Talking to your kids about sex is a daunting task.
But what do you do when your little ones start asking questions and you think, “I thought I had time before I had to deal with this!”
Let’s face it, sex conversations are almost always awkward. But they are so important–the way we talk to our kids about sex can shape how they see sex themselves down the road. That’s why we put so much work into The Whole Story, so that parents of preteens and teenagers can have a helping hand through those conversations and we can take some of that awkwardness upon our shoulders!
I know many of you, though, are dealing with very little kids asking questions. And I’m thrilled to have someone here to help you today! Lucy Rycroft is guest posting for me today about how to handle sex education conversations when it’s your preschoolers or young kids asking the questions!
Here’s Lucy with 7 tips for teaching sex ed to preschoolers:
A couple of years ago, I gave a very spontaneous and not-at-all-planned-out account of how babies are made to my then four-year-old daughter.
She was obsessed with babies, playing with them all the time and even ‘breast-feeding’ them with a startlingly accurate hold – so sharing these details with her seemed no less appropriate than sharing dinosaur statistics with a dinosaur-obsessed preschooler.
I was led back to an occasion when Sheila blogged about how we speak to our pre-teens and teenagers about sex, ahead of launching The Whole Story, a fantastic video course which gives kids the stuff they need to know about sex and puberty, opening up discussion points with parents.
Sheila tackled several of the difficulties in communicating with our kids about sex – and it made me think that really, like anything in parenting, it starts with laying great foundations. And that starts from birth. We may think our toddlers are too young to know about sex – and in some senses we’re probably right. There are certainly details that they don’t need to know, and indeed wouldn’t understand yet. But how and when will you start that conversation, if no groundwork has been done? It’s a hard conversation to have at any age, but life is easier if there’s a natural lead- in, rather than the topic coming out of nowhere, so here are some ideas to get you started.
Allow your children to see you naked
This is kind of a no-brainer when your kids are really young, as chances are they will have plenty of opportunities to watch as you get dressed, or shower. But why is it important? Because one day your child’s body will start to change. And they will start to look at others’ bodies in new ways too. And they may come across pornographic images – or, at the very least, highly-airbrushed photos of celebrities wearing not very much. If the only naked bodies your child has seen are flawless and perfectly-shaped, then how will they develop a healthy and realistic view of a) how their own body should look, and b) sex? When my kids get to the age where the sight of Naked Mum is too embarrassing to deal with, at least they will have living memories of what a ‘real’ female body looks like, i.e. one which has hair and saggy bits and stretch marks and the rest, setting a healthy and realistic standard for the future.
Answer the questions you’re asked (and don’t worry about the ones you’re not)
Children are naturally inquisitive. They ask questions all the time about how things work and why things are the way they are. We mustn’t fob them off! Children are trying to work out their place in the world – they can only do that with knowledge of how the world functions. Our job is to help provide that framework for them. Our kids will only be looking for the information they can understand at their particular stage. Their questions might be BIG questions for sure – but they may not need as full an answer as you think. There will be plenty of opportunities to revisit these topics as they grow up.
For example, my four-year-old twin boys often ask why I’m wearing a ‘nappy’. My reply is simple, “Because every month, women have a bleed, and this catches the blood”. When they ask “Why?” (inevitable!), I can say “It’s all the stuff that might have made a nice home for a baby in my tummy, but I don’t have a baby in my tummy, so it’s not needed!”.
I’m not giving all the detail and technical names for everything, because they’re not asking that. I’m literally just answering their questions. They’re happy with the answer, and they move on to the next question – “Why are the clouds moving?” It’s just not a big deal to them!
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Make sure the facts are correct
It’s important to simplify the story of sex and puberty for our preschoolers – but equally important that, in our efforts to simplify things, we don’t replace complicated information with the wrong information. When your child asks you a question, your brain has to do two things: firstly, think of the answer to the question, and secondly, think of how to word it so that your child understands the answer.
In other words, please don’t tell your children that babies are delivered by storks! You will have a lot of unpicking to do later, if you tell, or support, an inaccurate delivery of the facts. You’ll notice that when I answered my twins’ question about my period, the answer was massively simplified – but it was still accurate. When their older sister gets her period, or when it comes up in conversation again, they will have the basic framework, upon which can be added more detail and understanding.
Get some good resources I am so looking forward to using Sheila’s The Whole Story as my children enter the pre-puberty stage. It looks like an amazing resource which provides a huge amount of detail for my kids which I’m sure I would forget about if it were left purely to me. And I love that it is designed to start a conversation between parents and their kids, that it doesn’t disempower parents from their role in the process. But don’t leave it till you have tweens to start to educate your children!
One of the best ways young children grasp concepts is through books and stories, and there are some brilliant resources out there which teach a Christian understanding of sex to the preschool age-group. Make sure you grab a couple for your kids’ library!
Try to stay as unembarrassed as possible
Even adults who are good friends can get a bit shifty when discussing ‘personal’ matters like sex or puberty. But your kids haven’t realized yet that there are any taboos surrounding this or any other tricky subject, which is GREAT!
Capitalise on this: use as many opportunities as you are given to impart information, before they start to become embarrassed. I know you’re probably embarrassed saying these words – but take heart that your kids aren’t. They just want you to respond to them, answer their question, and ultimately have a relationship with them. Try to remember this as you give your answer. Also, showing your embarrassment gives a negative message about sex, that it is something dirty and shameful, something we don’t speak about. Is this really a healthy message to pass on? This leads me on to…
Make sure your children know the correct names
When we use slang names with our children, it often reflects our discomfort as adults, rather than what’s best for our child. After all, we don’t use weird names for other body parts, right?! If we pass this discomfort onto our children, then they become awkward about discussing body parts or asking questions. And, more importantly, should they ever be the victim of sexual abuse, they will struggle to disclose what has happened, or to give evidence to police. From a safeguarding perspective, it is really, really important that your child knows the correct names for male and female genitalia.
Personally, I don’t think this means that they always need to be used within the family – but children should be aware of the correct names, and able to use them confidently and without embarrassment.
BOTH parents need to be willing to talk about BOTH sets of changes If you’re in a relationship with your child’s other parent, then try to both be cool when talking to both genders. If a daughter only talks to her Mum, and a son to his Dad, then they may grow up unsure of how to speak of these things with the opposite sex (which could potentially be a problem when they do start having sex, and it isn’t working, and problems need to be worked out between the two of them).
Girls also need to know that Dad is completely cool with the changes in her body, and not embarrassed to buy her tampons or chat with her about hormones. Boys need to know that Mum is cool with the changes that are going on for him too. Otherwise they may feel that these things are something to be ashamed of, something to hide and shut up about.
This can start from preschool age. Encourage your spouse or partner to answer your toddlers’ questions too. Don’t let it always be you! God has given us natural opportunities to educate our children about all aspects of life. Let’s capitalise on the natural interest they have about their bodies, and teach them with accuracy, patience and – as with everything in parenting – a sense of humor!
Leave a comment below if you have other tips, or to share how you started the talk in your family!
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What if Talking to Your Child about Sex and Puberty Didn’t Have to Be Scary?
The Whole Story does the hard part for you! This online video based course features Christian young people explaining to your kids all about sex, puberty, peer pressure, dating, hygiene, and more, so that your kids have all the information they need.
But it’s not a REPLACEMENT for you. It’s a RESOURCE. Let us start the hard conversations, so that you can continue them.