Amy Lang (center) presenting on the topic of child sexuality.
Though she had a master’s in adult learning and several years’ experience counseling others on reproductive health, Amy Lang was stumped when her 4-year-old said to her, “it feels good to touch my penis,” right before he jumped in the bath.
“I didn’t have a clue about how to talk about these topics,” Lang said. And as Lang discovered neither did many parents or early childhood educators. So, she became an expert on child sexuality and helped parents and adults who work with children learn about childhood sexuality and how to talk to kids about the facts of life through her company, Birds & Bees & Kids.
Lang will be a presenter at the Friday and Saturday NMAEYC Pre-Conference and Conference.
“Child sexuality is an uncomfortable topic to talk about,” Lang said, “and there are a lot of social and cultural taboos surrounding the topic, but taking the time to talk to children about their developing bodies and safety is more important than the uneasiness one might feel. I try make this uncomfortable topic as engaging and fun as possible.”
The Seattle-based presenter noted that once she presents evidence-based research and practices at her workshops about childhood sexuality, participants collectively relax.
“They feel a real sense of relief because now educators have a tool and knowledge to assess if the behavior they are observing is typical or not,” Lang said. “Before they were winging it, looking for pathology, or signs for sexual abuse, not sure if they should report it. Now they know when they should report and do so with confidence.”
Educators leave Lang’s workshops more confident knowing about age appropriate and typical behavior in young children.
“The motivator for children is curiosity,” Lang said. “They’re curious about their bodies and others’ bodies — who has what parts and they often want to touch,” Lang said. Teaching children about boundaries helps them learn to be safe and what’s generally accepted behavior. When children exhibit sexual behavior that is adult-like or retell mature stories, that is when educators should be concerned, she said.
A mission to educate and protect
Most early childhood teachers enter the workforce with no critical knowledge about childhood healthy sexual development. Few university education programs offer courses on this topic.
Lang has made it her mission to educate the early childhood workforce so that children remain safe and teachers also avoid false accusations. She said programs have to have policies in place so teachers know when to intervene if there are concerns. Teachers need to be able to talk to families when typical sexual child behaviors occur, but parents don’t know they’re normal. Talking about these behaviors builds trust and a sense of security between teachers and families.
“I want every child to grow up to be a whole and healthy adult,” Lang said. To achieve this, according to Lang, it’s important to teach children about their bodies and how they develop. She acknowledges that all cultures have different values and perspectives about how and when to talk to children about sexuality. This is why programs and teachers need to be transparent about their values and what they think is important for children to learn, giving parents an opportunity to learn that teaching children about their sexual development is similar to teaching any other topic. Children are taught “facts” about their bodies and what they do.
Her presentation is sponsored by the regional chapters of NMAEYC.