Monday, October 1, 2012

Giving 'The Talk'


The birds and the bees.
The 'talk'.
The truth about cats and dogs (oops, that's a movie).
The facts of life.

Whatever you call it, talking with our kids about sex can be very intimidating. On one hand, we know they need to know the truth about the things their friends are probably talking about. On the other hand, we don't want to 'gross them out' or give them more information than they can handle. However old they are, it can be an uncomfortable conversation for us, let alone for them. How can we know when we should talk with our children about these things, and what do we say?

Just so you know, there isn't a 'set age' at which you talk to your child about these things. That would be too easy, wouldn't it? Children develop in different ways at different times. For another thing, don't use euphemisms. Use the proper names for body parts. If your child asks where babies come from, don't say things like 'the stork' or 'the cabbage patch'.

One way to tell when our kids are ready to learn is when they ask. You don't have to go into a lot of detail; just temper your response to the child's age and level of understanding. If a young child asks where babies come from, you can point to your stomach and say something like, 'babies live in special part of a mommy's tummy until they are big enough to come out into the world.” Simple answers like that usually satisfy their curiosity. If your child knows about how animals reproduce, you can compare it to that. “You know how birds lay eggs and sit on them to keep them warm until they are ready to come out? Well, the same thing happens with people, the eggs are just on the inside.” This is especially helpful if your child is a more 'visual' learner.

If your child is interested in science, you could get him/her a children's book that explains these things from that perspective. One of my favorite books when I was eight was a question-and-answer science book using Peanuts characters. There was a section about babies and reproduction that explained and illustrated things in an age-appropriate manner. Getting your child a book like this can give her the information she needs in a way she'll enjoy and can also open the door to asking questions.

Sometimes children don't ask questions. In that case, you may have to do the asking. One thing I remember my mother doing is asking me if my friend had been telling me about 'the birds and the bees'. When I said yes, she asked what I'd heard and corrected it. A question like that can be an excellent jumping-off point for 'the talk' even if your child says no, because then you can frame it as telling him what he needs to know in case his friend does talk about it or when he hears it on the playground. And believe me, he will! This is a good conversation to have when your child is about five or six because that is the age most kids start school, and school is where a lot of people first hear about things like this. You can also use this as a segue into a conversation with your daughter about puberty, because that's something a lot of eight- or nine-year-old girls talk about.

I hope I've managed to make the idea of talking to your kids about sex a little less intimidating! In a later post, I'll go over talking to teenagers about sex. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that that is a whole other ball of wax!

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