When should you have “the talk” with your kids? It is a question that strikes terror into many a parent’s heart. What should you say? What should you not say? The questions go on and on.
Research shows that the average age for the onset of puberty is consistently dropping. Studies indicate that in the U.S. puberty begins as young as nine years old. This can be shocking for many parents who think they have until junior high or high school before they have to start worrying about that. However, you can never start too soon preparing your children for the ways in which their bodies will inevitably change.
Having one pivotal birds-and-the-bees conversation with your kids is an outdated approach to sex education. Instead, think of it as an on-going dialogue that hopefully begins at a very young age – as early as preschool. As daunting as that may sound, there are some simple guidelines that can help you approach these conversations.
1. Know What You Want to Communicate Before You Communicate It
It is important that Mom and Dad have a plan, a point of view, and know how to clearly communicate it. In an ideal world both parents have a strong sense of their own sexuality and feel comfortable discussing sex with each other.
It is important that your children receive a consistent message from Mom and Dad to lessen confusion. So if you don’t see eye-to-eye figure out a compromise and have a coherent message to share with your children.
Know what messages you would like your children to receive about sex and their sexuality. Some questions to consider are:
- What were you taught as a child?
- Where/how did you learn about sex?
- What do you wish you had been taught?
The one certainty in today’s day and age is that your children have access to the Internet; access to the Internet means they will learn about sex. They can learn about it from you or they can learn about it from a stranger on YouTube – or worse from one of the thousands of porn sites out there. So have a point of view and be prepared to communicate it to your children.
2. Use the Correct Anatomical Terms When Speaking to Your Children
An important guideline is to always use correct anatomical language. While it can be cute to have silly names for your boy and girl bits, it sends a message to children to have embarrassment about this part of their body, which can lead to shame. We don’t have a special name for any other part of our anatomy, so this teaches children to think differently about their genitalia – a potentially confusing message for children.
By teaching the correct terms for body parts children learn to integrate their sexuality into their identity. This creates a sense of empowerment about their entire body. That empowerment is the foundation for a sense of control and being able to assertively communicate what they do want/don’t want in terms of their physical body.
3. Answer the Questions They Ask
It is common for parents to get nervous when having these discussions. Often when asked a sensitive question parents will go on and on and on saying way more than the child ever considered.
When your child asks a question – answer only the question they ask. If they have additional questions, they’ll ask. Children are naturally curious about their bodies and the world around them. Don’t be afraid to answer the questions they ask.
If they catch you off guard, buy yourself some time by saying you’ll get back to them after you’ve had some time to think what you’d like to say. It is critical that you set a specific time to do this – such as after dinner, tomorrow morning, etc. Don’t leave them hanging with their questions. It is important for your children to know they can count on you to answer questions for them; otherwise they will look for another source of information.
4. Think in Terms of Preparing Your Child
Often parents will say “I don’t want to put ideas in my kid’s head, what if I talk about that and they aren’t thinking about it?” Let’s face it, they are thinking about it, and more than likely are too afraid to ask. Even if they aren’t thinking about it, you are laying the groundwork for being their go-to source for information. Let your kids know (on multiple occasions) that you are always there for any questions they may have. Create an environment where your child knows they can talk to you about sex.
If either of you find these conversations really painful consider creating a private journal that just the three of you (Mom, Dad, child) write in. Your child can write any question or thought that they would like to share with you. You can respond by writing in the journal and your child can read the response in private.
At some point in their life your child will be in a situation with sexual potential. Prepare your child with the information that they need. You do not want them trying to figure this stuff out in the heat of the moment – that is like trying to knit a parachute after you’ve jumped out of the plane – not terribly effective!
5. Utilize Helpful Resources
Don’t have a clue where to start? Don’t sweat it; there are great books that can help. Here are some wonderful resources:
- From Diapers to Dating and Beyond the Big Talk by Debra W. Haffner
- It’s So Amazing by Robie H. Harris
- It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris
- How to Talk to Your Child About Sex: It’s Best to Start Early, but It’s Never Too Late: A Step-by-Step Guide for Every Age by Linda Eyre
If you feel that you never got the talk let alone had the benefit of an on-going open discussion about sex then it may be helpful for you to read these books yourself. It is never too late to learn about your body and gain an empowered sense of your sexuality. It can be a life-changing asset for parents to have, and an amazing legacy to pass on to your children.