It’s the talk most of us probably dread. And feel most uncomfortable about – the talk about the ‘birds and the bees’ with our children. Even saying ‘sex-education’ out loud makes many of us squirm uncomfortably. So, of course, we try to avoid the conversation or hope that schools take care of it, or push it to a later date.
But here’s the issue. Children are naturally curious. They won’t stop asking questions. If you give them unsatisfactory answers or avoid the question, they will simply stop asking you any questions. And will look for other sources. Often these sources are their friends – who are possible as clueless as them or have been ill-informed by an older sibling. Worse still is if they choose to look for answers on that wonderful fount of all knowledge- Google! They may stumble upon sites that aren’t exactly family-friendly. So, it’s time to bite the bullet and have that talk. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
It’s not one major talk
Contrary to what we might think, it’s never just that one talk that you have with children. It will be an ongoing series. You might give some information to your children. And they might go off and not have any questions. But a couple of days later, when you least expect it, they might spring a question on you about what you’d discussed. But the key is to have all of those discussions so that the information they receive is accurate. The amount of information that your need to give can vary on the age of your child. And there’s no age that’s too young to start talking.
Information you can give toddlers and very young children
At this age, we only need to make sure that children know the right names for their private parts. Don’t give them vague names – you can mention that these parts are your private parts, but give them the correct names. This is also important for children to protect themselves from unsafe touches and for them to be able to tell you if something is making them uncomfortable.
Information you can give primary school-going children
Children at this age may be more curious – some of their friends may have a baby sister or brother and they will be curious about where babies come from. ‘How does the baby get into the mummy’s tummy?’ ‘Will the baby hurt the mummy when they cut open the tummy to take the baby out?’ We can answer these questions accurately – but without going into too much detail. For example, we can say that the baby is created in the womb when the sperm and egg meet.
We don’t need to go into further detail. You know your child best, so giving information based on the maturity and understanding of your child is what will work. If your child is asking questions that you think they aren’t ready for, you can always tell them, ‘Let’s get back to this when you’re a bit older- for now, here’s what you need to know:…’
Information for tweens
This might be the time to talk to children about puberty, menstruation, the changes they can expect in their bodies, and that all these changes are normal and natural. It is also important to address their emotions which might be undergoing some upheaval. Now is the time to set some ground rules for safety around their interactions – with themselves, with others and both offline and online. Start talking about consent early, and as an essential part of their sex education.
Conversation with teens
Teenagers will want to have a conversation with you – not advice (even though you think they need it sorely). So keep the lines of communication open. Talk about your experiences, let them come and ask you questions. Let the conversation flow naturally about forming emotional bonds, respect, consent and everything in between. When conversing with teens, we tend to sprinkle our conversation with ‘don’ts’. Let’s throw in the occasions, ‘do’ – what they need to be aware of, how it can be difficult to navigate the world of social media, the temptation to gain popularity, peer pressure, and a whole lot else. They may not like to show it, but teenagers still seek their parents’ approval. Fear of disapproval might push them into silence or hiding things from you. Conversations about morning erections and how birth control works doesn’t mean that your teen is going to immediately run out to try all of these things. It means that they feel comfortable and safe enough to have these awkward conversations with you, knowing that they will get answers. Well, done, parent!
The more we normalise conversations like these in our homes, the more confident we can be that our children will not indulge in reckless and unsafe behaviour when it comes to sex. Some conversations may be more difficult to have than others- but they will be infinitely more rewarding when you see the bond you share with your children strengthening and growing stronger.