A fellow blogger and friend recently wrote about a conversation he had with his four year old son about sex. This was a follow up conversation where the son asked for more specific details (including the title of this post); you can read the whole thing here. As I have a four year old son and seven year old daughter, the topic comes up in our household regularly. I heartily recommend a book for parents that provides a very basic framework for understanding what information is appropriate for each stage of development (toddler, school age, preteens) and it gives some very useful language and practical tips on how to have these various conversations.
I felt slightly weird reading this book, probably because my kids brought home the latest Captain Underpants book at the same time. (If you haven’t seen these, take a quick gander. But check them out before your kids do, so you can decide if this is a road you want to go down. If you are trying to curb potty talk, then I recommend skipping these…but if you are ok with titles like “Captain Underpants and the Big Bad Battle of the Bionic BoogerBoy, Part 2: The Revenge of the Ridiculous Robo-Boogers” then these are quite fun). Aside from the cover which doesn’t convey the depth of the content, this book is very readable, very practical and extremely helpful. If you have anyone in your house ages 2-15, this is the book for you.
Based on that book (and other reading), conversations with friends and family, and my own experience, here are
My top 5 tips when talking to your kids about sex:
1. Start now. If you never have, it’s not too late. And it’s not too early either. The earlier that children hear about body parts and bodily functions, the more normal it will seem to them to talk about these things. Talk about body parts to your baby as you get him dressed (i.e. “I’m going to change your diaper now..I’m tickling your belly button…oh look, there is your penis..and here are your knees…wiggle your toes”). Adding “penis” or “vagina” to the routine occasionally is the trick; overemphasize those parts and children pick up on that and can be hyper-sensitive; never utter the words and they can make the assumption that there is something bad or different about those parts of the body. I highly recommend getting a book about the human body to read through regularly (again, not too often, but enough to provide a basic level of exposure is the key). If you read to your child regularly and rotate the book through, that can help minimize potential embarrassment as you then talk at other times.
2. Use correct words to identify body parts and functions. While talking about your son’s ding-dong or your daughter’s who-ha may seem cute when they are babies, it does little to help them understand what these parts are or what they do. It adds an unnecessary element of mystery and is confusing. You may need to practice saying “penis” and “vagina” out loud until you are comfortable, but the more you practice the easier it gets.
3. Give age appropriate information. This is where you need to do some reading and research. Your two year old is asking fundamentally different questions than your six year old, who is asking very different questions than your twelve year old. The trick is finding out what they are actually asking, and then giving an answer to that. And one of the very best ways to do that is…
4. Ask questions of your children. Many an awkward moment can be dissolved with “Why do you ask?” “Where did you hear that?” or “What do you think?” Once you figure out why your child wants to know something specific, or where they heard a particular rumor, or what mis-information they have, it’s much easier to tailor a specific answer. Your child might ask (as my friend’s did), “How did you fertilize the egg?” and you could reply, “What do you think?” If he answers (like mine did once): “The sperm comes from the daddy’s tummy to the mommy’s tummy” you can say something along the lines of “That’s close, but the sperm comes from the daddy’s penis.” You don’t have to elaborate, unless you get more questions.
5. Remain calm. Part of our job as parents is to not only teach our children accurate information about their bodies, but to teach them when and how is it appropriate to talk about these body parts. They don’t realize it’s embarrassing to ask about mommy’s breasts or daddy’s penis when you are checking out in the grocery store. As hard as it is, if we can calmly reply with “Those are private body parts, and we can talk about them at home or in the car. Who wants to ride in the cart?” instead of “Hush! I can’t believe you’d embarrass me like that!” we’d be doing our kids a world of good.
I’m curious to know if you have any doozies that your kids have said to you and how you responded or what the best advice you have received about talking to your kids about sex is. Comments welcome!