The Time Has Come...
So, just when you thought you were safe for having mastered the “Where do babies come from?” question, your pre-teen is finding a whole host of other sexual issues that they find fascinating. And, while they think some of it is just ridiculously funny, you are feeling horrified at the notion of having to explain any of this to them. They are making jokes about body parts, body functions, and sexuality, while you are terrified and frightened over losing your “innocent” child. But have no fear, you will get even, because although they are laughing with their peers about these issues, they will feel just as awkward and embarrassed when you broach the subject with them! So, what do you do when the time has come...
Why Now and How?
Sexual information and innuendos come to your children from a variety of sources- videos, TV shows, radio, on-line chats, and peers. These days, it comes to a head as soon as children are old enough to Google or ask Siri the meaning of things they are hearing and seeing. So, in our elementary school, as development has been naturally unfolding, our upper elementary aged parents are thinking it’s time to have the dreaded “talk”. But how do you begin to address anything related to sexuality with your child? How and when do you begin “the talk?” What’s ok to say or not to say?
Some General Guidelines
1. First, the “talk” is a fallacy. It's not really one talk, but an ongoing, low key dialogue that takes place right through the teenage years. There are many topics to cover and many different issues to discuss, some of which include, puberty, menstruation, reproduction, sexually transmitted diseases, contraception, unplanned pregnancy, abortion, homosexuality, and pre-marital sex. I know some of you are cringing while you read this list, so be grateful you don’t have to cover all of these in just one “talk”!
2. Consider the setting for your conversations. These kinds of talks are hard to do with direct eye contact, which may make you and/or your child feel uncomfortable. Great times for conversation may be during a long car ride, washing dishes together, washing a car, cleaning up a room, walking a dog, or during a long walk around the neighborhood.
3. Life provides lots of opportunities for talking about sexuality. If you've heard that words or topics have been discussed in school or while the kids are hanging out together, you could use that to start a conversation. You can also have a great conversation after watching a TV show together, especially if it showed a young person going through puberty or going out on a date. News events or advertisements with a sexual theme (you know how easy it is to find these) could prompt a natural discussion, as can seeing an ad that prompts thoughts about body image. I’ve had great discussions with my kids after we’ve run into a pregnant neighbor (or even pregnant animal). These teachable moments occur every day, and can help make the conversation easier and more natural.
4. Let your child take more of the lead on the discussion than you. The last thing you want is to over-share. When discussing a topic, try to find out what they really want to know or are ready to accept. You might want to start a discussion by saying, "What have you heard about that?", "What do you think about that?", or "Can you tell me what you know about that?" Then, keep answers short and simple, rather than give a full blown lengthy presentation. Don’t worry about what they are going to forget to ask. As they’re ready for information, they’ll seek it out. Explain new words that your child might not have heard before. Then after giving an answer, encourage your child to ask any follow-up questions by saying, “Is there anything else you want to know?” Try checking their understanding after you give them information by asking, “Does that answer your question?”
5. Listen, really listen. When they ask a question, tell them it was a great question and ask them what made them think of that. This will give you some insight as to what triggered their curiosity, what they might have already heard, and from whom. It can be tempting to jump in and give your point of view, but if we spend some time just listening and asking questions, we help our kids learn how to explain their ideas clearly. When you actively listen to what they are thinking, you are showing you really care about your children's thoughts and feelings. Make sure you show an understanding of their point of view by saying things like, “I understand how you feel”, or “I felt that way when I was your age, too.”
6. Answer their questions truthfully, but briefly. Too much information at once and they’ll tune out. I’ve found with elementary aged kids if I take more than 30 seconds to make a point, I may have lost their attention.
7. Don’t be afraid to bide yourself some time. If they catch you off guard with a question, you can say, “That’s an important question, and I want to make sure I give you the best answer. Let me think about it for a while." If there is something you find difficult to discuss, feel free to look at the list of resources provided at the end. Books can sometimes provide the words that we can't find.
8. It's helpful to start talking about sex in the context of talking about puberty. Children need to understand the changes in their own bodies first. If your children are using certain words for body parts, start by using their words, and then introduce them to the correct words as you begin to give more information.
9. Try to talk with your child about the basics of sexual intercourse before you talk to them about oral sex or any other specific issues of sexual expression. If they first understand that grown-ups have sex to express a special kind of love, it makes it easier to explain the idea of using different body parts to give pleasure to someone else.
10. Most importantly, don’t worry so much about messing up. Kids are amazingly resilient and you’ll have plenty of time to correct and clarify information you’ve given.
Resources- Books For Kids
What's the Big Secret?: Talking about Sex with Girls and Boys by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown
Ages 4 to 10. This book helps make the content of sexual anatomy, sexual development, and reproduction seem like normal conversation for children and adults. It is a sensitive reference to masturbation and intercourse.It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie H Harris and Michael Emberley
Ages 9 to 12. This is an updated edition of what is called the definitive book on kids’ sexual health. It includes a brand-new chapter focusing on safe Internet use. It's a universally acclaimed classic that is a cutting-edge resource for kids, parents, teachers, librarians, and anyone else who cares about the well-being of tweens and teens. It offers young people the information they need to make responsible decisions and stay healthy. It has been cited as The New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year and An American Library Association Notable Children’s Book.
It's So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families by Robie H Harris and Michael Emberley
Ages 6 to 12. An enthusiastic bird and reluctant bee narrate the comic cartoon panels that illustrate human bodies and reproduction with an emphasis on how families are created, including adoption, with an overall spirit of celebration. Specific topics covered include intercourse, birth control, chromosomes and genes, adoption and adjusting to a newborn sibling. Masturbation, sexual abuse, HIV and AIDS and homosexuality are handled intelligently and sensitively.Boys, Girls & Body Science: A First Book about Facts of Life by Meg Hickling
Ages 8 to 12. The story line is of a nurse talking to a class of young children, approaching the subject like a scientist (for example, scientists don't say "yuck!" they say "interesting!"). It provides pertinent information without getting into topics a young grade-schooler might not be ready for.
The Amazing Beginning of You by Matt Jacobson and Lisa Jacobson (Zonderkids, 2002)
Ages 8-12. It's Illustrated with photos, diagrams, and drawings. It contains explicit illustrations of prenatal growth and development. Explains the amazing truth about life before birth with respect for life and for the Creator who made each person unique.
What's Happening to Me? A Guide to Puberty by Peter Mayle
Ages 9 to 12. During the past 30 plus years, more than a million preadolescents and adolescents (and their parents) have benefited from the humor and honesty in this straightforward book. A few things are dated, e.g., the age of puberty has decreased, but reading it together continues to be a good way for parents to talk with children.
Ages 4 to 8. This book is now in use for a second generation. It's an easy to read and very explicit book with silly but tasteful cartoon images. It covers the basic facts such as conception and growth inside the womb through to the actual birth day. It also gives the names and shows the important parts of the body.
Amazing You! Getting Smart about your Private Parts by Gail Saltz
Ages 4 to 8. “A first guide to body awareness for preschoolers.” It's straight forward without giving more information than most preschoolers would ask for. It has good information included for parents. The text includes, “Lots of people have their own special names for their private parts, but it’s a good idea to know what the real names are, too."