If parents think they can figure out the sexual stages their kids will go through with a simple reading of Freud, they are wrong.
Freud was as controversial as he could have been for his time. Never before had people been told that children could be sexual beings with sexual thoughts. Sexual awareness previous to Freud had not been a possibility, especially not in the youngest crib-dwelling children. Raising my children I see daily just how right Freud was--sing it again Sigmund, these kids are aware! But not every kid falls into each phase so cut and dry.
I live with a six-year-old girl who is very curious and slightly coquettish when it comes to the opposite sex and a nine year old boy who gives way more attention to hockey and baseball than to thoughts about young ladies from his class who call him after school. Taking Freud's word literally, my nine-year-old son is right on track. Having not reached puberty yet and over the age of six, he fits very neatly into the latency period. This stage is when thoughts, for the time being, are less about sex and when more energy can be put towards scholarly pursuits--or in his case, sweaty hockey pursuits. OK, nothing to worry about on his front, for the time being at least.
My six-year-old flirt, at her ripe old age, should technically be in the latency period with her older brother if you want to "place" her in a textbook. Her interests should be focused on the girls in her life. This pay-attention-to-the-same-sex only stage, would exclude the "cute boyfriend" in her class she regularly brags about. My husband doesn't think there is anything cute about her announcement to all that she is a taken woman nor the pelvic gyration dance she does whenever she gets the chance. I, on the other hand, see nothing wrong with the terminology "boyfriend" and think it's sweet. I even encourage her with smiles and laughter when she exclaims "I freakin' out" when she spots her beau unexpectedly on the ball field. When after her dance recital, a friend of ours comments how well she danced and continues on to say she may have a career on a pole one day, I take the just-shy-of-crude comment as somewhat of a compliment and credit her for letting her personality shine, my husband cringes.
So I take the semi-scientific Google approach to see whose parental stance is correct and find that, short of Googling with search words that may result in a federal inquiry (never a good idea to put "young children" and "sexuality" in a search box together), there isn't much info on the web as to what age is appropriate and customary for both males and females to show an interest in the opposite sex.
Not giving in, I take my search for answers to a telephone conversation with Richard Belson, a New York psychotherapist and adjunct professor at NYU Medical Center's Department of Psychiatry. According to him, our tiny dancer "is either on her way to the latency period or she may, like many, never go through latency and that is considered to be a completely normal progression as well." I had not remembered from Psych 101 that these stages/periods were not set in stone--but then again I recall little from that entire course. He goes on to say that "the trick is not to make a big deal and to let her express herself, it's those people who are not suppressed by their parents that end up being more creative. They are the musicians, movie writers, artists of the world." This answer he offers up is not only music to my ears, but probably the reason there is music in my house from her singing in the shower to her little fingers playing the piano.
I can now assert that my approval of her antics will not result in her possibly needing a spot next to David Duchovny at sexual rehab (phew!) and most probably will allow her to follow her creative imaginings.
Surely I'm aware I will never change an instinctive protective feeling that a father feels for his daughter and my husband may believe his reaction has nothing to do with his need to shelter her, but a simple societal standard he feels she is breaking. Yet, after my check-in with a psychological authority, I am armed with some ammunition for my hubby the next time our young daughter declares "I'm marrying my boyfriend." And I have some sense of relief that I am not cheering on something I would later regret if she became a teen with an accentuated interest in boys--plus I can still get a kick and a laugh out of her dress code of spaghetti straps dangling off her shoulders with tight short shorts and her frequent references to "verginas."
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