Wednesday, 16 May 2012


Parents love to teach their children about life, living and everything possible, but one aspect about life something all parents dread teaching about is sex. Many are complacent that o.k. we will face it once the child is nearing puberty, which means we have a good 12 years before we have to worry about  talking about – sex.

But a child’s first escapade with sex does not happen with puberty, it starts as early as the preschool years. First a child becomes aware of his/her sex organs, then realizes that there is a difference between girls and boys and then many of them also become aware of the fact that babies are born from mummy’s stomach. The ugly term sexual abuse also makes it presence felt more often at this stage, because the perpetrators feel the child will not come to know that anything wrong is being done to him/her.

So parents need to address – sex and sex education – quite early with their children. So what should be the method of interacting with your child about sex and sex related questions? Should we wait for children to ask us or should we make them aware of it? These are common confusions raging in most parents minds. Here I have always relied on German educationist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s definition of what children need at each stage of life. According to him from0 to 7 children learn best and thrive on imitation, from 7 to 14 they learn from authority, which means they need supervision, constant monitoring and a firm hand in rules and regulations and from 14 onwards they need and thrive on independence.

So keeping the above in mind for parents to develop their rapport with kids about sex education, parents of children in the age group of 0 to 7 need to understand that since children learn by imitation they need to see you having a positive concept about hugging and kissing, they will imitate whatever they see, so please let your child sleep separately especially when you and your partner are indulging in sexual activity. And lastly they need to develop a positive concept about their genitals, it should not make them feel that genitals are dirty, something to be ashamed about etc. They should be taught about ‘manners’ to do with genitals. Girls are taught how to sit without showing their panties and boys about not touching their genitals. To ensure that your child is safe from sexual abuse, it is important to teach them about good touch and bad touch as early as 4 to 5 years. This can be done with a story, a teddy bear etc and they should know basics like
  1. It is o.k. to hug someone or if someone hugs you.
  2. It is not o.k. to touch someone’s genitals (between their legs) and not o.k. if someone touches yours
  3. Only daddy and mummy can touch your genitals. If anyone else does then let mummy know
  4. Do not allow anyone to kiss you on the lips.
  5. Close the toilet door while doing your ‘wee wee’ and ‘potty’
  6. We should not put any objects in our genitals

The n.a.e.y.c (national association of education of young children- u.s.a) has good material on how children develop their self concept – research in their journal ‘understanding preschooler development’ by Margaret Puckett and Janet Black - says that

Some behaviors embarrass or worry adults — such as when children ask direct questions about body parts and functions, giggle about and tease member of the opposite sex, engage in "bathroom talk" or "playing doctor."  However, these are normal behaviors that simply show that children have a growing awareness of the differences between genders.  As a parent, it's important that your response to such behavior is positive, informative, and age-appropriate.  Acting shocked or embarrassed or ignoring questions is unhelpful.

Another aspect of modern life that is slowly having its negative impact on early puberty and sexual awareness in children is television viewing. Children’s brain expert Dr. David Perlmutter says in his book- ‘Raise a smarter child by kindergarten.’         

That children who spend an inordinate amount of time in front of an electronic screen may also be at risk of premature sexual development.

Many girls these days are showing signs of precocious sexual development, including well-developed breasts and pubic hair growth, well before these ages.  
Although no one knows for sure why watching TV would cause premature sexual development, there are several explanations. First, excess TV viewing is associated with childhood obesity, which can boost levels of the female hormone estrogen, which, in turn, can' hasten sexual development. Second, TV viewing as well as pro­longed exposure to artificial light suppresses the production of a hor­mone called melatonin that helps regulate sexual development in both boys and girls. As children enter early adolescence, melatonin levels fall naturally signaling the start of bodily changes that culminate in puberty. Artificially suppressing melatonin, however, could cause a child to go into puberty prematurely!

The intense sexual content of many television programs could rev up hormone production in children who are not meant to be exposed to this type of stimulation at so young an age. Adults often forget that even though very young children can't talk, they can listen and observe. Their brains soak up everything in their environment.  You may think that 1-or 2-year-old is not observing sexy soap opera scenes or the casual sex on a sitcom, but she is. And by the time a child is 4 or 5 and beginning to develop a sense of her sexual self; she is definitely picking up the suggestive themes on TV.

So as your child enters the age of 7 to 14, he/she is definitely now more prone to experiencing bodily changes as he/she nears the age of puberty. Here as Steiner said authority is what will work, so monitor what your child is watching, reading and talking to friends. Close supervision is a must. Give him the freedom to ask you questions as otherwise he may get wrong answers from somewhere else.

A child brought up with this kind of focused attention on sexual understanding and sex education, by the time he reaches the age of puberty of 14 years would have a healthy concept of and about sex. He would be able to understand that sex is another need of the body, but a need that cannot be treated as lightly as hunger etc. It is a need that should be understood, something that one has to take responsibility for. This is the right age to talk about sexual diseases, masturbation, aids  and HIV and pregnancy and condoms. Independence is the ‘mantra’ for this age remember? So put the onus of responsibility on the growing child, be vigilant but not overtly so. Call his/her friends over, let him/her have a party at home and you would be able to gauge the sexual talk etc among his/her friends.

Sex is something that can be positive, healthy and a conscious part of life or sex can be intimidating, disappointing, give you feeling of being ashamed, but it is up to us as parents that we make sex and its education a continuous part of the growing up years of our child. Let ‘s not wait for sex to rear its ugly head one day, lets remove the ugliness in sex and make it a controlled and healthy aspect of our kids lives.

From an early age make children aware of GOOD TOUCH-BAD TOUCH, download a copy of a PowerPoint that you can show your child from

Friday, 4 May 2012


An email this morning from one of our most committed partners in Kiducation, Ms Vaidehi Arun (Bangalore) got me thinking, fuming and typing. Here are my thoughts on why our children are committing suicide. And given below this article is Vaidehi’s email. Thanks Vaidehi, lets spread the message to all parents.

The recent spate of suicides by young children should not only be the topic of hot discussion and debate but it is time the stakeholders of childhood sat up straight and looked at the real issues and brought about change however small. The stakeholders are parents, school and society. Here society encompasses other family members, friends, the larger community in which children live and the media.

Why are kids committing suicide? Let’s really think of what suicide means, it means taking one’s own life and the methods are always quite ugly, - jumping from a height, hanging by rope, swallowing poison. These are young people who are otherwise very careful about their appearance and how they treat themselves or are treated by others, and these very youngsters reach a stage where they are able to inflict pain and hurt on themselves. Imagine the conditions that must be driving them to take such harsh steps.
The solution is not as simple as blaming the education system or the child. The solution is quite complex because the solution is ‘linked’. It is linked to a lot of factors and we will be able to bring about the solution only when the ‘links’ work together, the links being- schools, colleges, family, parents, media and the child.

And it is in this ‘linking’ that lies the problem as each one gives up expecting the other to bring about the change.

Let us understand what has gone wrong in the ‘links’-       
  1. Parents- the fact is that parents today do not have time for their children, however much this sounds ‘unacceptable’ it is a fact, and the only way to deal with facts is to act. Parents need to spend time with children, not only asking them about their exams, or whether they have studied etc. Communicate and allow children to communicate. Parents have to stop focussing on the implied rudeness in children’s conversational styles and understand that sometimes what they think is rudeness may be ‘buried hurt’ coming out strongly. When discussing issues with young children, let them talk, then give solutions or support and when things are calmer then talk to them about ‘how to talk to elders’.
  2. Family- the breaking of the joint family system to some extent has led to children feeling lonely, driven them to become loners and ‘keep things to themselves’. To add to this single child families are on the rise, which leaves the child with no one to talk or confide. Connect with your children often in the day and let him connect with family members regularly. Use Sundays to meet grandparents and others.
  3. Media- media cannot stop sensationalising incidents of murder, rape, suicide etc, but with the sensationalisation should also come the remedies, when flashed regularly such remedies through media can play an important part. Secondly how we watch television with our children is also important- watching news of suicide and rape and death, while having food is just not done, also after watching such stories whether on a news channel, a movie or a serial it is important that parents talk and discuss with the children about what they saw. This will give children an insight on how the family thinks about such issues and how to react and what not to learn. It also helps solve a lot of questions in the child’s mind about why people do what they do, or behave the way they do. This kind of family education is a must.

  4. Schools and colleges- education in itself is not stressful, if it was the generations gone by would not be surviving successfully. What is stressful is the excessive competition among schools/colleges to be the best which in turn takes the stress to the child. When children do not perform a parent is called to school and blamed for it, ego of the adults’ hurt- they retaliate by taking it out on the child. The child feels both school and parents are against me and feels cornered, now where to run and in a moment of frustration ends his life. Parents need to go ‘soft’ on ‘non performance’ in exams or low marks, parents will have to work to come out of this rat race that lead to ‘death race’.

  5. Childhood- stress does not happen suddenly in the high school or college years, it builds up gradually. It starts as early as the kindergarten years when kids are interviewed and then rejected and then starts a journey of stress, frustration, defeat, inability to cope, hostility, irritability, anger and hopelessness.

What we as a society need to do is create better help lines within the family and school
Teach adults about emotional development in children so that they are better able to understand and support growing children
Reduce stress by reducing senseless competition and expectations
Parents and teachers to have basic knowledge of counselling
Look out for ‘signs’, they are always there, early intervention can save a life.
Take interest in the websites your child visits or now the face book sites, recently there was a group on face book called- ‘we are not scared to commit suicide’, (told to me by a youngster) so be aware of such sites and discuss and debate the pros and cons with young children and young adults.

The world is not such a bad place, so why are children finding it so? Give them love, understanding, a patient ear and we will have a better world. Lets understand that children maybe just 20% of the population but they are 100% of the future (David Tyack), lets take care of the future today.

Swati Popat Vats
President- Podar Education Network-

President - Early Childhood Association -India
National Representative India, World Forum Foundation-
Leader Asia - Nature Action Collaborative for Children (NACC)

Dear Swati mam,

Hope you are doing fine. I guess you are all set to attend our POP in Bangalore. Looking forward for the same. It was a long pending experience I wanted to share with you , if you wish might address the parents on this issue.

We read about various suicidal deaths which has become very rampant in the recent past. I keep pondering about each of these incidents and perplexed about some incidents where children are loosing their precious lives for trivial issues. We earlier used to think it was only exam pressures and results etc., but if you look at a lot of suicides happening across the city it is not even for exam results. The emotional quotient is getting lower in our younger generation. There is strong need for approval from their peer group.

When we were young,  friends were meant to have fun, share study ideas, share homework complexities and enjoy walking into some extra curricular activities together. Contrary to the earlier days, friends now mean everything to our children.  There is now a need for approval from friends in all walks of their life. Right from the way they look in the photos, to what they wear, to how they talk what they think !!! which is very scary. This is further influenced by the sociall / digital media like FACEBOOK.

I do not realise whether what I am explaining further could also be contributing to some extent and has an impact on the above said facts : Most of our parents have the urge to push our children to the next level and next level in everything whether required or not. The following examples assert what I am trying to explain

1. According to the age cut off in Karnataka it is June but most of the schools relax until sept born after which they need to take up the previous level. This exists in all states and countries the dates just differ from place to place. We have parents going to the extent of even bribing and changing the birth certificates in order the child move to the next level.

2. Summer camps : Certainly not meant to achieve short term goals rather allowing a child to explore / express / experience new talents, meet new friends , adapt to new environments. Parents here too,  worry that their children  be placed in the next age group than actually where the child belongs. They worry if a child aged 6yrs is placed in the group 4-6yrs they are rather very happy if the child is placed in 7-8yrs. Isn't all this an indirect pressure for the child to grow up too soon??

3. I would like to share couple of experiences in the day care recently. I had a father who was transferred from Pune to Bangalore ( child is not from PODAR ) he had come to select a AFTER SCHOOL DAY CARE as both parents go to work. I was casually chatting with him when I asked him where is the child going to join for regular schooling when he mentioned he has selected three schools but the final choice is going to be made by his son who is 7yrs old !!! I asked him is he comfortable in asking the child to make a choice of the school he said " My son has a mind of his own mam, so I better ask him" , but soon did not forget to add " I am pretty sure you must have heard this from a lot of parents , but I truly believe my son is matured enough to make a choice". To my surprise when this child joined our ASDC (after school day care) team I realised he was so matured he just could not make any friends in his peer group but rather choose to sit with me or some senior teachers and chat. ( he was a very nice kid) but had lost the 'child in him' to be with his peer group. He was more a mini adult !! I have a lot of such incidents to share with you may be when I meet you in person but I am wondering are we doing it right?? Why are we in a haste to push them to adulthood ?

Why are the parents trying to push young children to attain so much maturity that they loose their childhood?
Are these parents ready to handle the adult in him as he/she grows up?
Is this having an impact on the balance of the child's mind ?

These were few things just wanted to share so you can address them in your talk with parents.
Looking forward to see you soon.

Warm regards,
Vaidehi arun