Possibly the most awkward conversation starter a parent will ever utter, but, believe it or not, it isn’t as difficult as most parents think. Mostly, because it isn’t a single conversation, but an ongoing dialogue that starts when your children are young. Here’s the best advice from local child psychologists.
Start with a plan
Discuss your beliefs with your spouse and decide what you want your children to know and when to tell them what. Even young children are bound to ask questions, and you need to be prepared with developmentally appropriate answers that match your values.
Talking to younger children
Keep in mind that simple questions need simple answers. When talking to young children keep your answers brief, honest, and straightforward enough that they understand but are not confused. If this sounds difficult, be prepared with answers to questions you think might come up, including “How does a baby get in a mommy’s tummy?” “Why are boys different than girls?” and the all-too-familiar, “Where do babies come from?” Remember, you’re building a foundation here, where you are the authority they come to for these sorts of questions, so be honest.
Sex education in school
Kids get their first formal sex education in public schools in the fifth or sixth grade. (It goes on from there in middle school and high school with abstinence, being the primary message). Do not let this be the first time they hear about sex. Remember, you want to be the authority so they’re not looking to media and playground talk to figure these things out. At this age, be ready for lots of informal conversations that you can build on, and let them set the pace. It’s a good age to ask questions like, “What do you know about sex?” and “What are other kids saying about sex?”.
Getting through to teenagers
Tweens and teens: okay, this is when the conversation gets tough. Keep in mind that “The Talk” is an ongoing conversation, and at this age you’ll probably need to be the one to keep it going.
Thankfully(?), media offers lots of opportunities to bring up sex, and by now, your child has probably been exposed to plenty of informal messages. Start with, “What are they really saying here?” after that beer or hamburger commercial and see where it goes. Be a listener first then provide the information they need. Ultimately, you want to be their most reliable source of information, so keep it real.
If you hit a wall, pick a place where your kids are comfortable, like the car or during a boring movie. Keep asking questions, listening, then providing your expert advice a little at a time with a fair amount of frequency. Remember you want to be the authority, and the hope here is that they come to you for answers when they’re faced with difficult situations.
- “The Talk” is an ongoing conversation
- Have a plan
- Keep it simple for the little ones
- Be the authority
- Keep the conversation going
And good luck!
*adapted from a Simply Family Magazine article printed in February 2012