In the name of Allah, Creator of the heavens, the earth, and all that dwells within them. We ask Him for guidance in the difficult task of raising our children, and we rely upon Him to guide us and them to the straight path.
When one reads the Qur’an, it is clear that Allah in His infinite wisdom did not mean for us to be afraid to talk to our children about matters concerning development, because He has provided for us clear guidelines in regards to hygiene, menstruation, and even sexual relations with spouses.
It is especially difficult to speak with children about matters involving physical development if the matter was taboo when the parent was growing up. I think that we always want better for our children than we had for ourselves, and maintaining an open, loving relationship with your daughter where she won’t be afraid to ask you anything is probably one of the best gifts that you can give her.
It is better that she learn from you about her development than from her peers at school or someone assigned to educate her about sex as part of her school curriculum. You are absolutely on the right track if you are thinking about talking to her about this matter, and you should not feel ashamed, nor should you let your nervousness ban you from fulfilling your parental duties.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) was reported to have been shy when addressing matters or questions concerning women’s menstruation and such, but did not let it stop him from answering questions or giving examples. It is honorable to be modest, and it is also our duty as parents to give our children the information they need to grow up to be healthy, pious people.
I would recommend that you start speaking to your daughter in stages as not to overwhelm her with a large number of facts that she may not yet be able to grasp. For example, speak to her about how she is growing into a beautiful young lady, and begin to introduce the changes that she may experience as she grows.
Tell her if you feel nervous, but also tell her that there is nothing to be ashamed about as all people go through these changes as they grow. Speak to her about how she will begin to notice hairs in the pubic and underarm areas, and how her breasts will develop. Talk to her about menstruation.
Reassure her that it is a normal, healthy sign of development, and that all girls go through it. It is also important to talk to her about hygiene and what to do while menstruating. Show her how to use sanitary napkins, clean hairs, and take care of her skin and hair. It is also important to let her know that she isn’t to perform salah (prayers) while menstruating, and when her cycle is completed, that she shower and return to the prayers. Again, all of this should be done gradually as you see her develop.
As for the sexual aspect of development, it is probably a good idea to assess your child’s cognitive capabilities and her ability to understand what you are telling her. While you discuss the physiological aspects of development, you should also discuss the sexual aspects according to age and cognitive development.
For example, you can discuss with your 8-year-old daughter the stages that she will soon enter in relation to her development, but I would think that discussing in detail intercourse would be inappropriate at this age. It would however, be a good idea to discuss the proper way of interacting with boys, and at another time discuss lowering the gaze between the sexes. Growing up in a non-Muslim society is an added challenge, so it is important to discuss with your daughter guidelines for interacting with boys, because this matter cannot be avoided.
I sincerely hope that your daughter has the opportunity to regularly socialize with other Muslim girls because it is important that she have someone who shares her feelings and concerns; having someone she can talk to will help relieve the stresses associated with development and the difficulties of growing up in a non-Muslim society. Having someone to talk to who experiences the same pressures to dress provocatively, pluck her eyebrows, wear makeup, and attract the opposite sex will help her relate to something more positive and not feel alone in her struggles.
While she relieves stress and develops socially through friendship, keep your relationship with her strong and don’t forget your parental duties, and the importance of talking to her about sex.
Think of the topic of sex education as an ongoing conversation that you’re having with your daughter; take things one step at a time, and let her absorb the facts slowly. You may find it helpful to write down the things in sequence that you want to discuss with her and attend to them one at a time. If you have a chance to take her out for some one-on-one time, perhaps to a park or for an ice cream, this will be considered as a special time, and she will never forget it. I have five children and, though it’s difficult, I try to take each one out with me occasionally to the bookstore or out to the ice cream shop, and in the car or on the way we talk about things that we couldn’t if others were around.
Finally, please don’t rely on the public school system to educate your children about development and sex, because their goals and the goals of Islam are conflicting. I cannot stress enough how important it is that you separate feelings of guilt and shame from the subject and keep the doors of communication open with your children.
Tell them that if they have any questions, you are always willing to listen and try to answer them. If you find that you don’t know the terminology or stages of development, then check out a book on development and inform yourself.
Additionally, stress to them that school is not a place to learn about this topic, and that the school system is only trying to fill in where parents have failed to talk to their children. Allah has provided us with guidelines for learning about development and sex, and we as Muslims are blessed with the example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Below you will find some information and tips on discussing sex with your children under the guidance of Islam. I hope that this advice is helpful to you, and if not, please write back and let me know.
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