How to talk to your kids about sex
Emily Rhoads, Prevention Specialist, Be in Charge
My son is only 10 months old, so the most pressing questions I have to deal with are his frantic screams when I don’t get his cereal made quickly enough.
However, I know the time is coming when I’m going to have much tougher questions to answer.
Our kids need to know about sex – they are going to get the information somewhere; wouldn’t you rather it be correct information from you instead of myths and misinformation from media and peers?
Talking to our kids about tough topics – especially sex – is something that can terrify even the bravest of parents. So, here are some tips to make it easier for you and your child.
1) How old is old enough?
Kids are never too young to start learning appropriate words for their body parts or about consent. As you change your child’s diaper, it is nice to say, “Mommy is going to wipe your vagina now.” Or, “Daddy is going to put some diaper rash cream around your testicles, OK?” You may think that your child isn’t picking up on those words and information, but you are teaching and reinforcing the importance of someone asking before touching them and them being OK with the type of touch. Explaining good touch/bad touch needs to be a priority for all parents of young children.
Also, the danger of silly nicknames for body parts such as “pee-pee, wee wee, etc” is that they might not be able to express their discomfort if someone is touching them inappropriately. For example, if they walk up to their babysitter and accuse someone of touching their “nee nee,” the babysitter may have no idea what this word means and how to address this issue.
It is up to you as a parent to decide how much, and how soon, to start addressing sexual issues such as puberty, how sex works, etc. Every child is at a different maturity level and will begin to ask questions at a different rate. It is always OK to give a small amount of information (appropriate to their age) and then tell them you will talk about it further when they are older.
2) Pick the right time and place.
If your child hasn’t yet asked, “where babies come from,” then you might have to be the one to bring the topic up as they approach puberty. As they grow and change, they will need reassurance that they are “normal” and that the changes are all a part of them growing up. For some children, the mere mention of puberty or the opposite sex will lead to red faces, stammering, and maybe even a little embarrassed anger. Don’t be surprised if you get an exasperated, “MOM/DAD, I KNOW!” Because of this, it is crucial to pick the right time and place to address this issue.
One idea is to take them out for a special “date.” Take them somewhere for dessert, and let them ask any question they have. Ask what they think they know, and correct any misinformation. Take your close-to-puberty daughter to shop for a training bra or a “period kit” full of pads, Midol, and some chocolate and make it a fun, funny excuse to talk about what’s going on.
Another idea is talking about it when you are in the car alone. In the car, neither of you can give in to your desire to run away. Plus, you have other things to look at besides each other — making things slightly less awkward.
3) Make your talk judgement-free.
When your child comes and asks you a question, try your best to use your poker face. Don’t laugh at them or they’ll feel like you think they’re silly. Don’t assume that just because they’re asking about sex that theyare going to have sex. They’re likely asking out of curiosity. Fear and becoming angry or frustrated with them will deter them to ask any further questions.
It is totally appropriate to explain your family’s values and morals surrounding sexuality, but try your best to do it in a judgment-free way so that your child feels safe and comfortable coming to you in the future.
4) Keep the lines of communication open.
Don’t press your child too far when talking about puberty and sex. If they are becoming more visibly uncomfortable (read their signals!) you can tell them, “OK, that’s probably enough for now. If you have more questions, let me know and we will talk later!” And then let it go. Don’t continue to ask if they have any more questions (trust them to tell you if they do!) Don’t continue to ask if they’ve thought more about what you said. Let them make the next move.
After the conversation is over, make sure they know the lines of communication are open. If you think they are too uncomfortable talking to you, you can offer the name of another adult you trust for them to talk to about these issues such as an aunt, grandmother, family friend, counselor, or youth pastor.
You can offer them resources such as books or websites that you have reviewed and know are appropriate for your family and tell them to look over them at their own pace and let you know if they have questions.
Just let them know you are always willing to make sure they have all the information they need.
So many parents and kids are terrified of “THE TALK,” but it doesn’t have to be the scary event we have made it out to be. You have resources available to help make it as painless as possible. Your kids deserve the best information so that they can make healthy decisions about their bodies, and you, as a parent, have the joy (not horror) of sharing your knowledge and experiences.
Here are a few helpful links that can help with any questions you might have: