need a sperm cell from Daddy and an egg cell from mummy in order to make a baby. The issue is how do we get these two pieces together?
When grown ups want to make a baby they need to get a sperm from one body, to an egg from another person’s body.
The best way for doing this is by having sex … but a baby isn’t made every time two adults have sex. A lot of it comes down to luck…
Sex is something that grown-ups do, because it can feel nice* and it is the closest two people can get to each other when they really like, care for or are attracted to each other.
They might kiss and get undressed and stroke each other all over.**
Grown ups can fit together like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The man’s penis can fit inside the woman’s vagina. If they are going to make a baby – this is when the sperm from the man’s testicles swim through his penis and inside the woman’s body. They will swim from her vagina up into her womb.
The tiny little sperm have a long way to go… they keep swimming and swimming and hopefully some of them will find the egg hiding high up in the tube joining the ovaries to the womb.
When the sperm and egg cells meet they join together to make something new…. Sometimes, nothing happens….
But sometimes, it starts to grow – just like you did – into a baby.
Other ways families have babies:
But not all couples can have babies by themselves. Some times things might go wrong or things might not work properly. This is why doctors might help. Sometimes doctors can take the sperm from a daddy and put them together with the eggs from the mummy in a science lab. Once they have joined together they will then put them inside the mummy’s womb to grow.
This can also be done if two men or two women who love each other want to have a baby too. Because remember families come in all different shapes and sizes… and some have two daddies or two mummies.
Some children have live in a family, but may have had a tummy mummy too. A family might decide to adopt or foster a child and give them a loving and safe home if their birth parents have died or are unable to care for them. All families are just as valid. What is important is that all children feel safe and cared for.
How do babies get out of mummy’s tummy?
Some babies let their mother know they are ready and other have to be helped out by a doctor. Sometimes it takes a long, long time and sometimes it is quite quick.
Most often babies are born by the mother pushing them out through the opening we call her vagina. The stretchy tunnel that leads from her womb to the outside – it is the opening hidden by her vulva that we have talked about. Sometimes this can hurt a lot as she will have to push a squeeze and her muscles will have stretch.
Sometimes doctors will make a special opening just below the mother’s tummy and take the baby out this way and then close up the opening again. We call this a cesarian – and you might have seen a line like a smiley face on mummy’s tummy where it has healed. If a baby is born this way, the mother will need to rest and won’t be able to lift heavy objects (not even their other children) or drive for a few weeks whilst their body heals.
What is sex? (an answer for older children)
Sex can mean different things to different people. For some people they have very strong beliefs and values about sex. Some people think it is something that is rude to talk about. Other people find it funny. This is one of the reasons that many grown ups find it difficult or embarrassing to talk about.
No one has the right to tell you how you should feel or believe and that includes your attitudes to sex. But sex should never be something you should be encouraged to feel guilty or ashamed about either. Sex is the reason we all exist!
Sex is something that adults do. And is something that is private as it involves our private parts.
A man and a woman may choose to have sex to make a baby, this is when the man’s penis fits inside the woman’s vagina but this isn’t the only reason that people may choose to have sex. And there is more to sex than merely putting a penis in a vagina.
In fact two men or two women who really care for each other or find each other attractive can have sex too…
Sex involves lots of kissing, cuddling and touching each other all over, so some people may have sex to feel close to their partner or because it can feel good.
However, some people have sex for different reasons too that aren’t so good… some people have sex to act grown up, to try and be cool (doing things to impress other people is never cool!) or because their partners pressure or bully them too. This is never ok.
Having sex should always be the result of a positive choice – because it is something you want to do. It should never be something you do because you feel pressured or to make someone else happy.
To be very clear – there is no evidence that by being honest with children about sex and reproduction that children will lose their innocence, or be compelled to act out what they have been told.
*The reason we mention that sex should feel nice for grown ups, again a notion that many adults are uncomfortable about telling children, is that it helps to foster the idea that sex is something that should be enjoyed rather than endured. This does not mean that children are encouraged to become sexually active. Instead, it helps to promote an early concept that sex is something that is natural, normal and nice rather than something to feel guilt ashamed or embarrassed about. We want young people to grow up with a positive attitude to sex – and to feel able to talk to the safe adults around them about – it is secrets that are dangerous – not the things we can talk about. Furthermore, from a safeguarding point of view it helps us to separate the notion of inappropriate touching/abuse from sex and draws a very clear distinction for children.
** The reason, even for younger children, that we recommend explaining that sex is: ‘the closest two adults can get who really care for each other’ and ‘that they may get undressed and kiss and touch each other all over’ rather than merely saying: ‘sex is when a man puts his penis in a woman’s vagina’ – is that from experience it really helps to have this in place a a firm building block – it really can make life easier when questions come later.
As children grow and learn more about the world they will often ask about sex between same-sex couples as part of healthy curiosity… if the only explanation of sex is penis- in-vagina, you are now left with a much trickier answer to construct – as you now need to explain where everything goes…. not only is this uncomfortable, more detail than a child needs – but also would be a misrepresentation of how/what gay sex is…
However, if we have the building block already in place of sex as: the closest two adults can get who really care for each other’ and ‘that they may get undressed and kiss and touch each other all over’ – we can simply say well it is exactly the same – it is the closest two adults can get – they may get undressed, kiss and touch each other all over because it feels nice… the only difference is that they can’t make a baby…
That is a far nicer answer… but only works if we have the correct building blocks in place.
Next time you and your child are in the supermarket, take a detour and spend some time in the feminine hygiene section (this is an awful name for the aisle… why do we need the euphemism? It is a sign of how uncomfortable we are as a society talking openly about puberty – although this is getting better – there is a big push at the moment).
Show them all the various products on offer. Show that you aren’t embarrassed and that it is perfectly natural. This is a conversation that both girls and boys can experience and it shouldn’t just come from the mums – dads need to get involved too.What happens when your daughter gets her period and only dad is on duty – who would she go to then if she is brought up thinking this is only something that women can talk about?
Now is a good time to prepare for your daughter’s first period. Buy some pads together. Show them where they are kept and how to use them. Sanitary towels don’t come with a sell-buy date. It is far better to be prepared (for both of you!) periods are far less scary when you know what to expect.
The latest surveys we have stated that still around a quarter of girls in the UK will have their period before any adult talks to them about it, either at home or at school…
If you don’t have a daughter, this is still an important conversation to have with your son. Explain what is going on so he can be understanding and support the girls in his life. We do not empower girls by merely giving them information but by empowering boys too.
So, the science bit – what to say.
A period is only one part of a girl’s cycle of releasing an egg cell each month.
Each month one of the girl’s ovaries will mature an egg ready to be released. It will slowly travel down the fallopian tubes towards the womb.
In the meantime, the womb will get ready for the egg cell by making thick fleshy layers of tissue along its walls. This acts as a cushion for the egg and is all sticky so the egg doesn’t fall out.
If the egg isn’t fertilised by a sperm cell (from a man) then the girl’s body flushes it all away, the sticky lining starts to break down and falls away, this is what a girl’s period is as the lining comes out of the vagina.
A period usually lasts a few days during which girls will bleed as the lining of the womb falls away.
And then the whole cycle starts again. The whole cycle usually lasts for about 28 day – although when girls first start things will often be a bit irregular to begin with as their bodies get used to the process. It isn’t uncommon to have much shorter or longer cycles.
Day One is the day you first start your period, the most likely time an egg is released is half way through on day 14 but this can vary.
Now during her period a girl will need to use menstrual pads. a small flat pad that fits in her underwear to catch the blood, or some women choose to use a tampon which sits inside the vagina and soaks up the blood as it leaks. These days there are also reusable options like period pants.
Periods are often accompanied by cramps in your tummy which are caused by the womb squeezing and contracting to get rid of the lining. Having a hot bath, using a hot water bottle, taking a few pain-killers (as directed) and eating chocolates can help too!
Take your time during this part and make sure that children can ask questions too. There is no rush. Remember the menstrual cycle is complicated. This shouldn’t be a single conversation, but something that is spoken of time and time again.
In 2010 the Equality Act enshrined in law particular protected characteristics to ensure that all people, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, gender, age or ability would be treated fairly and without discrimination. This means all public bodies, and that includes nurseries and schools, have a legal responsibility to consider the needs of all individuals when carrying out their day to day operations and work to protect people and eliminate discrimination.
This means that schools should have a curriculum which celebrates differences and fostering good relations between people, regardless of their background or identity.
The nine protected characteristics of the Equalities Act are:
- religion, belief or lack of religion or belief
- race including colour, nationality, ethnicity or national origin
- being married or in a civil partnership
- pregnancy or on maternity leave
- sexual orientation
- gender identity or reassignment
Now, what order do they go in? Which characteristics trump which?
People often instinctively think particular characteristics are more important than others. The fact is there is no correct order. They are all equal.
This is an essential point to make, just because a person has a particular religious belief that being gay is wrong for example, this does not have any more value than another person’s right to marry, fall in love or have a relationships with someone of the same sex.
All schools have a responsibility to teach children about the world they live in and to remove any form of prejudice or discrimination. There are no outsiders in our schools – everyone is welcome.
In the UK it is a legal requirement to ensure all schools are LGBTQ+ friendly, this is something that all Ofsted inspections are required to uphold. The Equality Act made it illegal for nurseries and schools to fail to protect LGBT people and their families. Not only this but all schools should deliver lessons that include stories and examples of diverse family structures, including same sex families.
When it comes to sexual orientation many adults often worry that their children may not cope, or that they may be too young to understand, however people tend to over complicate things…
All families are different; some families have a mummy and a daddy, some families have a mummy and daddy, but they live in separate houses and their children move between them.
Some may have new partners or additional children, some families have two mummies, a birth mother and a stepmother, some have two mothers who live together.
Two men can fall in love and get married, just like two women or a man and a woman.
How can two men or two women have a baby?
Well lots of people have children in different ways. Some children have foster carers if their parents can’t take care of them, some children are adopted. Two men can get married and adopt a child and give them a safe home. Families come in lots of shapes and sizes, but some thing they should have in common is they care and support each other and everyone feels safe.
Some children grow up in families with same sex parents, we cannot expect those children to hide their families or not talk about them.
Equally, some children will grow up gay or bi-sexual and they need to know that is OK. We don’t want any child regardless of their sexuality to grow-up thinking there’s something wrong with them or their family. Historically, children who recognise as LGBTQ+ are more likely to grow up vulnerable to self harm, suicide, anxiety and depression… we want this to change.
There is absolutely no evidence that talking to children about the realities of the world they live in will make them gay or give them gay ideas. We are teaching them to not be afraid of difference and to be respectful of everyone, regardless.
We understand that there may be some conflict or tension for some people with strong cultural or religious beliefs. There are people who believe that being gay is wrong. However, we are teaching children about the world they live in, there are gay and lesbian people in the world. We live in a country where people have the right to marry and fall in love, and raise a family. These are protected rights just like the right to practice your own religion. We are teaching children to grow up in a diverse society where they will come into contact with many different types of people. Regardless of personal beliefs we all need to respect each other.
We want all children in all our schools to feel safe and happy. Learning can only take place when children feel able to be themselves. Developing a positive sense of gender identity is an important part of growing up for all children and young people. However, we still live in a world that paints girls and boys in a very particular way.
We know that by the age of 8 girls will already gender jobs. They will tell you that there are certain jobs that girls can’t do because they are not strong or clever enough. Where are they getting these messages from?
This damage is not only reserved for girls either, boys learn very early on that they aren’t allowed to express their feelings. By the age of 7 boys have 70% less words for their emotions than girls do.
This is why it is important for the healthy development of all children that we recognise the need to actively challenge gender stereotypes, sexism and gender identity. As part of the programme we will unpick gender stereotypes and the supposed rules that surround how boys and girls should behave. What toys they can play with or what expectations we may have for them. Not all boys fit in the same box, and neither do all girls.
This work is especially important to ensure the inclusion of any children that are questioning their gender identity. Even at this early age, the majority of primary schools will have a child who doesn’t feel like they fit the binary stereotypes of their birth gender. This is an ideal opportunity to talk to the class about the issue and ensure that their classmates are supportive and understand.
“Some people may feel that actually they like to dress in clothes or behave in a way we would usually associate with the opposite gender, some children may even feel that their body doesn’t really fit how they feel even though they were born with the body parts of a boy, that actually inside they feel like they are a girl, or vice versa. This can be really confusing for some children and for the grown ups that support them so it is important that we accept them for who they say they are.”
Indeed, gender identity is complicated and multi-faceted and can be best understood as being a spectrum rather than necessarily needing to be a binary choice between male or female. It is essential that educational settings develop pupil and student understanding of the spectrum of gender identity and in addition provide support to children that are trans, gender questioning and non-binary.
Trans: is an umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not fully reflect, the sex they were assigned at birth.
There has been an increase in children and young people coming out as trans and non-binary and an increase in different ways that young people self-identify in terms of gender. Evidence shows that 40% of young people first realised they were trans by the age of 11 or under – meaning this is definitely something we need to acknowledge before children leave primary school.
Gender Identity is one of the nine protected characteristics of the Equality Act. This means that all public bodies, including schools and nurseries have a legal requirement to ensure they support and protect trans children and this something that all Ofsted inspections are required to uphold.
There has been a lot of discussion in the media and wider about how best to support trans and gender questioning children and young people and if and how to raise awareness of gender identity across the whole community. There is no evidence that talking about gender identity confuses children and ‘makes them trans’, but regulation requires us to actively seek to support these children and help them to be themselves.
Effective trans inclusive practices have been shown to benefit all genders and sexual orientations. Creating safe, trans inclusive learning environments is crucial to reduce and prevent harm to trans and non-binary children and young people, but will also be of benefit to all genders as gender stereotyping, sexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are challenged.
Trans children and their rights:
There are many different ways to be trans. Talking with the child or young person, and if appropriate family members, to find out what they want and need should always be a guiding principle.
When children and young people’s understanding of their own gender differs from the expectations of those around them, this can be very challenging and young people and their families can experience high levels of distress. Some studies find trans young people to be at an increased risk of self- harm and suicide. Therefore, there is a moral imperative to ensure effective support.
Trans children have the right to:
- choose to use whatever name, pronoun or title they want. They do not need any documentation to prove their status.
- be taken seriously and do not have to have undergone any changes, medically or socially to have these rights under the Equality Act.
- to decide who knows they are trans, when they tell people and how to tell people.
- have the right to use whichever toilet or changing room they feel most comfortable using.
- have the right to wear the uniform they feel the most comfortable in, within the school uniform policy. This is an important reason why schools should not gender their uniform list.
- have a right to privacy. This includes the right to keep private one’s gender identity at school. Information about a pupil’s transgender status, legal name, or sex assigned at birth may also constitute confidential information.
For some children and young people exploring gender identity is all a natural part of growing up and understanding themselves and may well pass over time. For others this is the start of a long journey of transitioning. It is essential that all children feel safe and feel listened to by the people around them.
If a child or young person does ‘change their mind’ about their gender identity it is important they do not feel they are ‘letting anyone down’ or that they have caused a fuss for nothing. It is important that they are supported to change names and pronouns again if they want to, change uniform, gendered groups and any other areas to ensure they remain comfortable in their gender identity and expression.
If you have a non-binary or gender questioning child and would like more help and support please contact:
These are all topics we get asked about regularly by parents at workshops. We will continue to add to the list, but if you have any suggestions for particular topics you would like help with please get in touch and let us know….