It is never easy to talk to the children about sex or sex related issues. In fact, even more difficult is to decide at which age we should educate them about these issues though we must realize that Sex Ed is more than just explaining intercourse to the children, and it may not be as difficult to get to the real topic if we keep taking care of the smaller issues related to it from an early age.
Raising children with Islamic values entails frequent religious discussions at home, including Qur'an and hadeeth studies. I said earlier that it doesn't have to be at a “scholarly” level, rather, it involves simple studies of the meanings of Qur'anic verses, reading ahadeethbooks, discussing Islamic articles or listening to online lectures, etc.
Prophet (sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) said:
“Whosoever gives me a guarantee to safeguard what is between his jaws and what is between his legs, I shall guarantee him Jannah.” (Bukhāri)
As eager parents for the betterment of our children's akhirah, we keenly train them in safeguarding what is between their jaws from a very early age, like ensuring that they know the harms of lying, backbiting, hurting others' feelings with their tongue, and not using offensive words, but we ignore the same emphasis on safeguarding what is between their legs. We think that shutting down conversation about private parts is sufficient to teach them how to safeguard it. We must acknowledge that the issue of safeguarding private parts is repeatedly mentioned throughout Islamic texts:
وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ لِفُرُوجِهِمْ حَافِظُونَ
“And those who protect their private parts” (Mu'minoon: 5)
وَالْحَافِظِينَ فُرُوجَهُمْ وَالْحَافِظَاتِ وَالذَّاكِرِينَ اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا وَالذَّاكِرَاتِ أَعَدَّ اللَّهُ لَهُمْ مَغْفِرَةً وَأَجْرًا عَظِيمًا
“…and the men who guard their private parts and the women who guard…Allāh has prepared for them forgiveness and a mighty reward.” (Ahzab: 35)
When children go through these ayahs or ahadeeth, they ask questions and we must be ready to, age-appropriately, answer their questions.
Educating children about their body parts:
Private Zone: From a younger age, around 2-5, children should be taught about their private parts and the necessity of keeping them covered and protected from others. As mentioned before, it is very important to educate them about molestation. Young children need frequent reminders. It may be a good idea to talk to them every now and then about how their private parts are off limits for anyone else and if anyone ever tries to touch them, then they must immediately tell their parent/s.
One of the common misconceptions is to believe that educating or emphasizing the importance of safeguarding private parts will put “ideas” in a child's mind. A number of parents follow the “don't ask, don't tell” methodology. This is not only wrong but is equally harmful. We talk to our children about the perils of talking to strangers or crossing the road, etc. because we realize the dangers of keeping children ignorant about their safety, hence we prepare them ahead of time. Similarly, if this subject is left unexplained, we leave the doors of danger open for our children.
Curiosity: Sometimes children become curious about others' body parts. If they are not explicitly taught what is expected of them, and especially why, then they cannot be blamed for “experimenting” with their own, their sibling's, or their friend's private areas.
Spiritual Hygiene: As we teach them the physical hygiene of their private parts, we must concentrate on the spiritual hygiene also: Tell the children that Allāh loves those who protect their private parts, and doing the opposite is pleasing to shaytaan. This can be explained in an age appropriate way. As they grow older, the deeper meaning of the āyahcan be told.
When the discussion about the body parts is kept open from the beginning, it only makes it easier to take it to the next step. As the children grow above 5 years of age, parents should determine according to each child's level of maturity and circumstances in educating them about more complicated issues. Nevertheless, IF a child asks a question, it must be answered truthfully.
Let us discuss a few commonly asked questions:
- What is the difference between a girl and a boy?
- Where do babies come from?
- Why can't mommy pray?
- How does the baby get in mommy's tummy?
- What is Sex? (a number of questions go under this category) Why do people want to have GF/BF? What is adultery (zina)? Why do people commit adultery? And so on.
Parents, always keep in mind:
- Tell the truth: Remember babies don't come from the stork.
- Keep a smile on your face, but don't joke around.
- Make an eye contact; appear confident even if your heart is beating 200 beats/min.
- Only answer the question; don't voluntarily offer too much information.
- Appreciate them for approaching you and not asking anyone else.
I'm going to suggest a few answers for each question. Let's discuss them in order:
1. What is the difference between a girl and a boy?
Explain the difference between a girl and a boy including the difference between the private parts using whatever names a child may have for their private parts. It is a good time to shortly and age-appropriately drop a line or two about how their bodies are different and that's why Allāh has made them responsible for different tasks in life. They can also be told about how emotionally they are different too, but this explanation may not sink in until after 8-10 years of age. It will help them understand the different roles and responsibilities Allāh has assigned to different genders.
2. Where do babies come from?
Draw a small diagram to show a child where babies stay in mother's womb and how Allāh'azza wa jall has given the mother's body the capability to pass out the baby through the private parts. They will be surprised and let them be. Explain to them that this is the system Allāh has made. Most likely they will ask, “Does it hurt?” Be honest and say, “Yes it does, and that is one of the reasons why Allāh has made mothers so special and has ordered children to listen to their mothers and fathers.”
Seize the opportunity to teach them what Allāh has asked them as children:
وَوَصَّيْنَا الْإِنْسَانَ بِوَالِدَيْهِ إِحْسَانًا ۖ حَمَلَتْهُ أُمُّهُ كُرْهًا وَوَضَعَتْهُ كُرْهًا ۖ وَحَمْلُهُ وَفِصَالُهُ ثَلَاثُونَ شَهْرًا ۚ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا بَلَغَ أَشُدَّهُ وَبَلَغَ أَرْبَعِينَ سَنَةً قَالَ رَبِّ أَوْزِعْنِي أَنْ أَشْكُرَ نِعْمَتَكَ الَّتِي أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيَّ وَعَلَىٰ وَالِدَيَّ وَأَنْ أَعْمَلَ صَالِحًا تَرْضَاهُ وَأَصْلِحْ لِي فِي ذُرِّيَّتِي ۖ إِنِّي تُبْتُ إِلَيْكَ وَإِنِّي مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِي
It is also a good time to encourage them to memorize the du‘ā’. This way, not only have you answered them truthfully, but you also showed them that discussing these issues, in a respectful manner, is not a taboo in Islam as Allāh Himself has acknowledged a mother's difficulty of child bearing.
I remember my son once said, “I am so glad my wife will get pregnant and not I!” I told him to appreciate his wife for going through the difficulty. It is also a good way to start training our young sons to be responsible and kind husbands from an early age.
3. Why can't mommy pray?
After a certain age, blood passes through woman's private areas and she cannot pray or fast during that time. Next, explain briefly and in simple terms the biological reason of periods. Make sure you don't overlap into the topic of reproduction.
If your child asks why you (or someone else) is not praying, please do not give false or tricky answers like, 'I've already prayed' or 'I don't have wuḍūʼ', etc. We have discussed this before that false information is a lie.
When my daughter was around 6, I told her that something happens in a woman's body and she cannot pray during that time. I explained to her that this is what Allāh has said in the Qur'an, and when she is older I would explain to her fully but if she becomes very curious and wants to know then she should ask me. She agreed. Later, once she started readingBulugh-ul-Maram, around 8 years, I explained it to her. I also advised her not to educate her younger sibling about it and that she should keep the discussions/questions between us. However, if she was going to a public school, I would have told her earlier.
Also, this was 8 years ago. Unfortunately, the way our society is progressing, I would not take the same approach with my younger one. Hence I advise if your daughter is around 5 or 6, then educate her about menstruation depending on her level of maturity.
Training our sons to be better caretakers of their womenfolk:
Similarly, explain menstruation to your sons as well. Also, take this opportunity to explain to them the hormonal changes and emotional difficulties that a female goes through at this time. Encourage them to be patient with their mothers and sisters and remind them to be understanding towards their womenfolk's mood swings. Again, it is a good way to train our sons to be good future husband and care takers of their womenfolk.
inshā'Allāh we will continue next week.