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    How To Talk To Your Kids About Sex

    Jason Hays, LCSW and Beth Petersen, PsyD Deaconess Clinic Behavioral Health 02/16/2017

    This blog is about the talk that no one wants to have: The Talk…the talk with your kids about sex, where babies come from, etc.

    But one of the first points we want to make is that this shouldn’t just be one talk—to really help your kids understand sexuality, and make good choices, there should be open communication over many years, and many discussions should be had.

    We’re going to share suggestions on how to have age-appropriate discussions, how to keep the lines of communication open as your kids age, and tips on having uncomfortable-but-important conversations with your kids on just about any topic.

    Teachable Moments
    Embrace “teachable moments,” which are everyday events that give you plenty of chances to teach your child about topics related to sex. For example, talking about body parts during bath time will be much more effective than talking about body parts during dinner. A pregnancy or birth in the family is a good time to discuss how babies are conceived and born.

    Teachable moments can happen anywhere—while shopping, watching TV, or even at the park. Use them when they happen. You won't need to make a speech. First, find out what your child already knows—you m ay be surprised! Let your child guide the talk with her questions, or ask questions back such as, “Well, what do you think?” Some children may not ask for information if they think you might be uneasy with it. Others might test you by asking embarrassing questions. Talk openly, and let your child know she can ask you about anything.

    Being Age -Appropriate
    First of all, use your best judgment to keep conversations at an age or developmentally-appropriate level.  This may vary by each child, as some may be more inquisitive, while others may not have any questions but still need to know information that they may not ask for.

    Very young children often want to know “where babies come from,” “how do babies get inside mommies’ tummies,” etc.  It’s best to always be honest, and give accurate information, but limit the information to only what is necessary.  For example, if your four year old wants to know the answers to the questions above, it’s probably Ok to tell him that babies form because a daddy plants a seed inside a mommy.  Adding in more biology and context is something for a later time.

    When your child begins to ask questions, the following might make it easier for both of you:

    • Don't laugh or giggle, even if the question is cute. Your child shouldn't be made to feel ashamed for her curiosity.
    • Try not to appear overly embarrassed or serious about the matter.  Answer questions in the same manner as other questions they ask. 
    • Be brief. Don't go into a long explanation. Answer in simple terms. Your 4-year old doesn't need to know the details of intercourse.
    • See if your child wants or needs to know more. Follow up your answers with, "Does that answer your question?"
    • Listen to your child's responses and reactions.
    • Be prepared to repeat yourself. Here are some age-specific tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

    18 months to 3 years of age. Your child will begin to learn about his own body. It is important to teach your child the proper names for body parts. Making up names for body parts may give the idea that there is something bad about the proper name. Also, teach your child which parts are private (parts covered by a bathing suit).

    4 to 5 years of age. Your child may begin to show an interest in basic sexuality, both her own and that of the opposite sex. She may ask where babies come from. She may want to know why boys' and girls' bodies are different. She may also touch her own genitals and may even show an interest in the genitals of other children. These are not adult sexual activities, but signs of normal interest. However, your child needs to learn what is all right to do and what is not. Setting limits to exploration is really a family matter. You may decide to teach your child the following:

    • Interest in genital organs is healthy and natural.
    • Nudity and sexual play in public are not all right.
    • No other person, including even close friends and relatives, may touch her "private parts." The exceptions are doctors and nurses during physical exams and her own parents when they are trying to find the cause of any pain in the genital area.

    Elementary-School Age
    As your child moves into and through elementary school, you will need to start being more biologically accurate and specific.  They will start hearing things from “those other kids,” and you need to be the source of calm, safe, accurate, truthful information.

    Sexuality is part of every person’s life, no matter what the age. As your child grows and develops, she may giggle with friends about "private parts," share "dirty" jokes, and scan through dictionaries looking up taboo words. Her curiosity is natural, and children of all ages have questions. When she is ready to ask you, as a parent you should be ready to answer.

    • "How old do girls have to be before they can have a baby?"
    • "Why do boys get erections?"
    • "What is a period?"
    • "How do people have sexual intercourse?"
    • "Why do some men like other men?"

    5 to 7 years of age. Your child is learning much more about how people get along with each other. He may become interested in what takes place sexually between adults. His questions will become more complex as he tries to understand the connection between sexuality and making babies. He may come up with his own explanations about how the body works or where babies come from. He may also turn to his friends for answers.

    It is important to help your child understand sexuality in a healthy way. Lessons and values he learns at this age will stay with him as an adult. It will encourage meaningful adult relationships later.

    8 to 9 years of age. Your child probably already has developed a sense of right and wrong. She is able to understand that sex is something that happens between two people who love each other. She may begin to become interested in how mom and dad met and fell in love. As questions about romance, love, and marriage arise, she may also ask about homosexual relationships. Use this time to discuss your family's thoughts about homosexuality. Explain that liking or loving someone does not depend on the person's gender and is different from liking someone sexually.

    At this age, your child will be going through many changes that will prepare her for puberty. As she becomes more and more aware of her sexuality, it is important that you talk to her about delaying sexual intercourse until she is older. Teaching your child to be sexually responsible is one of the most important lessons in her life.

    Remember….Talking about sex and sexuality gives you a chance to share your values and beliefs with your child. Sometimes the topic or the questions may seem embarrassing, but your child needs to know there is always a reliable, honest source she can turn to for answers—you.

    For information about talking with your teenager (middle/high school age) about sex, visit our blog on this topic.

    Sources for this blog include:
    American Academy of Pediatrics – Talking To Your Young Child About Sex
    American Academy of Pediatrics – Talking To Your Child  About Sex

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