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Knowledge Of The Human Body

( Originally Published 1923 )

Knowledge of the Human Body.—The acquisition of a suitable vocabulary is, of course, not to be made an independent object of instruction. Like all of the vital language which the child learns, ,it should come incidentally in connection with the concrete realities for which, the words are the symbols. From earliest infancy, in the nursery, in the bath, in the sleeping rooms, boys and girls, together and with their parents, should have the opportunity of seeing the human body in the nude, and so of becoming acquainted with external sex differences. The child should not need to become conscious of any curiosity as to these sex differences, but should, during the first two or three years, accept them as a matter of course, as he accepts differences in size, in eye color, or complexion. Such familiarity with the body during the early years should prevent later embarrassment upon sight of the naked form, and it should prevent a certain fascination or disquieting curiosity concerning the appearance of the opposite sex.

We commonly answer the child's questions concerning the names and uses of various objects and structures, when they are directed to matters that do not arouse our feelings. We should in the same way answer his questions as to names and functions when they are directed toward objects related to sex or reproduction. The questions should be met freely and answered impersonally, without forcing information, without emotional coloring, and without suggesting anything unclean or morbid.

It is thus in the reasonably free dressing and bathing and exercising or romping together from babyhood, that the child gradually learns of the outstanding structural differences between brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers; and it is from such beginnings that he gradually acquires his knowledge of differences between the sexes in temperament, in emotions, in relation to him-self, in the division of labor both in the home and in society at large. With a sympathetic response to the child's inquiring and searching mind, he may be brought to a complete sense of various sex distinctions in a thoroughly wholesome way.

Sooner or later this free mingling of the sexes in the home will be discontinued. As the child approaches puberty he becomes aware of himself as of one sex, and as the sex feelings develop they tend to attach themselves to a particular person. It is not desirable that this sexual interest be fixed upon the parent or sister or brother. This means that in most cases the child will gradually withdraw from these mixed relations before puberty.

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