How To Answer Those Awkward Questions About Sex
One day you’re bound to get that awkward question: 'Where do babies come from?'
But how do you teach your children about sex? Do you stick with the age-old dodging methods of storks and cabbage patches, go for the classic ‘Oh I don’t know!’ and hope they don’t think to ask how they appeared, or do you package the truth in an age-appropriate way?
Approaching the subject in an open manner from an early age, might avoid some of the sensationalism surrounding it. Your kids are going to hear about sex from their friends, from surfing the Internet, and by watching the television; and it may happen a lot earlier than you'd like. But by getting in first, you are making sure that they receive the right information, they know how you feel about it, and most importantly: They know they can talk to you.
The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall
Where do you start with 'the birds and the bees'?
A great way is simply by naming and learning about body parts from an early age: Children are an inquisitive bunch. They will be interested in their own bodies, and will quickly notice that boys and girls are different … I’m sure most of us know a miniature nudist who loves to show their undressing skills at every opportunity!
There’s more to bodies than heads, shoulders, knees, and toes. So while teaching your little one about body parts, include every part of them. Though many of us only learned the correct terms (penis, scrotum, vulva, vagina, nipples, anus) in junior cert biology, by which point it is all incredibly embarrassing; there’s no need to use overly-cutesy terms for some parts of the body while sticking to biological names for the rest, however used to this we are. You can use everyday moments to do this, like nappy changes, getting dressed, and bathtime.
As they learn about their bodies and different sensations, it is unsurprising that a lot of children touch themselves. But rather than teaching that this is innately shameful; start introducing the idea that it is something private (like being naked) and that creche or a busy restaurant is not the time or place! Obviously it’s nothing to do with ‘sex education’ at this age. You are just educating your child about their body, so they can be comfortable with it.
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Clockwise from left: Amazing You by Dr Gail Saltz, It's Not The Stork by Robie H. Harris, What's The Big Secret? by Laurene Krasny Brown
Children are intensely curious, about themselves and other people. And if they’re not given an explanation, they will make up their own (which admittedly, can be very entertaining to hear.) When it comes to the big questions, try to answer honestly. But don’t worry, there’s no need to go into too much detail. You can answer just as much as they ask about. It’s a good time to teach what different parts of the body can do, and how everyone's bodies are different ... and that's okay.
Though each child has differing levels of curiosity, many only need the slightest information; so you can tackle sex on a question by question basis! For example: All creatures and plants reproduce, including humans; but it happens in different ways: Trees drop seeds, frogs have tadpoles, dogs have puppies, and humans have babies. Only grown ups can make babies (very important) and this happens when a special cell/seed/sperm from daddy, and a cell/egg from mummy come together. Then these join and grow into a baby in mummy’s tummy/uterus.
While teaching your little one about their body, it’s also an important time to teach children about privacy. Not only do children learn how nudity etc is for private places and times; children also need to learn to respect other people’s privacy: For example, if the bathroom door is closed, you should knock before opening it.
Other people’s bodies are private too: Everyone is the boss of their own body, and they have a right to say who can touch it. It is not okay to hug or touch someone if they don’t want you to (and vice versa,) though there are sometimes reasons for an adult like a doctor to help mummy and daddy give you a check up.
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Still nervous? Here are some top tips:
Find out what your child already knows: e.g. ‘Where do you think babies come from?’ Then you can gently correct any misinformation they have.
Use the conversation to convey important values: For example, it’s wonderful to have a baby when you’re grown up, and you feel really ready to take care of it.
Keep language simple, and make sure you explain things at a level they can understand. A six-year old won’t want a long explanation of ovulation, but might be fascinated to know that women have very small eggs (or ova) that can make a baby, and they are born with all the eggs they need.
The most important thing for kids to learn, is that they can ask you things. So if you’re not ready to answer or you’re not sure, just say ‘I don’t know.’ Maybe you could find the right information together in a book.
It’s good for both parents to get involved in discussions about sex. This shows children that it’s okay to talk about sex and sexuality, and helps to ensure that you’re all on the same page. This can help children to feel more comfortable about their bodies, and communicating in intimate relationships when they’re older.
Prepare yourself: You might feel embarrassed talking about sexuality, and unsure of what to say: That’s normal! It’s a good idea to consider in what way you’d be comfortable discussing this before it happens, to help you feel prepared.
If you are struggling with the words to use, you may be relieved to hear that there are some great books out there, that tackle these topics in an approachable and age appropriate way. They provide the right information, and are written in an age-appropriate way. At this age, they don’t notice if you slip an educational book into the pile of books that you read before bed each night, so learning doesn't have to involve a 'special conversation'!
But most importantly: Don’t panic. The information you give your child is important, but what really matters is that you are talking about it!
So how do you talk to your children about the human body, love, and where babies come from? We'd love to hear!