Sure, talking about sex with our children can make us, as parents, uncomfortable, even downright terrified. But when it comes to having “the talk”, experts say the sooner the better. By honestly answering our kids’ questions about their body and sex from an early age, we gain their trust, leading to an open line of communication. Fostering a “safe space” for children where no question is taboo, makes it much more likely they will come to us with future issues or concerns, sex-related or not. A few tips for talking to your child about sex, and keeping it real.
Start the conversation early
Preschool-age kids have lots of questions about their bodies, and parents should answer them simply, but honestly. “Teaching young children to correctly label their body parts helps begin open and honest conversations about their bodies…. Teach children they are in charge of their bodies and can say yes or no to touch from others. There are good touches like hugs that make them feel good, and there are bad touches like tickles that hurt or touches that don’t feel good. This lays the foundation for future conversations about consent for sexual activities,” advises local School Psychologist Rebecca Katz.
Clinical Psychologist Dr. Rebecca Alperin of Toledo’s Psychological Resources, Ltd. adds, “It’s really something that needs to start from an early age, letting your children know that they can come to you with any questions they have (about anything!) and if you don’t know the answer you will help them find out…. Try to be age-appropriate in your responses and explanations, as a young child’s questions and understanding are very different than a teenager’s.”
Be your child’s information source
In elementary and middle school, kids are exposed to lots of ideas, and often, misinformation from other children. Katz recommends that ideally, “the talk” will occur over time, in bits and pieces, starting during elementary school years. “Again, use real words for body parts, and be honest about how sex works. It’s okay to keep the conversation brief at first, and based on your child’s reaction or the questions they ask you, share additional information,” Katz offers.
As children get older, exposure to sexual content in music, television, the internet, and social networking sites is common, and increasingly hard to avoid. While most kids will learn about puberty, pregnancy, and STD’s in their school’s sexual education class, parents should remain open to (and encourage) questions about all aspects of sexuality. “By middle school, talk about masturbation, kissing/making out, and consent. By high school discuss STD and pregnancy prevention. Reassure your child that it’s perfectly okay if they are not sexually active, and peer pressure of any type (drugs, sex, etc.) is unacceptable,” Katz guides.
Tips for having “The Talk”
If speaking with your child about sex still feels awkward,. “Parents may also want to talk to friends who have children to see how they’ve approached it. Chances are the kids are talking to each other about it, so having their friends hear consistent and accurate information is reassuring for everyone involved.” Or, Katz offers, give your child a book to reference with answers to questions they may feel uncomfortable asking you, such as Our Bodies, Ourselves by Judy Norsigian or What’s Happening to My Body? by Lynda Madaras.
Dr. Alperin proposes, “If a parent is extremely uncomfortable (talking) about this, perhaps they can identify another trusted adult whom the child can go to with questions…. Pediatricians, school counselors, and therapists are great people to consult with about sex education.”
At the end of the day, being the first person your child comes to for any type of question (even the uncomfortable ones), is a rewarding and attainable goal. Have an open attitude, listen and stay calm.