12 min read

Understanding sexual development to support your child

- Sexual development is a natural physical and emotional part of growing up. It’s about how the body and mind change in readiness for adult sexual activity. Lots of parents and carers dread having conversations about this with their children, so you’re not alone. Here's how to help your child through the different stages of sexual development.

Illustration two children smiling at each other

Things you can try

  1. Start by understanding two important terms – sexual orientation and gender identity.

    • Gender identity is about the gender you assign yourself.
    • Sexual orientation is your emotional, romantic and/or sexual attraction to another person - or lack of.
    • Gender identity does not predict sexual orientation.
    • Both take shape through childhood and adolescence.
  2. Help your child to understand their sexual development by teaching them how to enjoy their sexuality and to keep themselves safe.

  3. Understand what’s normal about your child’s interest in their bodies - it can be difficult to know what’s ‘normal’!

  4. Teach your child to be curious about their bodies and that sexual development is natural.

  5. At primary school age protect your child from exploitation and teach them their bodies are their own and to keep themselves safe.

    Even if they have strong sexual sensations, they’re not ready for sexual relationships.

  6. Children often need reassurance as they sexually develop, especially if they are earlier or later than their year group.

    They may be too shy or embarrassed to ask for advice. Sharing books can be helpful.

  7. Tackle any embarrassment or dread you might have in talking to your child about sex and sexuality.

    Your upbringing, religion and culture will influence how comfortable and confident you are when thinking and talking about children’s sexual development.

  8. Look out for behaviours that may indicate that your child is dealing with more than they should. And seek urgent professional help.

    It can be a very upsetting and worrying time, but it’s important that you’re confident about when to seek help.

  9. Use the many resources that are out there to help you – from books to website and ask friends and family for their top tips.

  10. Your child is unique and we hope there are some takeaways here that work for you. If you’re looking for help parenting children with additional needs, you can get specific advice from specialist organisations. Check out our list of support that we can recommend.

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