Seven Tips For Teaching Sex Ed to Preschoolers

by | May 17, 2019 | Parenting Young Kids | 35 comments

What do you do when your young kids are asking awkward questions? How do you respond? Here are 7 tips for talking about the deed with your little ones!

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!

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!

What do you do when your young kids are asking awkward questions? How do you respond? Here are 7 tips for talking about the deed with your little ones!

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!

  Lucy Rycroft, Blogger at The Hope Filled Family, freelance writer and stay-at-home mama.Lucy has a degree in Music from Oxford University and spent several years teaching teenagers in schools, and then teaching teachers! Since starting her family nine years ago, she’s stayed at home with no regrets.Besides being the PTA chair at her children’s school, helping with worship and kids’ work at church, and leading a weekly Parents’ Bible Study, she blogs at Desertmum, and writes frequently on adoption for Home for Good.Lucy lives in York, England, with her pastor husband and four kids..
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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.

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Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

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Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. E

    I don’t think it is necessary or appropriate for our kids to see us naked. After 1 or 2 years old.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a toddler or preschool kid seeing their parents naked. Especially if it’s the same-sex parent, it’s important for kids to know what their bodies will turn into! And with opposite-sex parents, it’s up to the family’s discretion, but at some point in the elementary school years it becomes inappropriate. But there are also exceptions–sons should be able to see their moms breastfeeding if that’s happening, and older siblings can help with changing diapers and the like when their siblings are little, too.

      But often when we are overly secretive about body parts we can accidentally create shame around the conversation. And that’s what we want to avoid.

      • Lucy Rycroft

        I think it’s entirely appropriate until the child feels that it isn’t, i.e. when they start to become embarrassed etc. My 9yo son doesn’t flinch when he walks into the bedroom when I’m getting dressed, but obviously I don’t deliberately flash in front of him!

        More than appropriate, I really believe it’s a vital part of having a healthy body image, and not being overly obsessed by, or shamed by, the various body parts we have. As I wrote, it’s also important for my sons, as well as my daughter, to have a healthy, normal view of what a woman’s body looks like, so that their view of sex doesn’t primarily come from porn or airbrushed models as they get older.

        • Natalie

          I agree, Lucy. I think a good middle ground also for parents who aren’t comfortable with their own nudity and their young child is introducing that child instead to classical art… pretty much everything or at least most art up till WWI is “safe” I’d say. I went to A LOT of art exhibits with my grandparents when I was growing up (guess it’s no wonder I ended up majoring in art history and museology, lol), so even though those were painting and sculptures and still idealised for their time, I was exposed to bodies (the larger percent being female bodies) that looked nothing like the standards I saw in magazines and on tv.

          Also, a side note about my experience with my family and nudity: I have no recollection of my own mother ever being naked in my presence. A bra and underwear was a very rare state of undress I’d ever see her in. Heck, she never even got into a bathing suit when we’d go to the beach because of how she felt about her body. But I remember my grandmother (her mother, who was also a much more curvy and also older woman obviously) regularly wearing just a robe straight out of the shower as she’d walk around the house changing and getting ready for the day. I think I saw her bare breasts maybe once or twice at a young age and it didn’t shock me because I was used to her walking around the house with maybe only one layer of clothing on, whereas my mother was always fully clothed. Needless to say, when it came to body talk, I was much more likely to go to my grandmother to talk about my body than to my mom, because even though neither ever walked around me in the buff, my grandmother seemed more accepting of her own figure and walked the line between modesty and acceptance much better than my mother did. So I don’t necessarily think even seeing your parent naked is the most important part of that. I think seeing them being confident in their bodies is priority #1 for us as parents when it comes to our bodies and what we imprint on our children.

          • Natalie

            Sorry, I have another thought on this topic: I do think it is extremely important for mothers to not only talk about vaginas/vulvas to their daughters, but to also show them theirs. A good time to do this could be when you’re showing your daughter how to use a tampon for the first time. I never saw another actual woman’s vagina up close (art and medical diagrams doesn’t count in my opinion) till I found out my husband was watching porn regularly, so I looked up some of the videos he’d been watching just to see what he was into. I’m sorry, but that’s NOT the way to do it, ladies!!! I think my own huge insecurities and shame and feelings of dirtiness concerning my vulva all go back to never actually seeing one till I was literally almost 30 and married with kids for years already!!! Girls need to see the real thing! They need to see what other vaginas look like so they can understand that all look different and that theirs is normal… especially now in the age of internet porn and the rise of labiaplasties and girls being concerned with how their vulvas look. Good grief! When in human history have women ever been self-conscious of that most intimate, unseen part of their bodies?! That’s what happens when a body part is kept secret and the only ones that are seen are the “perfect”, hypersexualised ones.

          • Rebecca Lindenbach

            I do think that we need to be open about anatomy, but I also do want to say that that is something I would have been incredibly uncomfortable with as a teenager learning how to use a tampon. I personally used diagrams and the like to understand and it worked great for me and I had a full education. I don’t think that parents should feel pressured to be putting their own genitals on display if they are not comfortable (being naked around each other and actively putting genitals in your child’s face are two very different things), and also we need to consider the child’s comfort level, as well. I would have felt almost assaulted if that had been done to me–and I was someone incredibly comfortable with her body. Even now, I’m actually beginning to have an anxiety attack even just thinking about that (and that’s from someone who is very comfortable with her body and has a very open relationship with her mother).

            Personally, I do think diagrams are a fantastic tool. Not just ones that show ovaries/uterus/etc, but diagrams of the vagina as well. It’s not crossing personal boundaries, it’s allowing the child to have their own safe space, and it’s still giving them the anatomy lesson they need. I understand where you personally are coming from, Natalie, but also want to say that not all parents need to act/think/parent the exact same way in this area and I think it requires a lot of attention to the nuances involved, including your child’s comfort level and need for personal space (I needed a lot–didn’t even particularly like hugs).

    • F.

      I agree with E. I think it’s inappropriate to allow nakedness freely in front of your children who are older than toddler age. I don’t think it has anything to do with “shame” which is a word that is hammered onto everything these days. It’s about modesty and teaching your child that your body is not shameful but it is special. Keeping it modestly covered around others shows respect for yourself and keeps it for your spouse. In the garden of Eden, God made clothing for the man and women to cover their nakedness-and there weren’t any other humans around yet!

    • Henna

      I understand that this is a North American blogger, and most readers are from there too, but just do remember that in many countries is it perfectly normal to go to sauna together as a family up till the kids are about 10 years old.

      I love going to sauna with my mom and my daughters as they will see the normal female body in different stages. We also use public swimming pools where women change and shower with no shame in shared areas for women (instead of having private closed-in stalls).

      It does something positive to a child’s body image to see a mom or other women being comfortable in her own skin (literally) and not trying to cover and hide. And then there comes a time when they do NOT want to see it anymore….little after 10 years old or so.

      But I would not show my private parts to my kids! That is a little too much information and not needed!

      So, just a reminder that it is normal for kids to see their parents naked in many countries in the world!

      • Lucy Rycroft

        Hi Henna, I’m actually British not American 😉

        • Henna

          Brilliant! I have many British friends. 🙂
          I was actually responding to “E” who said it is not necessary nor appropriate for our kids to see us naked. So, what about in UK, are parents as shy being naked as in US (for some reason I have not been talking about this topic with my British friends)?

          • Lucy Rycroft

            Hi Henna! We British are, on the whole, quite a modest people – but, having said that, there would be a wide variety of views I’m sure on nakedness. In fact, I’d love to do a survey, because the various friends I chatted to last week about this agreed with me about nakedness just not being a problem within families, whereas here on the blog I was surprised how many commenters were quite reserved about it!

            Having said that, I remember when my friend (we were late teens/early 20s at the time) said that her parents still occasionally walked round with no clothes on, coming out the shower or whatever, and it just was not a big deal in their house – but I was totally shocked as I would never want that with my parents! I guess it’s how you were raised, though – perhaps if my parents had been more open, then it wouldn’t have been an issue for me either.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Actually, my girls worked as lifeguards at the Y, and they still laugh about having conversations with their boss when they were all side by side in the shower! It takes a little to get used to, but that’s what it was like. In a lot of gyms people do change in front of each other here, too.

  2. Erin

    Can you provide a list of good sex ed books for various age brackets, please? I need help there!

  3. Natalie

    Great article!! My 2 year old son already knows the correct names for his body parts, but I’ve been trying to educate myself more so I’m not as nervous for when he starts asked the questions. I don’t wanna do what my parents did and inadvertently create shame around our bodies or make my kids thinks there’s something wrong or dirty about themselves. Cuz even if the parent verbally says “your body is good and beautiful and created by God”, if their reaction to your body (or their own bodies) says the opposite, the kid is gonna go with the latter reaction as default and truth.

    • Lucy Rycroft

      Love your comments and helpful ideas Natalie – thank you! Great idea to use classical art and how it depicts nakedness…really interesting and I’d never thought of that.

  4. Kim

    Love this content. It’s so real. My 5 yr old daughter has some how got it into her mind that she has to choose or find a spouse now – which is sweet, but when she asked the other day “mummy, can girls marry girls and boys marry boys” I got so lost in my own thoughts that all that came out my mouth was “…… well…..”
    What you’ve said about being open and real is all great advice. Interesting about the naked stuff…. I’m quite happy bring naked around my kids in the context of bathing and dressing for example, but for my husband he does his best for our girls to not see his bits. I guess they’re educated seeing their brother. I won’t talk about the time I heard my daughter say to my son “you hold it and I’ll cut it” . You’ve never seen me move so fast. 🤦‍♀️

    • Lucy Rycroft

      Oh my…that must have made your heart skip a beat!! Thanks for your comments. Yes my husband doesn’t exactly parade himself around our kids, but again when he’s showering or getting dressed it’s just not a problem if our kids walk in.

  5. Brievel

    Our bathroom/bedroom is set up oddly, with the tub and the toilet in the bathroom and the sink in the bedroom. So when I shave my legs my toddler (boy) sees – we’ve started giving him a covered razor like I use to pretend to shave his too (I imagine this won’t last much longer, as he never sees his father doing such things.) He also likes to use my dresses/skirts as tents! So he’s already seen it. Makes me feel weird, but better him seeing me than porn…

    He also likes boxing matches with his unborn brother…

    • Lucy Rycroft

      Go you! The more these things are normalised, the better.

  6. Allison Thompson

    I love these books:
    This link is probably to book 1, but there are different levels for different ages/curiosity levels.
    My girls have benefited from them for sure.
    To be honest, it seems weird to me the thought of my husband being naked in front of our 4 year old and 6 year old girls. The baby, sure. But it just seems a little strange to me. They love and adore their daddy, and he takes great care of them. I just find it a little uncomfortable for the children especially. But I guess God gives each kid the parents they need, and we trust that we’re setting our kids up to live healthy lives! 🙂

    • Lucy Rycroft

      Thanks for your helpful book suggestions. I suppose what I’m getting at is that we shouldn’t project our embarrassment onto our kids. So if your kids are embarrassed to see Daddy naked then absolutely be careful to honour that. But if it’s him being embarrassed then maybe that needs reviewing.

      • Christine

        Yes. I think there is a fine line with showing bodily acceptance but also in trying to protect our kids from predators. Little kids need to know that just because/if they see Mom or Dad naked, they should never see someone else naked…know what I mean?
        Normalizing the body is wonderful but it could be potentially dangerous.

        • A regular reader

          Christine, your comment prompted me to post a link to a great site that has been helpful to us in talking about child predators with our kids.

        • Lucy Rycroft

          Great point Christine. I guess that if they see Mum or Dad just getting dressed/showering, and not parading themselves in front of them, playing with themselves, or asking to be touched, then this is just absorbed as normal, healthy nakedness, whereas a predator would be acting very differently with nakedness.

  7. Donna Holm

    I like your advice Lucy, but one thing concerns me: if you mention that you might have had a baby in your tummy, a preschooler might very logically assume that they, too, may get a baby in their tummy! So then, when they get a virus and vomit, they might be terrified! I think it is far better to use the word uterus or even womb…

    • Lucy Rycroft

      Good point Donna! I would use the word tummy with my 4yos as they can understand whereabouts I mean, whereas ‘womb’ would confuse them. But I can use this language with my 7yo and 9yo. Obviously if my kids then thought this meant a baby was growing in their tummy I would explain, but so far my experience has been that they understand the difference. All kids are different though so I guess it’s just about doing what’s right for the child.

  8. Astrid

    This is such an underdiscussed ( if I may put the word together) topic. I don’t have kids if my own yet, but I work with 20 every day as a teacher in a Christian school. I’ve noticed that many of the kids have strong negative views of sexuality in general. I obviously don’t play the same role as parents, so it’s not really a topic I am allowed to freely discuss. That said, I have had several situations when I’ve had to address body issues. One example happened two days ago when a boy came running to me to report that a book on computer coding and design was nasty and dirty. Why? It showed a very generic non-detailed model of a human body being designed. It didn’t even have a head yet and was a gray color. You couldn’t tell if it was male or female. I asked him what about it was nasty. He looked at me like I was growing another head. I asked him if he believes God created our bodies with nasty parts and he answered “well, yeah. Not all of them, but some parts.” Again, I’m not the parent, but I felt it was important to discuss with him the difference between private and “nasty”. He walked away very deep in thought. I’m afraid that many Christian parents with truly good intentions are raising children who are scandalized by human bodies and often believe that genitalia are inherently dirty. This could really affect them later I think by making them either fully shy away from sexuality or become secretly (since they fear talking about it) obsessed with it often in it’s unintended form such as pornography.

    • Lucy Rycroft

      Oh Astrid, how sad. Yes, it was my hope with this blog post to get Christian parents talking about the topic and feeling empowered to talk about these tricky subjects with our kids.

    • Rachel

      I also grew up with the impression that my privates were dirtier than other parts. And my parents would never have said such a thing.

  9. Rachel

    It’s only been in the last year that I have kept my oldest son out of the room if I’m getting dressed. He’s going to be 8 soon. His papa and I have told him that it’s about respect for me now that he’s older. And we are starting to nudge him towards wearing more than underwear around the house also. Of course, it would help that concept out if my husband would do the same thing. 😃 I have had to give him some basic information about how my body is different from his, and I have explained a few times about my period, which I call “mama time” to him. Not in detail of course, but he knows that only women have what he calls “red pee.” (I have told him it’s blood, but as he only sees it in the toilet, I guess that was the connection his brain made.) I’m also rather glad I just have two boys at this point because I have less to explain. 😃

  10. Joe Caveman

    Hello from a new reader and first-time commenter. I appreciate this post and think that I would have benefited greatly if my parents followed these tips when raising me. (I think the only one they followed was using the correct names for body parts.)

    As a child, I always had the impression that I shouldn’t show any interest in anatomy, which, combined with a strong, general sense of curiosity, led me to seek answers elsewhere. I remember looking up “naked woman” on Google when I was only in fourth of fifth grade. One thing led to another, and I was hooked on porn throughout my teens.

    I also found this article personally helpful—specifically the tip about not worrying about questions your kid hasn’t asked. I tend to give long, detailed answers—often more information than the questioner wanted—and I can see now how this could discourage kids from asking me questions. I’ll keep this in mind when I have kids of my own, so thank you.

    I also appreciate the tip about allowing children to see their parents naked, and I’m wondering which other forms of nudity you consider acceptable. It’s sad how much of a taboo non-sexual nudity is in the U.S., and it’s a taboo that does demonstrable harm (such as in my case).

    That said, you closed the tip out with a line that is a bit overused and, in my opinion, misses the true benefit of children seeing nudity. It’s common to dismiss extremely beautiful pictures of women as airbrushed fantasies, but flawlessly beautiful women do exist in real life. Consequently, it’s incorrect and comes off as slightly egotistical or jealous when women who are roughly average in appearance insist otherwise. Of course, it’s just as delusional for a man to think he’s got a major chance of dating and marrying one of those women in the top .01%.

  11. Blessed Wife

    I really like the “just enough truthful information” model for explaining this stuff to children. However, even within this model, there’s lots of different answers that can lead to widely different understandings and reactions from the children.

    Take, for example, my mom’s answer and mine to the question, “Where do babies come from?”

    Her: “Out of ladies’ bottoms.”

    Mine, about 25 yrs later: “God takes a tiny piece from the mommy and a tiny piece from the daddy, molds them together like Play-Doh, and puts it in a special place in the mommy’s tummy to grow.”

    My mother’s four-word answer shut down all inquiry on the subject for years!😂 And when we did want to know more, we didn’t go to her for information, which suited her just fine.

    As my daughter (now in first grade) asks questions, I’ve been able to expand on my original answer.


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