From babies to puberty, creative books help with body talk for children
In the months before my younger daughter was born, we made sure that my elder daughter would be prepared for this big change. In addition to "There's going to be a new baby" kinds of books, I also read with her Jean Marzollo's How Kids Grow.
With photographs of real children accomplishing age-appropriate tasks, this well-written non-fiction book is a good resource to help children understand developmental milestones from birth to seven years of age.
My daughter learned that a three-day-old baby mostly sleeps and enjoys being cuddled, while a nine-month-old baby can clap and use her fingers to eat. It gave her a good grasp of her baby sister's capabilities (or lack thereof) in those early months.
At the time, my elder daughter was two and was delighted to see that she could drink from a cup and walk up stairs like the two-year-old girl in the book. She was also excited to see what she had to look forward to from the photos and descriptions of older children.
I also shared How Kids Grow with my younger daughter when she turned two, and had just figured out that she was a girl. Before that, she thought she was a boy because everyone talked about how her bald head made her look like one. Going through the book, she was able to point and name each child in the book as a boy or a girl.
This made me curious as to how children identify gender, which then led me to consider how to talk to my daughters about what they can and cannot do in the company of boys.
One of my friends is conscientious about keeping her daughter's physical appearance as non-sexual as possible. I agree with her and have dressed my young daughters the same way. They do not wear nail polish, miniskirts or kid-sized high-heeled shoes. No bare midriffs, shoulders or thighs, ever. Short dresses are either layered with leggings or worn with double panties, or white boy-cut shorts over their underpants.
Robie Harris' Who Has What? is a neutral look at physical bodies. It describes not only differences between girls' and boys' bodies, but also similarities. Geared towards kindergarteners, it points out various parts of the body in a matter-of-fact way, without getting into any discussions about what's private or not.
For upper primary children, What's Happening to Me?:A Guide to Puberty by Peter Mayle is the definitive guide to answering questions about pimples, training bras and hormones.
I taught my daughters about private parts and who would be permitted to see those: immediate family members, grandmothers and domestic helpers. In other homes, this may vary.
I was proud to see my elder daughter follow my rules when she asked her friends to "guard" her bedroom door while she changed, even though she was merely putting on a Supergirl cape over her clothes. Yet a few minutes later, she used the toilet while some boys were washing their hands at the sink right beside her.
It seems it's not yet time to cross this lesson off my list of things to teach my children, and that I need to specify the whole range of situations where private parts may be exposed.
Annie Ho is board chairwoman of Bring Me a Book Hong Kong, a charity dedicated to improving children's literacy by reading aloud to them bringmeabook.org.hk