When should I have “the talk”? What exactly do we talk about? I get a lot of questions from parents about how to talk about sex and sexuality with their kids.
Talking about the birds and the bees may not be as simple as those stegosaurus and T-Rex talks of days gone by, but don’t panic. Here are some tips to turn “the talk” into a terrific parenting moment.
- First of all, it isn’t a talk—it’s a series of talks. Parents put themselves under a lot of pressure by believing that this is a one-shot deal—and they better nail it. Don’t cripple yourself with performance anxiety. This isn’t the Oscars. You’ll have more than one opportunity to come at this. Ideally, talking about sex and reproduction is an ongoing, open dialogue between you and your child.
- Age appropriateness is an art, not a science. There are no hard and fast rules to govern what a child is told and when. Why? Because no two kids are the same—they live in different environments with different influences. Furthermore, each child interprets his world uniquely. Your middle child may dream up questions your eldest never asked and your youngest may be more precocious than either of them. So read the cues and respond accordingly.
- Meet them where they are. Before you start talking, ask a few question; find out how just much they already know. You don’t want to scare your child with too much information, but nor do you want to give too little information. Brushing off your 8-year-old’s questions about masturbation will only encourage him to get his questions answered elsewhere—a friend’s older brother, the internet. Not good.
- Keep it real. Sure, you can use analogies—linking the planting of seeds to grow flowers and the planting of seeds to grow babies makes good sense—but avoid sugarcoating and utter fabrications. (Sidestepping an unexpected bath-time question about baby-making with a story about the stork isn’t a good idea.) A vagina is not a “vee-vee” and a penis is not a “wee-wee.” The playground is full of misinformation and your kids are going to count on you for the truth. So give it to them straight.
- Nothing is verboten and nothing is bad. If you start censoring certain subjects, or, worse, telescoping disapproval when topics are broached, I guarantee that your child will go underground—taking his concerns elsewhere or repressing them altogether. Sexuality can be a source of titillation, sure, but also confusion. As kids mature, this issue bumps up against other issues—like self-concept, self-worth and belonging. And those are conversations you want to be part of!