With the shifting political currents and fluid nature of sex education, do you really want to rely only on the school system to teach your children such important information? Or that precocious classmate on the Everglades field trip? From birth control to abstinence, you can’t share your values if you don’t talk about them.
Experts advise parents to talk honestly with their children about human sexuality as young as preschool to become a go-to source of information, which will facilitate more difficult dialogue later and help teens make healthy decisions for their wellbeing and safety. From reading an American Girl book on puberty to answering where babies come from, here are tips to gently broach sensitive topics. And if you’re wishing you read this a decade earlier, it’s never too late to ease into these delicate (and awkward) conversations-which can actually be positive!
Mama, Where Do Babies Come from?
Raisingchildren.net.au advises parents to foster clear, age-appropriate conversation in each stage of childhood. “Those early conversations also lay the groundwork for children to make healthier choices about sex when they’re older…The key message is that your child can come to you for open, honest and reliable information, and that your child shouldn’t feel scared or embarrassed to ask you about sex and sexuality.”
It outlines 3 steps: first find out what your child already knows and go from there. For example, ask where do you think babies come from? For step two, correct any misinformation. Step three: use the conversation to segue into your values and perspective.
Keep It Accurate
Speak on their level. A 6-year-old doesn’t need to know the technicalities of sperm ova courtship but might think it’s cool that little eggs can make a baby. “Keep your explanation brief, factual and positive if you can. Your child can come to you if they want more information.”
Prepare Your Talking Points
Consider in advance how to tackle the topic, such as asking a child what she knows about pregnancy is when it comes up on TV. “It’s a good idea to prepare yourself by thinking what you’re comfortable with and building on that,” advises raisingchildren.net.au.
Reading a good book together can guide discussion. Choosingtherapy.com suggests offering children resources like pamphlets and books and encourage them to ask you questions. And while it’s normal for these conversations to induce anxiety and dread for both parent and child, it “should not get in the way of having a positive conversation.”
Focus on Safety
In a Today’s Parent article by Lindsay Kneteman, educator Nadine Thornhill asserts that “there’s more risk with not telling enough than telling them too much.” Thornhill recommends teaching actual names for body parts so children could clearly explain any health issue, injury or abuse. Children ages 2-5 should be taught body boundaries, how to say “No!” and what touching is not appropriate. “Thornhill says it’s important to convey that your kids can tell you about inappropriate actions at any time, even if they’ve previously kept it a secret.”
In the article Cory Silverberg, author of “What Makes a Baby,” recommends a puberty talk as a springboard to broader issues. “While the detailed mechanics of puberty might be limited to one conversation, the impact of this transition should be an ongoing discussion.”
By ages 9-12 discuss sexual choices and safe sex—which may mean abstinence in your family. And check in regularly about your established internet safety rules—and salient issues like how sending revealing photos could be illegal. News events can also facilitate conversation.
It’s also critical to discuss healthy relationships. Talking about “friends at school” might be easier for shyer children. Also discuss the topic of consent to protect themselves against pressure and dating violence. The goal is to empower the child to evaluate risks and make good decisions. “Helping kids understand that they have a gut, an inner voice, and they can and should listen to it, is a big part of what sex education is about,’ says Silverberg. And by discussing the right topics at the right ages you’re setting your child up to do just that.”
Keep It Positive
Encouragingly, choosingtherapy.com reports that studies show that “having outlets to talk about sexuality was associated with a lower likelihood of engaging in sexual activity… Remember, it is important to arm your child with knowledge of themselves and the world around them, including the topic of sex.”