Conscious Sexual Self

Connection Requires Consciousness

Creating a Body-Positive Home For Your Kids

 

Every day we are teaching kids what to think about their bodies and how to treat them. Some might say our society is a hostile environment for bodies with so many encouragements to view our body from the outside, rather than to experience and listen to it from the inside. Here are a few tips for helping kids have a more body-positive time at home.

 

* Teach attention to and identification of body sensations, such as tired, hungry, etc.  Help your children to identify what they are experiencing in their bodies. It is so easy for us to just think, “Man, you are cranky today” or “He is whiny because he is tired”. It can be really helpful for kids to focus on what their body is telling them. Have a conversation with your child – How do you feel when you are getting sleepy? Maybe give them some ideas. For example, “When I get sleepy, things that are normally easy for me can start to seem hard and sometimes my body feels really slow and heavy”. Once your child learns that their body gives them important information, they can also learn that they can take action to take care of it. What helps you when you are feeling sleepy? Have these kinds of little conversations about feeling hungry, needing attention or love, being scared, all kinds of experiences that we can feel in our bodies. Here’s the tough part, parents – In teaching your children to take care of their own bodies sensations and needs, you need to model taking care of your own. So, are you feeling tired? What could you do to help you to recover a little bit?

 

* Encourage exploration of individual strengths, rather than pushing a mold   The family sport may be baseball, but if your child’s hand eye coordination isn’t where it may need to be for them to enjoy and feel successful at baseball, allow them to explore other sports or activities that might help them find a sense of accomplishment. Encourage all your children, but especially those under 10 years old, to experiment with different activities and have fun discovering all the varied ways to be active. Invite family play that includes touch, stretching, silly non-choreographed movement or dancing, or exploration of their senses, all ways for your children to discover their own bodies and what it can do and feel. Think of movement at fun, not work, and you may be amazed at what changes.

 

* Focus on eating for energy and pleasure  Food tastes good and food fuels us to live our lives, but so often we talk about food and the way we eat it as though it says something about our value or ethics as a person. How often have you said, in front of your kids, “Oh I shouldn’t eat that” or “I was so bad for eating that ice cream”. Help your children focus on food choices with as little shaming as possible. And the best way to do this is to model that attitude with yourself and your choices. For example, saying “Cookies sound good, but I know I have a busy afternoon ahead of me so I am going to have something that will give me more energy” or “I would love one of your brownies and I am going to sit here and really enjoy it”. These responses are not shame based and they show food as an ally to support you in feeling good and functioning the way you want to.

 

* Do not allow teasing about bodies in your house  Very often I hear dads say that they used to bond with their kids through playful teasing and then when puberty hit their kids suddenly starting taking it so seriously. Yes, part of teen development is to be very worried about being “normal” and living up to external standards. For several years it becomes very hard for teens to joke about themselves. This does not mean that they have permanently lost their sense of humor, although it may feel like that. However, teasing through this time in their lives or any other can be very painful and can shut down lines of communication between you. I also hear teens, and adults, say that teasing from siblings was an incredibly painful part of growing up and often still stings. So have family ground rules set in place that no one (including parents) gets teased about how their body looks or works. Find other ways to joke and be playful that are non-critical.

 

* Teach children to look at media and fads with a critical eye  Here’s the thing about this one – I say with a critical eye, not with your critical eye. You cannot force your children to see things your way, although many have tried. What you can teach them is to ask questions about what they see, to think about unseen consequences or motivations, to know that they have the right to disagree even with things that are hugely popular. Watch TV or listen to the radio with your children, and invite conversation about what is happening. Ask your children what they think about something at least as often as you share what you think. Have a night when TV watching is a game and you have to yell out every time someone talks about being on a diet or every time you see a woman in underwear (this happens often even during children’s’ programming hours). Have fun, be loud, and then talk about what they think about seeing those things on TV so often. Nominate other things to look for in TV that you want to start a conversation about.

 

* Walk Your Talk Do you want to raise kids who are proud and comfortable in their bodies? How are you doing with that for yourself? Kids hear the way you talk. They notice when you delete every photo of yourself. Heck, they notice when you grimace at the mirror. Take care of yourself. Model being kind and treating your body with respect. Its not too late to create a body-positive place for yourself.

 

Mommy Will You Marry Me?

  I love you SOOOO much.

 

Our first attachments are to our caregivers. This is a unique form of love, with need and safety and deep power differentials, that will impact us our entire life. It is also one of the first relationships were we begin to “practice” with a child’s mind the idea of romance, and its connection to love. Children learn by playing, enacting scenarios and seeing how it feels. This can be empowering even though the play is “not real” as the child imagines that they could handle themselves in that scenario.

 

It is very common for children around age 4 to 6 to develop crushes on adults in their life, more commonly a parent. This can be an icky and awkward phase for the parent who is the focus of their attention since it feels very inappropriate. Children in this stage may profess their love, get jealous of the parent’s partner, ask for extra attention, and even try to kiss the parent the way they saw in cartoons. For the child’s development though it is entirely appropriate to imagine and pretend and to get information from adult’s responses. It makes sense for a child to try these new possibilities out with someone they love, look up to and feel safe with, so they are actually making a good choice in play partner. It is helpful if adults are calm and kind about this phase (remember it will pass soon enough). Gently saying something like, “I love you too, so much. You are my beautiful little boy. But romantic love, when people get married or kiss passionately or XYZ, happens between two people who are close in age. So I will be with an adult, like me. And you will eventually find someone your age to be with. And you and I get to love each other as mommy and son and that is a really special love”.

 

What can happen, in large part because most adults have a healthy internal taboo against sex with children, is that adults overreact to a child’s natural style of learning – experimentation and play practice. Children may get shamed or unintentionally scared by an adult’s negative reaction. It is important to set firm boundaries as the adult about how you do and don’t want to be touched and also about the limits of your relationship (as true with children as with other adults, right?). There is no need to scold or punish a child for having their version of a crush, in fact this could cause them to feel uncomfortable or to doubt those feelings when they arise later in life. There is also no need to encourage the feelings and adults should be careful that they are not using the child’s affection to manipulate the child’s behavior or to create triangles or alliances in the family. Just remember that the child is trying on adult roles, not having adult feelings.

 

This is the same age that many kids will play house, acting out family dynamics, patterns, and habits in ways that can be dismaying or adorable to those being mimicked. Adults are role models, even when we are not aware of it, and children look to us for guidance on how to do this thing called life. They are taught early on, in fairytales and stories, TV shows, and magazine covers in the checkout line, that romantic love is something to be desired. One of the crucial things they seek to learn from us is how to love and be loved. Let’s strive to show them love can be kind, understanding, and unconditional but also with clear boundaries. Not a bad thing to  remind ourselves of too.

 

How Do We Teach Sexual Respect?

 

Research released this year has shown that instances of sexual coercion among teens are disturbingly high. What was ground-breaking about this study is that it focused on self reports of perpetration. It asked questions about sexual coercion- verbally intimidating, pressuring, using guilt, getting someone drunk, or harassing behaviors- as well as forced sexual contact. Teenagers were asked if they “had tried to make someone have sex with me when I knew they didn’t want to”, or “made someone have sex with me when I knew they didn’t want to”. And based on their own responses – nearly 10% of teens have been sexually coercive.  Also disturbing are patterns around personal responsibility. Fully 50% of the perpetrators said that the victim was completely responsible for what happened. And by the way, by the age of 18 perpetrators were equally boys and girls.

 

A 2008 study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy looked at teens’ behaviors around sharing sexual content online. They found that 25% of girl and 33% of boys reported that they had been shown naked pictures intended to have been sent privately to someone else.  Add this to what we have seen in the news about patterns of sexual harassment and bullying among teens and children.

 

I have believed for a long time that we should to be providing better and more comprehensive sexual education. Now it is clear to me that not only do we need to talk about sexual health and safety, but we need to be talking about sexual respect. It is time to define polite sexual conduct. And to erase once and for all the insidious idea that if someone is behaving sexually, they no longer deserve respect.

 

If kids are learning just by observing what is going on around them, then I can understand how they would be confused about how to treat others respectfully. In this era of decreased privacy and people’s personal lives as public entertainment, it is critical to teach about personal privacy and choice. Maybe the ever- intensifying ramp up from afternoon talks shows featuring humiliations, have numbed us to other people’s shame and turned us into virtual perpetrators, invited to laugh at someone falling down drunk and flashing their underwear. Humiliation has become entertainment. In this environment, how do we talk to kids about vulnerability? How do we help them to separate how we relate to the “real lives” on TV from how we relate to real people in our lives? How, in a world of selfies and sex tapes, do we talk about the fact that many people want their sex life to be private and that beginning a sexual relationship with someone can be a tender, trusting act? We need to explain why it is ok to laugh at the sexual behavior of “Carlos Danger” but not at the girl in your class who sent a topless pic to the person she has a crush on. And while we are at it, we need to talk about handling frustration and that you will not get to satisfy every desire you have the moment you have it, regardless of what the constant availability of nearly everything else may imply.

 

 Maybe we can tell ourselves that as adults we that we are clear on where to draw the line between harmless amusement at other’s expense and actual harm, or who has abdicated their right to sexual choice or privacy. But it is time to admit that kids aren’t clear about that.

 

Harvest What Is There For You

 

I imagine we all have those moments when we feel unloved. They are not fun. In this time of year, when we are meant to be showing our love for the people in our lives, it is especially painful to feel like you are missing something. There are quite a lot of internal tantrums this time of year, things along the lines of, “why can’t you love me the way I want you to? Why can’t you see what I want?” It’s painful when love doesn’t come to you in the way you imagined.

 

But that is often how the real world works. Love comes to you in its own unique and mysterious ways from unique and idiosyncratic people. Sure, we can ask ourselves, am I getting the love I want? But perhaps what is important to ask yourself is, are you recognizing the love that is coming to you – in the forms it comes in? Are you open to the weird, subtle, silly, and clumsy ways that people are showing that they love you?

 

Think about gift giving. Instead of thinking of the list of things you want this year, things you are wishing other people give you, think hard about what people ARE giving you. Did your partner pick up your favorite snack from the store? Did they send your mom a birthday card from both of you? Did they make sure the front porch light was working so that you came home to light? Did they send you a funny video or share a song with you? Did they come home early so that you could go out? Did they run their hand along your arm as they walked past? Heck, did they leave the seat down so you don’t have to put it down? These things are not the stuff of romantic moments, I know. But they are bits of love that many of us forget to harvest. We forget to take in and store up the little signs of love. We ignore the many ways that people in our lives are thinking about us, making our lives easier, bringing sweetness.

 

So don’t miss that harvest this year. Take time to notice the people that are loving you. Make a gift to them of your graciousness about the awkward and personal ways that they show love. Love is going to come in a different package than the diamond commercials will lead you to believe. Are you ready to receive it?

 

Time To Listen

 

  What do you want to ask?

The day after Thanksgiving, usually devoted to holiday shopping, has been recreated by StoryCorps as the National Day of Listening. They invite us to sit down with a family member or friend and get them to tell you a story about their life, or several stories. I agree with their premise that listening is the most meaningful gift you can give someone. And I know from the incredible expansion and gratitude I feel from listening to my clients’ stories, that this is a gift for yourself as well.

So rather than feeling frazzled, let yourself slow down enough to connect with someone in your life. Maybe you want to hear more from a parent or grandparent. Maybe you want to hear more from your partner. Surely there are questions you wonder about. Take the time to ask them, while you can. The website for National Day of Listening recommends some starting questions, and I will recommend some of my own – Conscious Sexual Self style. How about asking an elder, “how did you learn about sex? What did people tell you that turned out to not be true?” or “what has it meant to you to be a man/woman? What did people tell you it was supposed to mean?” Or ask a parent, “what has been the most surprising thing about sex or  romantic relationships?” Or ask your partner, “tell me about your first crush.” You can start the listening with any question. Just take the risk to ask and quiet yourself, be present, and be curious about the person in front of you. Something we should do more than one day a year.