One day at a kid’s party, my sweet 5-year-old son decided to announce that he knew how babies are made. Out of curiosity and amusement I decided to inquire as to what he knew. Lesson learned, don’t ask questions in public that you don’t know answers to. He replied “when a mummy swallows daddy’s jelly it goes to the tummy and jelly grows”. Everyone giggled and I nearly chocked on my jelly cups that I was eating. On the spot, I decided to have a chat with my son later that evening.
Answering kids’ questions about sex is one of the responsibilities many parents dread most. The fact that your child is talking about it is one indication that they are ready to have THE TALK. The first thing you may want to do is engage in what they actually know about sex, what it involves, when you should have it etc. You might be surprised as to what they know, or rather not know. Your child is probably hearing lots of things from their friends at school. The trouble with this is that children often receive wrong information and their peers may further caution them not to tell anyone about their discussions. This embarrassment prevents them asking you questions, if not now then maybe in the future – when it really matters. Many experts suggest that you should talk to kids about sex early, but that these early talks should be age appropriate and cover only a small amount of information.
THE TALK – When, How Much and How
- Don’t laugh or giggle, even if the question is cute. Your child shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed about her curiosity.
- Try not to appear overly embarrassed or serious about the matter.
- Be brief. Don’t go into a long explanation. Answer in simple terms. Your 4-year old doesn’t need to know the details of intercourse.
- Be honest. Use proper names for all body parts.
- See if your child wants or needs to know more. Follow up your answers with, “Does that answer your question?”
- Listen to your child’s responses and reactions.
- Be prepared to repeat yourself. If you are uneasy talking about sex or answering certain questions, be honest about that too. Consider asking a relative, a close family friend, or your Paediatrician to help talk to your child
Questions to Expect and Answers To Give
The questions your child asks and the answers that are appropriate to give will depend on your child’s age and ability to understand. Following are some of the issues your child may ask about and what he should know at each stage:
“Where was I before I got in your tummy?”
“How did I get out?”
“Where do babies come from?”
“How come girls don’t have a penis?”
18 months to 3 years of age
Your child will begin to learn about their own body. It is important to teach your child the proper names for body parts. Making up names for body parts may give the idea that there is something bad about the proper name. Also, teach your child which parts are private (parts covered by a bathing suit).
4 to 5 years of age
Your child may begin to show an interest in basic sexuality, both their own and that of the opposite sex. They may ask where babies come from. They may want to know why boys’ and girls’ bodies are different. They may also touch their own genitals and may even show an interest in the genitals of other children. These are not adult sexual activities, but signs of normal interest. However, your child may need to learn what is okay to do and what is not to do in public. Setting limits to exploration is really a family matter.
Good time to teach them that no other person, including even close friends and relatives, may touch their “private parts.” The exceptions are doctors and nurses during physical exams and the child’s own parents when they are trying to find the cause of any pain in the genital area.
Keep your answer confined to what is asked. For example, “Mom, how does the baby get out of your body?” Your answer: “Through a special opening between my legs. That’s why it’s there.” If your child did not ask at that moment how a baby got in there in the first place, don’t start there. Just answer the question asked.
“How old do girls have to be before they can have a baby?” “Why do boys get erections?” “What is a period?” “How do people have sexual intercourse?” “Why do some men like other men?”
5 to 7 years of age
Your child is learning much more about how people get along with each other. They may become interested in what takes place sexually between adults. Their questions will become more complex as they try to understand the connection between sexuality and making babies. They may come up with their own explanations about how the body works or where babies come from. They may also turn to their friends for answers.
It is important to help your child understand sexuality in a healthy way. Lessons and values they learn at this age will stay with them as an adult. It will encourage meaningful adult relationships later.
8 to 9 years of age
Your child probably already has developed a sense of right and wrong. They are able to understand that sex is something that happens between two people who love each other. They may begin to become interested in how mum and dad met and fell in love. As questions about romance, love, and marriage arise, they may also ask about homosexual relationships. Use this time to discuss your family’s thoughts about homosexuality.
At this age, your child will be going through many changes that will prepare them for puberty. As they become more and more aware of their sexuality, it is important that you talk to them about delaying sexual intercourse until they are older. You should also talk about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), especially AIDS. Be sure they understand how these diseases can spread and how they can protect themselves from them and from pregnancy. Teaching your child to be sexually responsible is one of the most important lessons in her life. “If you talk about sexual matters from the beginning of a child’s use of language, there never needs to be the big “birds and bees talk.” It’s just a series of small conversations spread out over many years. You, as the parent, become the obvious go-to person whenever there’s a question.
If you become an “askable” parent, you will have offered your child an incredibly valuable gift” Louanne Cole Weston, PhD