“Dadda, your penis is bigger than mine. ”
“Mommy, mommy, I have a vagina!” Stated as my daughter entered our bedroom while pulling down her panties to prove her statement.
“Why do you and mommy go on dates?”
These are all questions or statements I’ve heard from my three-year-old son and five-year-old daughter. They are also great opportunities to talk about sex, sexuality, love, and life.
For many parents, when the subject of “the talk” comes up, there is an immediate sense of dread, fear, and anxiety.
The lack of information about sex most children today are armed with stems from the anxiety surrounding the idea of teaching your children about it. Many parents believe, as perhaps you do as well, that the sex talk is something you have with your child when they’re teenagers. If this is you — um, how can I put this gently? …You’re wrong.
Teaching your children about sex and their sexuality begins at birth. And it begins with the simple labeling of their anatomy. For the record, boys have a penis and girls have a vagina (and actually the vagina is only part of the female genitalia; it actually is called the vulva). Proper labeling of things will lay the foundation for future discussions.
The reason you want to start early
Studies show that kids who feel they can talk with their parents about sex — because their moms and dads speak openly and listen — are less likely to engage in high-risk behavior as teens than kids who do not feel they can talk with their parents about the subject.
If you are very uncomfortable with the subject, read some books and discuss your feelings with a trusted friend, relative, physician, or clergy member (you can even email me if you like). The more you examine the subject, the more confident you’ll feel discussing it.
Even if you can’t quite overcome your discomfort, don’t worry — just be honest with your kids. It’s okay to say something like, “You know, I’m uncomfortable talking about sex because my parents never talked with me about it. But I want us to be able to talk about anything — including sex — so please come to me if you have any questions. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find out.”
Photo by macinate
Sex education belongs in the home
Think of a sponge (which is what a child’s brain has been referred to as) — it will absorb all that surrounds. But a full sponge can only absorb a little bit while the rest simply rolls off the surface. When you are the primary filler of the sponge, this leaves much less space for the teachings from the world of misinformation (such as locker room talk, peers, the Internet, and porn).
Plus, when you are trusted source of information for your child, your values are more easily included within the discussion.
A word of caution: It’s impossible to have your children adopt your values by force. They must be given the freedom to choose your values.
A few ideas to help:
1. Start early.
Teaching your children about sex requires a continuous flow of information that should begin as early as possible — for instance, when teaching your toddler where his nose and toes are, include “this is your penis” or “this is your vulva” in your talks. As your child grows, tailor the education by adding more information gradually until they understand the subject well.
2. Take the initiative.
If your child has yet to ask questions about sex, look for a good opportunity to bring it up. Say, for instance, a female friend of yours is pregnant. You can say, “Did you notice that Tsh’s belly is getting bigger? That’s because she’s going to have a baby and she’s carrying it inside her. Do you know how the baby got inside her?” Then let the conversation move from there.
3. Talk about more than the “birds and the bees.”
While children need to know the biological facts about sex, they also need to understand that relationships are more than sexual. They involve care, concern and responsibility. By discussing the emotional aspect of a sexual relationship with your child, she will be better informed to make decisions later on and to resist peer pressure.
And if your child is a pre-teen, include some message about the responsibilities and consequences of sexual activity.
4. Take your child on dates.
Dating is one aspect that many parents overlook when discussing sex with their child. The movies display all types of misinformation. They show two people who meet and later end up in bed together.
In real life, there is time to get to know each other — time to hold hands, go bowling, see a movie, or just talk. Children need to know that this is an important part of a caring relationship. They also need to have this modeled for them.
If you’re a father, take your daughter out on dates beginning now. Model how a man acts: hold the door for her, talk and listen to her, dress up for the date. This will set the bar high for her future dates. The same holds true for sons. Moms can take them out and model how a lady acts.
5. Give accurate, age-appropriate information.
This is important. Talk about sex in a way that fits the age and stage of your child. A four-year-old doesn’t need to know every detail of the sexual acts, but you can lay a solid foundation for later.
For the most part, information they don’t understand will roll off and be understood in a later conversation. Again, you don’t have to go into every detail, but be prepared to later.
Photo by Sugar Pond
6. Anticipate the next stage of development.
Children can get frightened and confused by the sudden changes their bodies begin to go through as they reach puberty. To help stop any anxiety, talk with your kids, not only about their current stage of development, but about the next stage, too. An eight-year-old girl is old enough to learn about menstruation, and a boy that age is ready to learn how his body will soon change.
7. Communicate your values.
It’s your responsibility to let your children know your values about sex. Although they may not adopt these values as they mature, at least they’ll be aware of them as they struggle to figure out how they feel and want to behave.
8. Talk with your child of the opposite sex.
Some parents feel uncomfortable talking with their child about topics like sex if the youngster is of the opposite gender. While it’s certainly understandable, don’t let it become an excuse to close off discussions.
Don’t worry about knowing all the answers to your child’s questions; what you know is a lot less important than how you respond. If you can convey the message that no subject, including sex, is forbidden in your home, you’re doing great.
Did I miss anything? Add your thoughts in the comments.