Show & Tell
by Karen PlattMy five-year-old son was introduced to playing “show and tell” by his seven-year-old cousin. Since then, he has been introducing this concept to a number of his friends while on playdates. We have tried to gently redirect him, knowing that it is normal at this time in his development, but also fearing the reactions of other parents. He has started having playdates with a four-year-old girl. I am afraid he will introduce the game and she will go along even if she is uncomfortable, and/or that she will tell her parents and they will be upset. Should I ask other parents how they feel about it? Should I ask my son not to play “show and tell” with this girl?
Isn’t it wonderful how quick children are to share the latest and greatest games with each other?
You hit the nail on the head when you say that this is a normal part of his development—five is right in the “I’ll show you mine; you show me yours” phase. Many (if not most) children go through a period of unabashed fascination with the human body, and of course, those areas that are “private” are inevitably the most interesting. (I ask, does this ever really change?)
Parents put great and important effort into teaching kids the difference between “public” and “private” behaviour—a concept most children can begin to grasp by about age four. But let’s face it, all that private stuff is imbued with an air of mystery and secrecy—simply because it’s “private.” And hey, humans young and old seem to find an undeniable thrill inherent in doing something secret.
You express a couple of concerns here, including how you assume other parents will react to your curious, professorial son. Does it help to know you are not alone? Many parents worry about what other parents will think of them if… (fill in the blank).
The reality is that lots of parents are dealing with similar concerns. In fact, the fear that a child might share sexual health information with pals keeps many parents from ever discussing the topic at all with their kids. Because, the dubious logic goes, what will little Timmy’s parents think when he goes home with a fascinating new piece of information about how babies are made, a tidbit he gathered from your child? Let me state for the record that this worry is a hollow reason not to educate children.
Okay, so talking with other parents about your kid’s recent penchant for playing doctor makes talking to your kids about sex seem easy. But without directly discussing your concerns or what your son’s latest interest is, it’s hard to know both how other parents feel or how they would like to address the issue, should it arise. This is not about finger-pointing or panic. Your son’s behaviour is very common.
So why not ask the question? It’s possible these parents will have the same attitude toward sexual development that you do—or not. Either way, you are giving them the courtesy of a heads up, telling them how you feel about it and why, assessing their comfort level and making it easier for them to plan for how they might prevent, supervise or gently intervene or not if they find the kids playing naked Playmobile. And, if they react in horror? Well, better they react that way to you than to the children. Discuss it with your son: “Even though we don’t mind show and tell, Susie’s parents don’t like that game. We have to listen to them. Please don’t play it with Susie.”
And what about whether you should ask your son not to play? Yes, if Susie does feel uncomfortable or pressured. But many young children play “show and tell.” If they are both willing participants, it’s playful, and they are approximately the same age and size, the research (and most anecdotal wisdom) says there’s probably not much to worry about.
So here is where we begin striking the delicate balance between safety and celebration. Reinforce the “everyone has to want to play” rule with your son. Or gently redirect him—don’t shame him. Remember, it’s a parent’s response that can be the most traumatizing. We want our kids to feel good about their sexuality and to teach them self-respect and respect for others. Here is a perfect opportunity to model that.Karen Platt is a writer and sexual health educator. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.