ACADEMY of Medicine of Malaysia’s College of Paediatrics president, Professor Dr Thong Meow Keong, helps parents understand their children’s physical development process. “From the early age of 2, children start to become curious about their body and its functions. “By that age, they have developed some awareness of their body, and this continues as they enter preschool age. “At the preschool age, they start having questions relating to differences in gender, private parts, ‘toileting’, pregnancy and birth. “They may also explore their genitals and can experience pleasure from doing so. “Between 6 and 10, they have on their minds questions about their physical development, relationships and sexual behaviours. “Between 10 and 12, they are curious about sexual materials, relationships and behaviours. “By 12, they want to know more about personal values and morals. “They may also experiment with their sexuality. “All these are part of a normal child’s development and maturation process. “It is critical for parents to discuss with their children basic matters relating to sex. “Parents should start talking about it before their children turn 12 or even earlier.
“Many children are not exposed to sex education as there is a misconception that it is about teaching children how to have sex. “Sex education is actually about ensuring a child’s safety and health. “Not having the knowledge simply puts children at risk. “A study by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network suggests that parents teach their children about safeguards, including the kinds of touch deemed acceptable and otherwise. “According to the network’s study, parents should educate their children on the difference between the ‘okay’, ‘comforting’, ‘pleasant’ and ‘welcoming’ touch and the ‘not okay’ touch, which can be intrusive, uncomfortable, unwanted or painful. “Children should also be taught about who they can confide in if they experienced the ‘not okay’ touch or if they were asked to do anything that falls within the definition of sexual exploitation and abuse.”