‘BEES AND BIRDS’ TALK WITH YOUR CHILD
- JWB Post
- February 15, 2014
Parents often ask, “How old should a child be before we start talking about sex?” The answer always is: “Younger than you think.” Here’s why.
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.
What kids can understand, age by age
Ages 2 to 3: The right words for private body parts, such as “penis” and “vagina”
Ages 3 to 4: Where a baby comes from. But they won’t understand all the details of reproduction — so a simple “Mom has a uterus inside her tummy, where you lived until you were big enough to be born” is fine.
Ages 4 to 5: How a baby is born. Stick with the literal response: “When you were ready to be born, the uterus pushed you out through Mommy’s vagina.”
Ages 5 to 6: A general idea of how babies are made. (“Mom and Dad made you.”) Or if your child demands more details: “A tiny cell inside Dad called a sperm joined together with a tiny cell inside Mom called an egg.”
Ages 6 to 7: A basic understanding of intercourse. You can say, “Nature [or God] created male and female bodies to fit together like puzzle pieces. When the penis and the vagina fit together, sperm, like tadpoles, swim through the penis and up to the egg.” Explain what you think about sex and relationships. For instance: “Sex is one of the ways people show love for each other.”
Ages 8 to 9: That sex is important, which your child has probably picked up from the media and her peers. A child this age can handle a basic explanation on just about any topic, including rape. (“Remember when we talked about sex being part of a loving relationship? Rape is when someone forces another person to have sex, and that’s wrong.”)
Ages 9 to 11: Which changes happen during puberty. Also be ready to discuss sex-related topics your child sees in the news.
Age 12: By now, kids are formulating their own values, so check in every so often to provide a better context for the information your child’s getting. But avoid overkill or you’ll be tuned out.
Handling specific questions
Your child’s questions about sex don’t always come up at convenient times or in predictable ways. Some common scenarios that can catch you off guard, and how to respond.
Situation 1: Your 3-year-old is fascinated by her baby brother’s diaper changes. “What’s that?” she asks, pointing to his penis.
How to respond: You may be tempted to change the subject quickly, and fasten that diaper even faster, but that can give kids the idea that talking about private parts is taboo. Instead, be matter-of-fact and say, “That’s how you can tell the difference between a girl and a boy. It’s called a penis. You have a vagina.” Don’t be surprised if the question comes up again and again while your child sorts it all out.
Situation 2: You’re in line at the grocery store when your preschooler looks up and asks, “Why is my penis getting hard?”
How to respond: If a question arises at an inopportune moment, it’s okay to give an incomplete answer, along with a promise to fill in the rest later on. “That’s a really great question. We can talk more about it in the car if you want.” But it’s important to come back to it later and answer any questions your child has.
Situation 3: You catch your child touching or rubbing her private parts.
How to respond: Kids start to explore their bodies, including their genitals, at a very early age. Babies will touch themselves during diaper changes, and toddlers will sometimes stick their hands down their pants. They do this for comfort.
You might say, “I know that touching feels good, but it’s something to be done in private.” Don’t act as though masturbation should be avoided. Taking her hands away with a swift “Let’s go color” is like saying, “What you’re doing is so awful that I’m going to pretend I didn’t see it.”
Situation 4: You’ve explained that when a mommy’s egg and a daddy’s sperm combine, a baby begins to grow. Now your 6-year-old asks, “How does the sperm get to the egg anyway?”
How to respond: Your explanation doesn’t have to be a big deal. You might start by saying, “Daddies have to be close enough to mommies so the sperm can come out of their bodies and get into the mommies. The sperm comes out of the daddy’s penis and goes right into the vagina, a special place in the mommy’s body made for keeping the sperm safe and helping it get to the egg.” If your child asks additional questions, offer a slightly more detailed explanation: “A penis is made to fit into a vagina sort of like an arm fits into a sleeve.” If you want to introduce a moral framework, you might say, “God had a great plan for mommies and daddies to make babies. He designed them differently so they fit together like a puzzle. The sperm comes out of a daddy’s penis and swims inside the mommy’s body till it reaches the egg.”
Situation 5: Your grade-schooler’s friend tells him how to get to an x-rated website. You walk into the family room later and find him staring at a naked woman on the screen.
How to respond: Try not to get angry. Your son’s interest is only natural. Still, you need to make it clear that such material isn’t appropriate for kids. Condemn the pornography without judging him. Calmly say, “That’s a website for adults; you need to stick to sites for kids.” Then bookmark the sites you’ve approved — and be sure to download some parental controls for the family computer.
Talking about sex with your child is never easy. The best approach is to keep your answers age-appropriate, and spare your child the details, which can overwhelm or confuse him. And of course, be open to discussing anything that’s on your child’s mind, even though it may be awkward. Remember that sex education is a part of the healthy personality development of your kid.