Many mothers become concerned when their four- or five-year-olds come running home bearing tales. Tattling at this age need not be considered a very serious matter unless it is a reflection of a mother’s thinking that her child is always right and the other child is wrong. Tattling may be just the child’s attempt to reassure himself that he is right. At this age he is trying to discover what is right and what is wrong. But it may be self-righteousness, for which he wants praise. His tattling rarely bares malice. “Billy is playing in Mr. Brown’s garden. He shouldn’t, should he?” is usually not an attempt to get Billy into trouble, but to clarify in his own mind what the rules are about Mr. Brown’s garden. It is best to treat such tattling with an answer to the question, “No, you are not allowed to play there. Why not ask Billy to come and play in our yard?” Sometimes tattling is > used to avoid punishment or scolding. This is especially true if a youngster is continually getting into trouble and being punished. Such a youngster may say, “I didn’t do it, Susan did.” If this happens often, it suggests that the child is overconcerned about his own “badness,” and perhaps needs reassurance and the building up of his belief in himself.
Those “bad” words
Four-year-olds often disturb their mothers by using “bad” words and by boasting and telling tall tales. This is a natural part of their growing-up and trying themselves out. They often get together and reel off all sorts of words and sounds and then laugh and shout. These situations are best met without excitement. They are usually a temporary phase, unless the father of the family uses a good many swear words which his youngster is trying to copy. The tall tales can be met with a twinkle of the eye and a “That was a good story. How did it really happen?” The “bad” words can be made to seem less exciting if mother or father simply says, “That word really means …. I wouldn’t use the other word.” Sometimes, if the enjoyment of the words seems temporary, it is even best to ignore the whole business as a phase through which the child will pass. Turn his attention to other and more interesting things. He is often using the “bad” language and boasting just as something a bit exciting to do with his friends.
During the pre-school years children are also learning a great deal about the differences between boys and girls. They will be much interested in the bodily differences. If there are children of both sexes in the family they can learn from seeing one another what the differences are, and their questions can be answered as they come up. All little children are interested in their bodies and those of other people. This is a normal part of growing up and finding out about the world they live in. It is very important that, during their pre-school years, children learn and understand the differences between boys and girls and begin to accept their own sex comfortably.
If children’s questions about their bodies and those of the other sex are answered simply and naturally as they come up, their curiosity is usually satisfied and their sex play will be at a minimum. If, however, a little child does not have the opportunity to ask questions or to see children of the opposite sex and learn about their body differences, curiosity will often make the child want to undress other children to see what they are like. Sex play among little children is not serious. It does not mean the children are oversexed or “bad” in any way. It is simply another way of learning about life. Little children should not be punished or scolded for their interest in these things. In fact, scolding or forbidding or excitement by the parents over these things can make a child feel that there is something exciting about doing them, and they will often turn his interest and attention to sex play as something special. When a mother discovers youngsters undressing together or showing their bodies, it is best to turn their attention quietly to something else. She can suggest a “tea party,” or stories, or much-enjoyed records, as she helps them dress again. After the “party” it is a good idea to get them started in more active play.
If sex play is frequent it suggests that at least some of the children involved have not had enough opportunity to have their questions answered. If there is a good deal of sex play going on, the mothers of the children may need to be a bit more observant and know where their children are and what they are doing. For although sex play is natural, it is not a good thing for little folks to need to turn to it often.
The home has the greatest influence on a child’s feeling about sex. It is in the home that he develops the attitudes that extend into his grown-up life. It is the child’s parents who, by their example, attitudes, and honesty in answering the youngster’s questions, can teach him the natural part sex plays in life. As children grow up they learn to copy their mothers and fathers. If mother and father are happy together and love each other, the children sense this influence in their home and grow up with a feeling that a husband and wife are happy people. This is the finest attitude for them to carry over into their own later friendships with those of the other sex. Parents also set an example of what it means to be a man or a woman, and the different roles each plays in life. A small boy copies his father and a small girl her mother. The way in which mother and father accept the sex of each child is helpful or harmful to the child. If parents wanted a boy and a little daughter was born, she may feel that it would have been better to have been a boy. If they wanted a little girl and a son arrived, and mother tries to make him take the place of a small daughter, he may find it hard to be manly as he grows up. If parents are to help their children to have a fine, wholesome attitude toward sex, they must be good interpreters as their children grow up. (Continue below to page 6)