By the time your child starts school, she has a better sense of who she is physically. Now that she is more agile and better coordinated, she is more aware of her body. Your child may cover herself when getting dressed because she now understands modesty and privacy, and she compares herself with her peers in terms of height, weight and physical agility because she knows these qualities count.
She also develops an interest in specific body parts. Breasts, bottom, penises and vaginas attract the imagination of a five-year-old like a magnet. But she still lacks awareness of the sexual significance of these parts, and happily probes every orifice to discover its characteristics, often not in the least bit bothered even if she is being watched while she makes these detailed explorations.
Your child may need reassurance during this phase if her fragile self-confidence diminishes. For instance, while she willingly compares herself to you and fully understands why you have larger hands and feet, she could be unhappy when comparing her body to her peers. As you may have noticed, she wants to have long legs, be tall and slim like the others, to be physically attractive. Any indication of standing out from the crowd with regard to her body growth could upset her.
Be ready to reassure her that she is a lovely and wonderful child even though someone else in her class is taller or can run faster. Encourage your child to accept her body, to be proud of herself, and to feel comfortable with herself. Remember that while you can make subtle changes to her physical appearance with the help of the right clothes, hair accessories and so on, her body dimensions can only change as she grows so there is not much that can be done about them. Self-acceptance is very important.
Teach your child to value herself. Help her develop this aspect by encouraging her to look after herself physically. Make sure that she acquires personal hygiene skills, that she washes herself, cleans her teeth, brushes her hair, and is generally tidy. If your child doesn’t respect her own body, she is unlikely to behave in ways that encourage others to respect it.
Related: Teach your child about good hygiene
Tying in with self-respect is the concept of privacy. Discuss this with your child – she’s old enough to understand. Explain that it is her body and that she has a right to privacy. Talk about the implications of touch and emphasise that she has a right to say “no” to anyone who makes physical contact with her that makes her uncomfortable. Children this age are trained to follow adult authority and direction; challenges are regarded as anti-social. That’s why your child may have difficulty grasping that the opposite applies when it comes to unwelcome body touch. Set out the rules clearly and precisely when it comes to unwelcome body touch. Encourage her to tell you of any instances in which she has felt uncomfortable with physical touch.
The same applies to childhood sexual curiosity. “I’ll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours” is really not an acceptable game with her friends now, because she is old enough to understand modesty and privacy. At times her natural inquisitiveness might cloud her sense of judgement but in most instances her sense of body awareness and privacy guides her in the right direction.