Part 1: Navigating Uncomfortable Conversations about Normative Child Sexual Development and Behavior

Talking with kids about their sexual development can certainly be uncomfortable. When you are a caregiver or a Family Services worker, having those conversations with a child you barely know might feel doubly uncomfortable. Add to that a limited knowledge of normative sexual development; maybe sprinkle in some myths, values, and a healthy sense of shame instilled upon you in your own upbringing, and you’ve got yourself one heck of an uncomfortable conversation. In this episode Tammy Leombruno will talk about using a continuum of behavior to help us identify when sexual behavior is normative, of concern or potentially problematic; how to respond in the moment; when to reach out for help and she’ll suggest some resources to support you in your own learning.

Guest Info:

Tammy Leombruno, M.A., LCMHC

Tammy is a Training and Outreach Specialist on the Kin Foster and Adoptive Family Team at VT CWTP. She came to the Partnership from a career as a therapist and clinical consultant specializing in working with trauma-impacted children, youth and families.

Host Info:

Leslie Stapleton, MSW

Leslie is a Training and Outreach Specialist on the Workforce Team at VT- CWTP. She is a former supervisor, district director and trainer at DCF – Economic Services and an adoptive parent of a 9-year-old.

Show Notes:

For more info Tammy recommends that you check out the following sites:

National Child Traumatic Stress Network:

National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth:

Stop It Now:

Sexuality information and Education Council of the United States: (with a section called AmazeJr.)


Cassie Gillespie (00:02):

Hello, I’m Cassie Gillespie and you’re listening to Welcome to the Field podcast produced by the University of Vermont’s Child Welfare Training Partnership and the State of Vermont. Welcome to the Field is designed for child welfare workers, caregivers, and community partners. However, this season, we will be talking all about uncomfortable conversations and each episode will touch on a different type of uncomfortable conversation. So even if you’re not working or caregiving in the child welfare field, this season might be for you. Today, we’re talking sex. Now we know that talking with kids about their sexual development can certainly be uncomfortable. And when you are caregiver or a child welfare worker, having those conversations with a child you barely know might feel doubly uncomfortable. Add to that. A limited knowledge of normative sexual development, sprinkling some myths, values, and a healthy sense of shame. And you’ve got yourself one heck of an uncomfortable conversation.

Cassie Gillespie (00:57):

Well, lucky for you. We have the most dynamic duo here to unpack this conversation and dig into normative sexual development today. Welcome Tammy Leombruno and Leslie Stapleton. Tammy and Leslie are both training and coaching specialists at the University of Vermont’s Child Welfare Training Partnership. Leslie is a training and outreach specialist on the workforce team and she’s a former supervisor, district director and trainer at the Department for Children and Families, Economic Services Division, and the adoptive parent of a nine year old. Tammy is a training and outreach specialist on the kin foster and adoptive family team. And before joining us, she had a long career as a therapist and clinical consultant specializing in working with trauma impacted children, youth, and families. These two are also office mates and about as much fun as you can get on the job. In today’s episode, Tammy will talk about using a continuum of behavior to help us identify when sexual behavior is normative, of concern, or potentially problematic. She’ll talk about how to respond in the moment when to reach out for help, and she’ll suggest some resources to support you in your ongoing learning. Be forewarned, this is part one, and part two will drop in two weeks. Here we go.

Leslie Stapleton (02:09):

Thanks Cassie. Hi, Tammy. Welcome to Welcome to the Field. All right, so our podcast theme this season is uncomfortable conversations, and I’m gonna be bold and say that talking to kids about their sexual development and their sexual behavior might just be the mac daddy of uncomfortable conversations. You know, I’m hoping you could help us all feel a little bit less anxious and a little bit more prepared for when these things come up. Can you do that for us?

Tammy Leombruno (02:35):


Leslie Stapleton (02:36):

Awesome. You’re with us before we dive in, we should let you know that this will be a two-parter podcast. Part one is focused on normative behavior and part two, we’ll dive into the more problematic behaviors, identify those what to be concerned about, how to respond. So Tammy, in our planning for this podcast, you told me that many of the sexual behaviors of kids that freak us out actually fall within the spectrum of normative development. Start by telling us what normative means.

Tammy Leombruno (03:03):

You got it Leslie. Firstly, I wanna say though that it can be really kind of awkward or uncomfortable to talk about this, but I just wanna put that out there.

Leslie Stapleton (03:12):


Tammy Leombruno (03:12):

And I also just wanted to say that I really appreciate your mac daddy of uncomfortable conversations. And it just, you know, we might feel like we don’t know what to say or we’re gonna worry, we say too much or the wrong thing. So I just wanna put that out there that even those of us who might be in this field or do this work, sometimes it gets really awkward or it can be uncomfortable. Okay. So let’s shift to a bit of a description of normative development. So we’re gonna be talking about kids up to about age 12, so four or five to age 12 today.

Leslie Stapleton (03:39):

Okay. So pre-adolescence

Tammy Leombruno (03:41):

Yes. And so for young kids, very young kids, again, birth to five. So they are apt to explore their bodies. They like to do that. They touch their private parts. They touch everything. If people who have babies know that they like to be nude. They are curious about gender, about private parts, about pregnant bellies and it could be all kind of stuff. When we talk about the next group, so age like six to eight, so those are kids who are in school, kind of getting into school. They are also kind of interested in bodies, but maybe a little bit of a different way. They’re gonna start to develop kind of interest in other people and kind of sex, maybe the word sex, we’ll talk about that a little bit more. Yeah, but just kind of in terms of other people and maybe some touching stuff. They may engage in, in some self touch behavior, but it’s gonna be a little more underground as opposed to kind of the, the much younger kids.

Tammy Leombruno (04:30):

They’re gonna have questions and we need to talk with them about menstruation and puberty and, and body stuff. We can start that at six to eight and then certainly the nine to twelve. So those kids obviously older, different group they are gonna be interested in for lack of a better phrase, romantic relationships. You know, the boyfriend, girlfriend, girlfriend, girlfriend, all this kind of jazz. Yeah. They’re just gonna be talking about it more. Maybe it’s like more jokey, some inappropriate, what we would probably say, or school folks would say is inappropriate kind of comments and things. And so we’re gonna wanna give them more information about relationships and behaviors that are okay. And kind of what is to be expected. And they’re working on developing values related to sex and sexuality.

Leslie Stapleton (05:10):

Okay. So that’s normative. And I think we’ve talked about there being sort of a continuum, right? Talk to us about that continuum normative and then sort of what else is part of, of a continuum of behavior.

Tammy Leombruno (05:20):

So when we think about sexual behavior in kids, we think about a continuum that starts on this kind of lower end with the normative typical behavior kind of bumping up to behavior that is of concern kind of question mark. We’re not really sure about it. And then kind of you keep moving up to the top and that is we call it seek professional help. Something that we’re is probably gonna be identified as problematic sexual behavior. Okay. And I do, can I add one thing about that? So it’s not, you know, when we’re talking about sexual behavior in kids, it’s not just the behavior itself. Like we wanna look at some of the dynamics, you know, what’s the context, typically kids are engaging in sexual behaviors during like a play date or they’re having a neighbor over or it’s cousins or it could be siblings.

Tammy Leombruno (06:02):

And what we know about that is that the kids are typically, so again, if we’re talking about, let me back up for a second characteristics that make it, you know, what, we’d call it, sex play versus anything else. So the kids similar size, similar, similar developmental level that they are, again, they have a relationship that this is gonna be part, an extension of play or some kind of role play thing or a game that the behavior is usually spontaneous. And kids may feel silly or maybe be a little embarrassed, but they’re not gonna be overly distressed or kind of freaked out. So we’re gonna look at those kinds of things. And the other stuff that we wanna look at is that say a caregiver stumbles upon something, and then there’s some sort of intervention or response and kids are then given if they didn’t have them before are reminded about messages and rules about touching and what’s okay and not okay. Those kids, those behaviors will really desist. So I just wanna mention that. So it’s important to not just the behavior itself, but what else is going on around it.

Leslie Stapleton (06:57):

Okay. That’s sort of what, when you’re like, is this normative, is this, I be concerned about this is this really problematic? You’re sort of looking at the context of it and all of, sort of the pieces around it cause could be something that’s very normative, but maybe the dynamics or the context is a little different. It could move it sort of up the continuum depending on age of a kid, you said, and that’s, that’s helpful. So you have a continuum. Yep. Can you give me some, maybe an example of something that’s normative and then something that maybe bumps up to concerning and then maybe problematic so we can get a sense of what we’re talking about here. Like, is it gradations of behavior or is it different types of behavior? Maybe you can help me understand that a little bit more.

Tammy Leombruno (07:37):

Yeah. I think it’s it’s it can be both sometimes. So when I say we don’t wanna look, just look at the behavior, we certainly want to look at what happened and try to figure out what happened. You know, the, an easy example for really young kids is let’s say there are siblings and they are in the tub together. Let’s say maybe this is my kids, that I’m talking about. And they just love when I tell stories about them and trainings and such, you know.

Leslie Stapleton (07:58):

They’re adults now.

Tammy Leombruno (07:59):

Right. So in the, in the tub and they’re three years apart and they’re playing and let’s say, I turn around to do something. And then I look and I’m thinking, ah, I turn around and oh, one voice got his hand on the other one’s penis and I’m gonna freak out. I did you, are you you? Well, I didn’t plan to but you know, it’s just a little bit shocking, even someone who does this work sometimes. Right. But, you know, so that’s an example where it’s really not a huge deal. The kids are kind of giggly, you know, I’m the adult I’m right there, but I’m not gonna, you know, I’m not gonna have them keep doing that. So my first thing is like, okay, well, we’re done with that. We are done with bathing together at this age. A lot of times, you know, there could be examples again, of with kids, let’s say preschool who are playing.

Tammy Leombruno (08:36):

It could be like a preschool setting. It could be a play date. Let’s say they’re in a room and a parent thinks, wait a minute, it’s really quiet in there. And they kind of go in and, and the kids are on top of each other in the bed and one person could even have maybe their shirt off or something. And so this is again, still gonna be in that kind of normative, typical for, let’s say four and five year olds. Yeah. Because of the age, because of kind of the affect we’re kind of looking at, right. Like they’re kind of silly. They might be a little embarrassed and they might feel like uhoh we’re in trouble. Yeah. And so, you know, that there’s just gonna be some separate the kids and talk to them and yeah. And so that is still gonna kind of be in that low end. And then

Leslie Stapleton (09:12):

Before you move on, I think that’s a really important point. Is that things that are normative, right? Yeah. Normal for kids to do these things, but there are things that are normative normal for them to do them and it’s fine for them to do them. And then there are things that are normal for kids to do that you don’t want them to continue to do. And you’ll set some boundaries or you’re, you’ll redirect. And I think that’s a really important point that there are things that are normative, but you’re not going to encourage them to continue to happen.

Tammy Leombruno (09:35):

Right. Right.

Leslie Stapleton (09:36):

And so there are things you don’t want to happen, but you have to remember, there are also still kind of normal things that kids do.

Tammy Leombruno (09:40):

Right. And so again, with these, right? So it’s like the kids in the tub or the play date in that, or, or maybe it’s another scenario and it’s eight year olds and they’re, you know, in a room and it’s kind of a similar scenario, but there’s, someone’s actually touching someone’s penis, you know? So in some ways maybe what you’re saying, Leslie is that that could be, you know, maybe you’re like, oh my gosh, this must be a real problem. Because someone touched someone’s penis.

Leslie Stapleton (10:02):

Your armpits are sweating. You’re breathing heavy. You’re like, oh my God, what am we gonna do with this?

Tammy Leombruno (10:04):

Right. And again, there’s gonna be like, we wanna stop this behavior. But that if, if again, we’re accurately assessing that it’s similar age, no one feels like they’re being pressured. There’s some kind of silly or lighthearted kind of affect around that. Then we’ll do that. But then if we have a situation where let’s say it’s a little bit different, so, okay. There is an older, let’s say a 10 year old and maybe an 11 year old. And maybe they’re, I don’t know, they’re hanging out doing something outside. And, and maybe before they’ve talked a little bit about doing some touching stuff. And one, let’s say the 10 year old is really kind of being a little bit more pushy, the 11 year old isn’t sure. They do some touching mm-hmm and it seemed like it was okay. Like some could be private part touching whatever that is, but the kids, you know, go to their houses or whatever. And one child, the, the 11 year old maybe is feeling, I didn’t wanna do that. I didn’t, I couldn’t say no, because there was a relationship. It might have been hard to say no. And then the other person keeps asking and then what if the 11 year old says no, but the 10 year old keeps asking mm-hmm , that’s gonna kind of bump it up, even though

Leslie Stapleton (11:06):

Bump it up to where?

Tammy Leombruno (11:06):

Bump it up to that kind of middle place

Leslie Stapleton (11:08):


Tammy Leombruno (11:09):

The concerning. Yeah. And you’re gonna wanna ask more questions and get more information and maybe have a bit of a different response, you know, like, Hey, this is the rule, and now we’re gonna have a consequence might be too strong in some ways, but we’re gonna have to talk about this more and have some supervision. Yeah. And then at the way, high end is typically a situation where maybe you have a 10 year old and a four year old, maybe it’s a cousin or a sibling. And the 10 year old is engaging in some sexual behavior with a four year old.

Leslie Stapleton (11:34):

Yeah. That feels different.

Tammy Leombruno (11:35):

Right. That is different. But I know, I wanna circle back to your, kind of your question about just because the behavior itself and the age ranges would fall into the normative piece. We don’t want that behavior to continue. Right. Right. Because as society, as a culture, we don’t believe that sexual behavior in young kids is healthy or appropriate. So it, we do need to intervene with that. And I think we wanna say to kids, right. Like, okay, like I know that you are super curious and you wanna learn about that or you wanna do some private part touching, but you know what? Yeah. We can save that for later. So we’re gonna kind of put something. Yeah.

Leslie Stapleton (12:05):

Yeah it’s okay to touch yourself, but you can’t do it in the living room, in front of the dinner party that we’re having currently.

Tammy Leombruno (12:11):

That is not a great place. Right, right.

Leslie Stapleton (12:13):

Gonna set a boundary around that.

Tammy Leombruno (12:15):

Yeah. Yeah. Can I, I’m gonna do one more example, Leslie. Yeah, please. And that is this kind of, sometimes schools may call this in, you know, there’s a young child, let’s say a first grader who it’s a male and their hands are down their pants a lot. Or they, they look like their they’re touching their penis or rubbing a lot. And maybe the teacher talks with the child or the caregiver or someone at school. And that behavior continues, you know, again, if something continues once you’ve maybe again, talked with the child in a very respectful way, but clear like, Hey buddy, it’s not okay. Like, remember Nope, touching your private parts in school or private parts in front of other people. Mm-Hmm . And if that continues, or maybe there’s some other stuff that’s concerning, or maybe this child seems distressed or upset, you’re gonna wanna check that out more too. You know? So there’s just so many scenarios that could come up. And so I think, you know, as we’re kind of talking today, I mean, if you think of something I would say, just ask and let’s see if we can kind of place it on that continuum. Okay. And behaviors can kind of move up and down and kids can move up and down of this continuum. We do know that most sexual behaviors that kids engage in are in the normative typical range, which I think is, I hope is reassuring to folks.

Leslie Stapleton (13:19):

It’s totally reassuring to hear. I don’t think that’s where our brains go right away. Right? We’re like, oh my God. Especially, I mean, cuz we’re specifically really gearing our conversation towards wanting to provide some information and support for caregivers that are caring for kids that are not their own. And FSWs that are obviously also having conversations with kids. And when I talked about the mac daddy of conversations, it’s even more difficult when it’s, you know, a child that’s not your own mm-hmm. They don’t really know you. Right? It takes a long time for you, the kid to settle in and get to know their foster parents or their kin caregivers they haven’t developed trust. And then to have to talk about this topic with a child who has experienced so much already, who’s potentially really not trustful of adults in general. It just makes us even doubly I think difficult.

Tammy Leombruno (14:08):

Yeah. I would say

Leslie Stapleton (14:09):

Not for everyone.

Tammy Leombruno (14:10):

Right, right.

Leslie Stapleton (14:10):

But maybe for some folks maybe like myself and maybe we could talk about that briefly. Like why are so many of us freaked out by the topic of sexual behavior and sexual development with kids? Like why are so many of us uncomfortable with this topic? I’m not alone in that. I mean, I’ve, I’ve educated myself enough to know. And I’ve done some self-reflection as a social worker and you know, with a lot of it’s related to sort of upbringing and I can make that connection, but maybe you could talk a little bit more about that.

Tammy Leombruno (14:38):

Well, I don’t think it’s just that adults are anxious or uncomfortable or freak out about talking about sex with kids or sexual behavior. They get anxious, upset and freaked out talking about it with each other sometimes. So for adults. Right? So even that, so even kind of like the sex thing, you look, you know, you kind of put that out there and you know, if you’re in a room of folks, it’d be interesting to kind of get the, you know, the bubble above your head, like what’s happening. Yeah. It’s tricky. And I think our, our culture it’s kind of funky. Like there’s all this kind of in some ways, overt sexuality and messages.

Leslie Stapleton (15:06):


Tammy Leombruno (15:06):

And that direction. And yet people aren’t haven’t maybe historically talked enough about it. And what to do and how to talk about it.

Leslie Stapleton (15:14):

Would you mind, and maybe you wanted to pick this up somewhere else, but I’m gonna put you on the spot. Would you mind mentioning the Tony Kavanaugh Johnson statistic that you were talking about earlier or.

Tammy Leombruno (15:23):

Yeah. Yeah, so Tony Kavanaugh Johnson is this wonderful. She’s a psychologist out of California and she does a lot of assessment in treatment and training on sexuality in kids and young children with sexual behavior problems. She’s fabulous. And so what she does at her conferences and workshops is she has the participants anonymously complete surveys asking for details about their own experiences as children, in terms of sexual behavior and attitudes and thoughts and practice. And I’m telling you, you look around the room and people are kind of, you know, making sure I at my table, I was like, listen back away. And so it’s, it’s fascinating. So it’s the adults reporting out what they were doing as kids.

Leslie Stapleton (16:06):

Right and they may have never told anyone those things.

Tammy Leombruno (16:08):

No. And, and so the research is like between 66 and 80% of kids, again from adult reporting this out, they had engaged in some sort of sexual behavior and caregivers don’t know. So what does that tell you? What do you think?

Leslie Stapleton (16:21):

Well, there’s shame. There, there’s, I’m not sure exactly what you’re asking for there

Tammy Leombruno (16:27):

Well, but sorry. Well, but just that maybe that a lot of us are okay. We did engage in some thing or, you know, whether it was watching a movie that was like rated R, that was me in the old days. Like you know, or it might have been some touching or some curiosity or just some stuff. Yeah. You know, like normative stuff, like spin the bottle. Yeah. I know that there’s a truth or dare app that kids use. To me it’s like, okay. So firstly, this stuff is normative. It happens way more than we think and most of it’s probably just fine. Yeah. And we grow up and that really is kind of that truly exploratory learning about ourselves being curious kind of stuff.

Leslie Stapleton (17:01):

Yeah. And it’s really up to us as parents and caregivers to help kids just you know, reinforce this is normal stuff. I’m gonna set some boundaries. We’re gonna not gonna do that anymore, but that’s okay. I mean, that’s normal, but it’s not, it’s not appropriate, so we’re not gonna do that and we’re gonna move on and there’s no shame and I’m not making a big deal out of it. And I, I think that’s great.

Tammy Leombruno (17:21):

You know, the other part is just that imagine, I mean, we all bring our.

Leslie Stapleton (17:25):


Tammy Leombruno (17:26):

Stuff, right. And we got, got stuff and we got stuff. And, and you know, if we know that a fair amount of folks have experienced either overt sexual abuse or have been grew up in environments that might have been overly sexualized or unsafe that could come forth or just kind of the regular old, if you will experiences, like we were saying, you know, what happened as a kid or did your parents talk with you about it? Did you talk about like.

Leslie Stapleton (17:47):

Did you accidentally walk in on your parents having sex? And you’re, what was that?

Tammy Leombruno (17:50):

I think I know somebody who that happened to you know, or, or even just even that, you know, certainly at my age I felt like, I don’t know, there were like a, there was a movie in school or something and the boys and girls got separated.

Leslie Stapleton (18:02):

Yeah. My kid just had that movie.

Tammy Leombruno (18:03):

I thought it was mortifying actually. She loved it, but just, if your, if your parents didn’t talk with you about it, you know, or, or there weren’t many materials at your disposal or maybe the school curriculum was pretty basic. Yeah. Like I feel like mine was pretty basic. So what do you, do you go to your friends or you go to a magazine or back to HBO, or I don’t know, as a world turns. So, but we just, we just, it’s important to remember that we bring so much of our own kind of thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and values to the situation. And we just, it’s important to try to keep those in check.

Leslie Stapleton (18:36):

Absolutely. I mean, as a parent, I do not want my kid to grow up and feel shame or that things are wrong and I want her to be free. And I think I’ve done really great job. I mean, she wants to nonstop talk about puberty she had the, she had had the movie in school. I mean, she talks to me about this stuff, like no big, which I love that she’s there, but sometimes I’m like who I have already, like, I need a break from the puberty talk. All right. So what strategies do you have for those of us who no matter how much we learn, how much we know are your hearts are still racing pit develops in our stomach when we have to have these conversations for kids. So, so set us up with some strategies for success here.

Tammy Leombruno (19:17):

Well, I think either when you’re going to talk with your child, like you are purposeful and like you said, with intention, or if you have kind of stumbled upon a scenario in which you’re like, oh gosh, these kids are doing something and I gotta, I gotta intervene. Yep. So it’s just common sense. Some of the, the strategies which are just, you know, try to be calm, try to keep a calm voice, keep your yourself calm, keep whatever’s happening inside the sweating, the panicking, the heart racing. Try to keep that to yourself and try to use just really clear, respectful language. But, you know, if you need to say like, okay, well, Hey, it’s time for your friend to go home. So we’re gonna, you know, kind of we’ll, we’ll kind of get you ready and we’ll go, and that’s probably hopefully gonna be a follow up call to the other caregiver, for example, right. That you wanna make sure that you’re coming in again with a clear message with language that kids can understand. It’s okay also if you’re like, ah, I’m a little, I’m a little nervous.

Leslie Stapleton (20:05):

I don’t know if this is bad or really bad. I don’t know.

Tammy Leombruno (20:07):

Right. And well, I think sometimes you can actually say to the child, you know, like this is, again, this is more the react, the response to something that’s happened.

Leslie Stapleton (20:14):

Maybe we should talk about response versus reaction here in a minute.

Tammy Leombruno (20:16):

I just caught myself. Yeah. But you know, so, so just try to remind them that it’s, they’re, they’re okay. And they’re not in trouble. And this is really about just getting a chance, an opportunity to talk about like, hey what’s okay and not, and what you, your values and expectations are as a family. Most kids know, right? Like, oh, I don’t think we’re supposed to do this stuff, you know?

Leslie Stapleton (20:34):

Yeah. Well, there’s a nice reframe, right? You’re like, here’s an opportunity to have an important conversation. And if you hadn’t done that, then we wouldn’t have had this opportunity to say, it’s not okay to take electronic pictures of your butt and sending it to your friends. Right. Like, right. Let’s talk about that.

Tammy Leombruno (20:48):

Well, and again, you wanna also just like validate a little bit, like I know, like you’re saying, I know that you’re interested or in this, or you thought that was funny. But again, just kind of move it to the place about like, all right, well we’re here. Yeah. Sometimes. Right. I think you’re like, well, we didn’t, we didn’t know where you were gonna be here when you’re trying to, when you’re planning to talk with your child, like it was purposeful or, or maybe there was a question. So just maybe before the conversation, try to educate yourself a little bit. Right? Like what are the normative typical behaviors of kids at a certain age. So then you might be like, where do I find them? And you could go to Tony Kavanaugh Johnson. She has these great little booklets like expected and normative behavior. Kind of what I was talking a little bit about in the beginning.

Leslie Stapleton (21:27):

Mm-Hmm and I think we’re gonna provide some resources here at the end.

Tammy Leombruno (21:28):

Right. There’s another place called It’s this amazing website and there’s junior for younger kids. Great little videos

Leslie Stapleton (21:36):

We’ll list that on our podcast page.

Tammy Leombruno (21:37):

So talk about your child with what’s okay and not okay. Make sure you use the correct terms and you know, so it’s like it’s penis and it’s vagina. Or Volva vagina, Volva.

Leslie Stapleton (21:49):

You are a caregiver and you’re caring for a kid whose parents have not used the correct terminology. Yeah. Right? And you see the importance, it’s, it’s really about safety for kids that you’re using the correct terminology. How do you navigate that when you are a caregiver and you wanna respect a family’s culture and their values yet you’re stuck in the middle there. What advice do you have?

Tammy Leombruno (22:08):

That’s a great question. I, I would advise to just maybe use both and then you wanna maybe get the child. So it’s like, if it’s, again, you know, Wiener for penis, or this is a very common one flower for

Leslie Stapleton (22:18):

I cannot stand that.

Tammy Leombruno (22:20):

I know you can’t.

Leslie Stapleton (22:20):

That term.

Tammy Leombruno (22:20):


Leslie Stapleton (22:21):

Is Cringeful.

Tammy Leombruno (22:23):

But, but it’s important to give kids those correct terms, just like it is like, this is your arm and this is your foot and that’s your, you know, whatever that, we’re just gonna say those, and it takes away some of that kind of like silliness, or maybe it’s more about embarrassment or shame. Yeah. And we also want them to be able to communicate about their body, so we need to give them the language. Yeah. So if you can do that part again, back to using language, kids understand, try to be clear about what the rules, if that’s the word like, Hey, you know, like, oh right. You can touch your own private parts in private. You can’t touch other people’s private parts. Not yet. You’re too young, you know, and maybe, and the kid could say, why am I too young? And then you could kind of have that conversation.

Leslie Stapleton (23:00):

Would you really say, not yet, you’re too young to like a seven year old. And they’re like, what do you mean not yet? Would you?

Tammy Leombruno (23:05):

You could say, or you could say, well, I don’t, I don’t know. What do you think? I would say, I, I think that’s too young, you know, what do you think kids do a lot of times, or if it’s a 10 year old even, well, what are other kids your age doing? You know? And so that kind of gives us information too. So a lot of it is to try to also ask open ended questions and to be curious. Yeah. Cause you’re trying to collect some information too, but it’s, you know, if you’re managing your affect, the best you can in trying to be calm and using your calm voice and acknowledging if you don’t know something, that’s okay too. Yeah. You’re like, I don’t know, but I know there’s a book.

Leslie Stapleton (23:34):

Yeah. Well, another thing thing to think about too, especially as a caregiver, right? There’s a, there’s a lot, you don’t know about a child and there’s a lot of child that probably hasn’t told anybody. And if you come at something in a disciplining tone or you’re anger, they’re gonna shut down and they’re not gonna share anything with you. So if they feel comfortable with you, they’re gonna share more with you. And in the long run, these kids are gonna be safer. We want them to be able to tell us things.

Tammy Leombruno (23:53):

Absolutely. Absolutely. And even, even if you’re like, oh no, I messed up. I, I got upset or, or I, I raised my voice or, you know, maybe that was when you stumble upon a situation that was concerning, just walk it back. It’s like, okay, you know what? I’m sorry. I got nervous. And I think I used my voice in a way. I’m really sorry about that. Yeah. We can talk about this, but you’re absolutely right. We wanna bring kids into these conversations. We wanna listen for where they are. That’s kind of the thing about being curious, you know? And so we don’t wanna give them too much information. So we wanna kind of, that’s, that’s a bit of a dance and I think whatever way you can just make it as positive as possible. If you wanna be goofy and silly for a minute, you can, but we don’t want kids to get their information only from social media sites or just from friends. For sure.

Leslie Stapleton (24:34):

Absolutely. You know, so your caregiver, you’ve done your due diligence, right? You are curious, you did some research online, like, Ooh, what am I seeing? And you’ve had great conversations and you’re still, you’re just not really sure. Sort of what you’re dealing with. What do you do next?

Tammy Leombruno (24:50):

I think it depends on the situation on the age. You could, you know, like you could get on there’s. There are really great sites to go to for some factual, great information about sex behavior and development and sexuality. So you could do that. If that doesn’t feel like that’s enough information, maybe there is a mental health provider. If there is, you could think about talking with that person, you could connect with your pediatrician. I think they’re a great resource. Generally speaking for this other times, it could be like your partner or a friend, or just be like, I need to bounce this off you. What do you think?

Leslie Stapleton (25:21):

Yeah you know, often times kids who are in care or maybe connected with a school social worker or something, would that be an appropriate person to connect with?

Tammy Leombruno (25:29):

Sometimes, sometimes I just wanna make sure that I think people are well intended about wanting to go talk to someone. Right? So that’s important, but I think we have to be careful, even though I just said, like talk to a friend. But you know, in the school, I mean, if that’s a good connection and maybe there’s a history, maybe the child’s been at the same school, even if you’re maybe a new kin or foster caregiver then that might be a really good person to kind of check in with. Other time it might be that that’s a violation of privacy too much. You know, so I think we wanna be really careful and that’s why I like with the medical professional, it’s like, well there, they’re gonna be asking questions about body stuff and talking about that with them in their wellness check visits.

Leslie Stapleton (26:04):

Yeah no, I think that’s important. There’s some things that from home that just don’t need to go to the, to the school.

Tammy Leombruno (26:09):

Yeah and we’ll talk about that more in the second part.

Leslie Stapleton (26:12):


Tammy Leombruno (26:13):

Yeah, for sure.

Leslie Stapleton (26:13):

Okay. So you mentioned some resources earlier. We said we’re gonna list them on our site. Are there any other resources you wanna throw out before I ask you for some takeaways or some other things that we didn’t talk about that you wanted, make sure you picked up.

Tammy Leombruno (26:25):

Yeah. so there’s an organization called Stop It Now. And so if you they have great resources and again, all this stuff it’s, it’s just free and you can download and just look at it, which is wonderful. And they give like scenarios, there’s a helpline you could call in. So that actually is a, is a good example you could call in and say, oh, I’m a so and, and so, or write an email and they’ll respond to you. But that is, that is a really good resource with great information in terms of kind of preventative stuff, as well as kind of intervention. There is certainly The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has some great information and there’s a SIECUS, I think that’s how you pronounce it, but it’s The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. So that’s very kind of like it, you know, a lot of charts, a lot of developmental stuff. But that could be a resource and again, those are gonna be listed and you know, what go to Barnes and Noble, if you can, or have somebody who can, or maybe the school can, American Girl has a great,

Leslie Stapleton (27:19):

We have that.

Tammy Leombruno (27:20):

Their books are wonderful.

Leslie Stapleton (27:21):

I love those yeah.

Tammy Leombruno (27:22):

About it’s, they’re really, they’re geared towards those identify as females. So it’s a little, it’s not great for other folks, but they’re wonderful. And then will that,

Leslie Stapleton (27:30):

Well, they do take up this sort of non-binary in, in that, in the book that we have, which I thought was great,

Tammy Leombruno (27:34):

They are really so certainly impressed with those. And then, you know, there, there are just, I think once you enter some of these resources, you can kind of link to others, but I think that’s great. And if you can do that with your child, like some of those videos, you might wanna watch them first on or amaze junior, excuse me, junior, cuz some people I think might be like, oh gosh, that’s really they’re animated and they’re great. But you know, check ’em out first for sure. Awesome. Yeah.

Leslie Stapleton (27:58):

All right. So we’re pretty much sort of like wrapping up for time. Yeah. Our next sort of part two, we’re gonna pick up and talk more about sort of more problematic behaviors and then we sort of move up the continuum there. So maybe for this part one, you could leave us with a few takeaways then maybe to sum it up and, and send people off feeling better and more confident about tackling these conversations with the kids, for which they’re caring.

Tammy Leombruno (28:23):

Yeah. So I will reiterate that most behaviors, most sexual behaviors kids display are in the normative typical expected range. So really, really remember that one. So most of them are, even if you’re freaking out

Leslie Stapleton (28:36):

you see something goes, oh my God. And you’re like, okay, just remember this is probably normal. Yeah. I’m not gonna freak out. If it actually actually ends up to be a really horrible thing, I could come, come back around to it. after I realize that it’s not actually normal.

Tammy Leombruno (28:49):

But I, but I do think chance people aren’t aware of that. So that’s important. Yes. and that talking with kids about sex and sexuality and starting early and providing them with accurate age appropriate information, it’s one of the best ways to ensure safe and healthy sexual development. We do wanna talk to kids. It’s not gonna make them do stuff more. It’s really gonna help. And remember we want.

Leslie Stapleton (29:10):

Do you think parent, do you think some people really worry about that? If we talk about it, kids are gonna do stuff. I

Tammy Leombruno (29:14):

I do. Yeah. I do think so. And again, you can take advantage of you are watching a show and there’s somebody kissing and then you’re like, okay, here’s an opportunity, like a natural one to kind of check in with your child or there’s a, a woman who’s pregnant. Oh, where do you, how are babies made? You know, or whatever that is. So you can do those kind of things. And let’s see if you’re stuck, like you were saying, or you have concerns, you know, check out the resources that we are gonna highlight. Talk to a partner, talk to a friend, talk to a professional. Again, I, if you’re gonna do the professional route, maybe start with medical folks or if there’s a provider, either in the community or the school. And it is important to try to keep your child in the loop as much as possible with that. And I think also just tell yourself, like I got this, I can do it. I can totally do this. I’m gonna take a few deep breaths. I’m gonna remember that it was hard as a kid to do this stuff. And if I can give my child or the child I’m caring for good information and support and let them know, it’s okay to talk about this stuff and they’re gonna be okay then that’s great.

Leslie Stapleton (30:13):

Fantastic. Thank you. That’s great advice. And we got some great resources. Thank you so much, Tammy. Yeah. Well, I’m looking forward to diving into the more problematic behaviors in, in part two.

Tammy Leombruno (30:23):

Part two. Excellent. Thanks, Leslie.

Cassie Gillespie (30:28):

Welcome to the Field is produced by the University of Vermont’s Child Welfare Training Partnership and the State of Vermont. Our theme music is composed and performed by local band Brick Drop and our sound production and engineering is brought to you by Egan Media Productions. We’d also like to give a special thank you to our in-house technical production assistant Emma Baird. For Welcome to the Field, I’m Cassie Gillespie and we’ll see you next time.

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