"How does the baby get in the mommy's tummy?"
Gulp. Are you ready for this conversation? Chances are this question will come up at some inopportune moment when you feel least prepared to talk about sex.
For many, sex is a taboo topic that brings about embarrassment. Some cultures are more private, and sex is not talked about at all. Some people were raised by parents who made them feel ashamed about their bodies and sexuality, and so the discussion with their kids brings up uncomfortable memories and feelings.
We still have the responsibility of educating our children about sex, sexuality, reproduction, and health issues related to being sexually active.
No matter what personal or cultural reasons we have, we still have the responsibility of educating our children about sex, sexuality, reproduction, and health issues related to being sexually active. It's certainly better than ignorance, or worse — being misinformed by friends or the internet.
Here is an overview that will help you have a planned approach.
1. Start young.
Young children are curious about the world, so start with presenting simple facts. Teach them the proper names of their body parts with the same matter-of-fact manner you would when teaching them the names of car parts or household items. Stay calm, and give short answers — young kids have short attention spans and are developmentally only ready to hear the basics.
If you are nervous or find the words hard to say out loud, practice when no one can hear you. Let your child know they should know how their body works. Parents may be surprised at how early children need to know information. The age of sexual curiosity and activity is getting progressively younger.
2. Be truthful.
There is nothing your child can't handle learning. If you tell them the story of the stork leaving the baby on the doorstep, you have to eventually tell them the correct story. By doing this, you risk eroding the child's trust in you. Knowing the truth does not frighten children or make them become sexually active earlier. In fact, sexual education leads to more responsible decision making in youth. The age of first sexual intercourse experience is getting older and the number of unwanted pregnancies is decreasing as our society becomes more comfortable at providing sex education at home and in schools.
3. Talk often.
There is so much to know about this topic, you can't possibly sit down and say it all — children would be both bored and overwhelmed. Instead, have many little discussions over the years. Watch for your child's interest level so you don't go on like a lecture, nor stop too soon if they are really interested in knowing more about something.
Watch for teachable moments. On a trip to a farm, you can discuss how birds lay eggs while other animals, like pigs and cows, are mammals so they birth live babies. As kids get older, you can initiate the conversation by asking questions like, "Are kids in your grade starting to kiss?" "When do you think is the right time to start kissing someone?" "What if one person wants to kiss and the other doesn't?"
4. Be age appropriate.
Kids need to take in information at an age-appropriate level. For example, when explaining where a baby comes from, a toddler may hear that a baby is made when a seed from a man meets an egg from a woman, and their next question will be, "Can I have a popsicle?" A preschooler could understand an expanded idea to include that the seeds come from the man's penis when he puts his penis in the woman's vagina, or the egg and seed can be put together in a special dish to start growing there, and then moved into a woman's womb.
A young child should hear about diversity and inclusivity, too. Your child or their future peers may be LGBTQ, so be sure your language reflects all orientations.
5. Promote a positive attitude.
When your attitude is positive and open-minded, your child is likely to adopt a better attitude about their own body and sexuality. If they experience you as a trusted person to discuss such questions with, they are likely to come to you with more difficult concerns, like the worry of an STI or an eating disorder. If you don't feel you can make that connection with them or manage these topics, be sure to arrange another trusted adult to provide that sex education. Perhaps it's your partner, or an aunt or uncle. Even purchasing good books and reading them together is proof of a positive attitude. Take a deep breath. You may do better than you think!
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