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How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex
The Birds and The Bees: Talking about Sex with Your Children
Talking to your kids about sex is an important part of parenting, and knowing the right time is vital. I'm not a doctor but I do have experience; I am a mother of three girls, have an undergrad degree in psychology, a teaching credential, and a Master's degree in education.
My mother-in-law once said that there are many ways to correctly raise a child. I thought this was very poignant. Loving, caring, independent, and strong children can be raised in a variety of different ways.
Talking to Young Children About Sex
Now back to the birds and the bees. The policy in our family has always been honesty but with some reservations with younger children. With young children you can tell the truth while holding a bit of the details back for a more appropriate age and time. For example, when I was pregnant our two year old was very interested in the baby in my "tummy." I had a c-section with her so I was able to show her the scar where the baby was going to come out. We looked at a lot of pictures of her when she was in my belly and after she was born. We talked about the impact the baby would have, although she really couldn't grasp this... adults barely can. When she was three, her sister was born. I was nursing and she found this very intriguing. She would often nurse her own babies, change their diapers, and take care of them as I did her sister. At three she wanted to know about how her sister was made. We told her that when two adults love one another very much they are very close and can make a baby. Now, this explanation would not be enough for a ten year old, but giving her an anatomical explanation at three would be too much. She is not emotionally ready for these details.
"Boys have a penis and girls have a bagina"
A Great Book on Talking About Sex
I highly recommend this book. If you are having a hard time starting the conversation with your child, sometimes a book can be a good catalyst.
Talking to Older Kids About Sex
Talking to older kids about sex is very different than talking to younger kids. It's up to you if you want a mother-daughter talk and father-son talk or the other way around. Daughters may find it easier talking to their mothers but it is okay if dads have this conversation too. The point is that it MUST be done. Kids who aren't given these talks end up having a lot of questions that are answered by their peers or those that might not have the best advice/guidance.
Right before kids hit puberty is the best time to have this first talk. Up to this point you have probably had some talks with your kids about their bodies and basic ideas around sexuality. If your child has a lot of questions before this time then use your best judgement on what is appropriate. If you have a precocious 4th grader that is asking a lot of in-depth questions maybe you have this talk early. It really depends on the child and their emotional readiness.
Schedule a time that you can spend some one-on-one time with your child. A friend of mine had a weekend getaway with her mom, but if this isn't possible just have a day with just the two of you. Let the child choose to do whatever they want, eat whatever they want and have a great time. Let them know that this is your time together that you will have a bunch of fun and you will talk about them getting older and becoming a woman or man. Don't spring the subject up on them when their mouth is full of chocolate. This is a coming of age day and both of you should be prepared. Cultures around the world celebrate the time when a girl becomes a woman and a boy a man. Our culture seems to be afraid to talk about these things. Try not to be afraid, and if you are just make it up in your mind to do it anyway.
What should you talk about?
Preferably you are having this talk before your child has started menstruating or has had sexual contact, but if it is afterward that is okay; you're having the talk now and that is important. Tell them what they should expect in the next few years. Let your child know that you will answer any questions they many have for you. This may be embarrassing, but their questions will tell you a lot about where they are in their sexual development. Plus, they are going to find the answers out somewhere and it is best coming from you not their peers. Having an open dialogue about sex with your child is important to their sexual health and it keeps you in the loop.
Bring out the diagrams and books. (I have linked to a few books to consider.) This can also feel a bit awkward to some people, but knowing about the male and female sexual organs and how they mature is important. Kids are curious about their own bodies and those of the opposite sex, especially when things start to change. If they don't know about intercourse, this is the time to tell them about it; how babies are created; the birth process; the impact babies have on their parents; preventing pregnancy and sexual transmitted diseases; and anything else you find pertinent. During this time be sure to ask your kids if they have any questions and try to answer them as best as you can. If you don't know the answer then find out and get back to them.
Talk about the emotional aspect of relationships and sexuality. What makes a good relationship: love, tenderness, honesty, friendship, respect, responsibility, etc. Talk about dating and what is appropriate and inappropriate for children of your child's age. Talk about being able to say "no" if they are uncomfortable. Talk about peer pressure and how it may affect them and how to overcome it.
Have the morality talk. This is your moral view about sex and when it should occur. I have my views, but it is not my place or anyone else's to tell you what to believe in regards to sex. This discussion should happen between you and your child. It is ideal if you and your significant other have the same moral views about sex/relationships and that these principles are seen by your children on a consistent basis. How a relationship is expressed in a child's home is an indicator of how your child will treat/be treated by their significant other later in life.
Remember: This is a dialogue not a one-way, one-time conversation. Keep the conversation open and check-in with your child from time to time.
A few resources from talkingwithkids.org
- When Benjamin Wants To Know: Family Conversations about the "Facts of Life."
- How to Talk to Your Child About Sex.
Eyre, Linda and Richard.
New York: GoldenBooks, 1998.
- It's So Amazing!: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families.
Harris, Robie H. Illustrated by Michael Emberley.
Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 1999. (All ages)
- It's Perfectly Normal: Growing Up, Changing Bodies, Sex and Sexual Health.
Harris, Robie H.
Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 1994. (Ages 10 and up)
- Sex Is More Than a Plumbing Lesson: A Parent's Guide to Sexuality Education for Infants Through the Teen Years.
Dallas, TX: Preston Hollow Enterprises, 1990.
A few helpful links...
A great site about talking to your kids about sex, drugs, violence, alcohol, and STDs.
A site with different expert advice and parent forums.
A bit more advice