Body-emotion education

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– What is body-emotion education for young children?
– What does childhood sexuality mean?
– How do I make sure my answers to questions are age appropriate?
– How can children learn to respect their own body and the bodies of others?
– At what age can we start talking about safety skills?
– How do I support parents and encourage them to provide body-emotion education?
– How do I bring up these issues?

Materials in English are available here.
Check out videos and lectures on body-emotion education in English.

Body-emotion education is equal to comprehensive, age-appropriate sexuality and safety skills education for children between the ages of 0 and 8. It covers a wide range of topics. It includes the child’s level of knowledge, skills, and positive attitude about the body, emotions, diversity, and rights. It aims at the well-being of the child. Our guidelines are based on studies, international recommendations and instructions issued by the Finnish National Agency for Education.

In the context of young children, the term used is body-emotion education rather than sexuality education. It is a specific term for describing the development and needs of children. When referring to young children’s age-specific sexuality, we use child-friendly words (see the article). Parents feel that the word ‘sexual’ was not suitable, for children is natural, innocent, playful and learners without any shame. We need to find a common language for parents and professionals so that they are comfortable using the words.

The WHO Standards for sexuality education in Europe (2010) covers eight sexuality education topics: (1) the human body and human development; (2) emotions; (3) sexuality; (4) relationships and lifestyles; (5) sexuality, health, and well-being; (6) fertility and reproduction; (7) social and cultural determinants of sexuality (values/norms); (8) sexuality and rights.
We created this pattern to describe the comprehensiveness of body-emotion education in terms of childhood sexuality.

Sexual development and children

The sexual development of a person from a young child through puberty into adulthood is a journey with many stages. The child’s body, understanding and emotions develop side by side. The events along this journey determine the person’s relationship with their body, sexuality, human relationship and ability to enjoy sexuality in adulthood.
The sexuality of young children is different from that of adolescents or adults. In children, sexuality can manifest, for example, in exploring and comparing the human body and its different functions. At the same time, children learn more about pleasure and good manners.

Important aspects for all children to learn and to discuss are for example:

  • I can respect own and other people’s bodies, uniqueness, and diversity.
  • I know I can ask and tell anything to trusted adults.
  • I have the words to ask and talk also about genitals.
  • I know my rights! I am equal with all others.
  • I know that my body is good all over.
  • I know how to protect my own body.

Guiding literature:

Guidelines issued by the Finnish National Agency on early childhood education, preschool and primary education are binding. They provide a good foundation for the implementation of body-emotion education. In March 2022 National Affairs of Education published the universal, mandatory National core curriculum for early education and care, which directs to ensure children’s rights, safety, safety skills, media skills and sexuality education. See more here.

In 2010, the WHO (World Health Organization) published a framework titled The Standards for Sexuality Education in Europe. The document provides authorities and experts with guidelines on the contents of sexuality education aimed at 0–18-year-olds.
Body-emotion education involving young children is always carried out together with the family.

The book ‘Non-Violent Childhoods – Action Plan for the Prevention of Violence against Children 2020–2025’, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health 2020:34 contains pp.. 176-190, chapter 7.4. ‘Safe body-emotion education and sexuality education’.

Illustrations on the body-emotion education website: Minna Kähkönen