A discussion about when to talk to your children about sex came up at school today, as it does just about every year. I am pretty outspoken about this one, and I would like to share some thoughts on this.
It’s Never to Early
It’s important to use proper language with children from the time they are able to speak. Euphemisms for body parts aren’t helpful. In a pamphlet called, “It’s Easier Than You Think!: Talking with your children about sexual health and well-being”, published by Sexual Health Access Alberta, it says, “after all, we don’t call our elbows ‘bend-bends’.” Funny, but so true. If you start using the proper words early, not only are children able to discuss their body parts with ease (which is apparently a factor in preventing sexual abuse), but there is less embarrassment when you finally decide to have “the talk”. A great book for naming body parts at a very young age is,
“The Bare Naked Book” by Kathy Stinson.
Many parents I know are waiting for their children to ask them questions before discussing anything to do with babies, sex, or puberty. While lots of children do ask questions, many don’t, which is why it is great to start having conversations with them when they are young. Books are a wonderful way to introduce the topic, especially if you are somewhat embarrassed, or don’t know how to express things in an age appropriate way.
Up until children begin grade school, simple answers are best, but once they are around 6 years old, they are ready for brief descriptions of sexual intercourse. Some parents find this to be too early, but for many children, they simply take this in as information, no differently than learning about how food is cooked, or why we bleed when cut. It’s just information to them, and will only become stigmatized if we present it that way. As one mother pointed out to me today, children hear things on the playground; this is why they need to hear it from us first! Better that they get the right information from their parents, than bits and pieces of who-knows-what from their friends.
Now, I’m not saying there needs to be a load of detail. Simple, age-appropriate answers are key, and there are many books aimed at this age group (6-8), that describe sex, sexuality, babies, and puberty on a very basic, but honest, level. Some of my favorites are:
“Boys, Girls & Body Science” by Meg Hickling
“Where Did I Come From” by Peter Mayle (a 1973 classic that I grew up on!)
“It’s So Amazing” by Robie H. Harris
Once children are about 9, they need information about puberty, if they haven’t received it already! Considering girls are getting their periods as young as 8 or 9, discussing it even earlier would be helpful for them. Children need to know that the way they are developing is perfectly normal. Some great books for discussing puberty, sexual decision-making, STDs, pregnancy prevention, and abuse, are:
“It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie H. Harris
“Girlology’s There’s Something New About You” by Melisa Holmes & Trish Hutchison
(I don’t have boys puberty books yet, because my son is only 6!)
According to teachingsexualhealth.ca, “studies have shown that when parents talk openly with their children about sexuality it leads to less risky behavior, less conformity to what they think others are doing, and helps them to view their parents as good sources of information.” Having a talk with your children once isn’t going to do suffice, either. This needs to be an ongoing discussion – we all learn better with repetition; I find when I talk to my children about sex, they usually have forgotten a lot of what we discussed the last time.
My daughters have these books at their disposal, and they do read them from time to time. But I also like to sit down with them at night, and read a few chapters to them, instead of the usual action-fantasy book. It opens the door for questions, and sometimes they end up revealing things to me that they may not have told me otherwise.
To end, I will share the “Talking Tips” from the “It’s Easier than you Think” pamphlet.
-What do you think?
-That’s a good question.
-Tell me what you know about that?
-Do you know what that word means?
-Let’s look that up online.
-Help me understand what you’re feeling.
-I’m really glad you told me about that.
-You’re too young.
-That’s none of your business.
-Where did you hear that?
-If you say that word again I’ll…
-I don’t care what your friends are doing.
-That’s just for boys (girls).
-We’ll talk about that when you need to know.
Messages Worth Repeating
-Your body belongs to you.
-Everyone develops in their own way.
-What you’re experiencing is normal.
-I may not know the answer, but you can ask me anything.
-I trust you’ll make the decision that’s right for you.
-Your sexuality lasts a lifetime – value your experiences and your relationships.”
For more information on sexual education, go to http://teachingsexualhealth.ca, where you’ll find a wealth of resources, answers to all sorts of questions, myths & facts, and more.