If you are around your child enough, one day he/she will ask you, “Where did I come from?” or
worse , “What is sex?”. Then you will all of a sudden feel breathless and try your best to hide your nervousness. I mean, isn’t that what the parenting books said? Remain calm? Don’t panic? Or feel cornered? This is your CHILD you are talking to, not a commission of inquiry? Sigh.
Way much easier said than done.
Whether your parent sat you down to tell you about the birds and the bees or they delegated that to the Home Science teacher, if you have children your time will come. Your time will come to ‘start the conversation’ . See , it is no longer called giving the talk any more. It is called the beginning of an ongoing conversation. And you don’t have to wait for your child to ask. You will be surprised , how much they have picked up from their peers in school already.
To that end, here are tips I got from my ever reliable online parenting companion, BabyCenter.com.
“Your grade-schooler is also exposed to lots of opinions, ideas, and misconceptions that come from other children. He’s likely to believe the “facts” he hears from his friends, no matter how outrageous they are. And if your 8-year-old has some 10-year-old buddies, he may be asking you questions you didn’t think you’d have to handle so soon. When he hears your answers, he might take them in stride or he might react with a loud “Yuck!” This is a clear — and healthy — sign that he’s just not ready to learn more details about sex yet. Most children under the age of 8 can’t, and don’t need to, grasp the actual mechanics of sex, and discussions of erections, periods, labor, and other aspects of sexuality may frighten them. Here goes :
Be calm and relaxed (told ya! ) It’s not easy to keep from cringing when your child asks you what a “boner” is. Just do your best to speak calmly, so you can respect your child’s natural curiosity without being judgmental. Each time you successfully tackle a sensitive topic, the anxiety level (for both of you) goes down. If you avoid these talks, your child won’t learn your values about sex, but will develop his own from what he gleans from friends and the media.
Many adults feel awkward talking about sex with their child because they don’t have much practice doing it (the talking 😉 ) and because they’re afraid of telling too much once a discussion gets going . The best strategy is to try to answer questions calmly and succinctly, however unusual or embarrassing it seems. If talking about sex is difficult for you, try rehearsing your answers in advance, either alone or with your spouse or partner. Take advantage of questions that come up when you’re both at ease — in the family room, on a walk, or during those quiet moments when you’re tucking him into bed. The car is also a great place to talk, since having to keep your eyes on the road allows you to avoid eye contact, which may help you stay more relaxed.
“The important thing is for a parent to explain difficult topics without seeming anxious,” says Jerome Kagan, professor of psychology at Harvard University. “The child is picking up the melody line, not the words.”
Really listen. Resist the temptation to jump in with speeches the minute your child asks a question about sex. Parents have been known to embark on a long explanation of conception and birth only to hear their 6-year-old interrupt, “No, I mean Timmy said he’s from California; where did I come from?” To make sure that you understand his question, you might try responding to your child’s question with another question. “How do babies grow — do you mean, how do a mom and dad start a baby growing? Or how does the baby get food when he’s growing inside the mother?”
Keep it simple. Answers to questions about conception and birth can be a bit more detailed for grade-schoolers, but you probably don’t need to go into detail about sexual intercourse yet. And while you don’t want to sound like a doctor, you should use appropriate language (“penis” and “vagina,” not “wee-wee” or “pee-pee”). It will lessen the sense that sexual topics are off-limits and embarrassing. “How are babies made? The dad has seeds, called sperm, which are made in the testes, in that special pouch of skin hanging behind his penis. Millions of tiny sperm are made there all the time. They get mixed with a white liquid called semen. The mom’s eggs grow inside her body, in her ovaries. Every month the mom’s ovaries make an egg. When we made you, semen from Daddy’s penis carried the sperm into my womb. Just one sperm joined up with the egg, and that was the start of a new baby — you!” Your child may or may not be satisfied with that answer. Keep answering his questions as long as he shows interest, but don’t overload him with information if his next comment is, “Okay. What’s for dinner?”
Encourage their interest. No matter what your child’s question, try not to snap, “Where did you get that idea? We don’t talk about things like that,” and don’t try to steer the conversation elsewhere. Either way, your grade-schooler will get the message that his perfectly normal questions are taboo, and that he’s bad for even thinking of them. “You want to be an ‘ask-able’ parent,” says Pepper Schwartz, a sociology professor at the University of Washington in Seattle and coauthor of Ten Talks Parents Must Have With Their Children About Sex and Character. “Your kid should know you love this kind of conversation. He’s constantly forming pictures in his mind of what reality is — and they’re not always accurate. You want to be there to give him the truth and assuage any worries.” So answer his questions and praise him for asking: “What a good question! Ask me some more any time you want to.” If you don’t know the answer, tell him honestly, “I’m not sure, but let’s go look it up together.” Your willingness to talk honestly with your child is an ongoing gift he’ll need as he steers his way through the confusions of childhood, adolescence, and beyond.
Use everyday opportunities. You don’t have to wait for your child to ask all the questions. You’ve probably already been discussing sexuality for years, simply by talking about the mommy goat nursing her baby at the zoo or examining the broken bird’s egg he found on the sidewalk. Keep using those moments, as well as scenes of family life in movies or on TV, to talk about relationships and sexuality. Books also provide perfect opportunities for talking about sex and birth. “For grade-schoolers I highly recommend What’s the Big Secret? by Laurie Krasny-Brown and Marc Brown, the creator of the Arthur books,” says Pearl Simmons, an education specialist who teaches parenting classes at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Teach privacy. Your grade-schooler understands the occasional need for “private time” and he should know that he needs to knock before coming in when your door is closed. Be sure to follow the same rule yourself when your child has shut his door. It’s also a good idea to continue to emphasize to your grade-schooler that his private parts are private. It’s not unusual — and not really erotic — for 6-year-olds to experiment by “playing doctor,” so there’s no need to scold your young grade-schooler if you catch him doing this. But he can learn that no one else should touch him there but Mom, Dad, or the doctor, and that he should say “no” to anyone who tries to touch his private parts against his wishes. “This is an important issue, and you should teach it proactively,” says Simmons.
Babycenter.com goes ahead to give these sample answers to difficult questions…
- “What’s sex?”
- A 6, 7, or 8-year-old is most apt to ask this question if something he’s seen or heard — usually from an older child or on TV — introduces the idea. Don’t shy away from it, but remember that children this age are probably still too young for details about the mechanics of sex. However, even 6-year-olds can learn that there’s an emotional element to sex. You can tell him, “The word ‘sex’ is sometimes used to mean whether someone is a boy or a girl, like when we ask, ‘What sex is the baby?’ Sex is also one of the ways two grown-ups can show that they love each other very much, by touching each other’s body during private time together. Or say, it’s short for ‘having sex’ or, it is a way to say ‘making love.’
- “How does the baby get out?”
- Children are fascinated with pregnancy and birth, and they may envision anything from Mom vomiting up the baby to Dad unzipping Mom’s belly and letting the baby walk out. Grade-schoolers can be told, “When the baby is ready to be born, the bottom of the womb — which is called the cervix — slowly stretches open. Strong muscles in the womb push the baby down the vagina and out from between the mom’s legs. This takes a few hours.” Other questions about pregnancy and delivery include, “Does it hurt to have the baby? How does the baby get food when he’s inside of you? What does he look like now?”
- “What are you and Dad doing?”
- Many parents dread that their child might walk in on them during sex. It can also be acutely embarrassing for your grade-schooler. It’s nearly impossible not to get flustered, but try (and then start locking the bedroom door!). You can say, “Honey, Daddy and I need privacy right now. If you go back to your room, I’ll be there in just a minute.” Then put on a robe, take a few deep breaths, and go talk to your child. “Mom and Dad were making love, showing how much we care about each other. We usually lock the door because that’s private. We forgot this time.” Depending on your child’s reaction, you can ask, “Did that upset you? Is there anything you need?” Make sure your child isn’t scared or worried by what he saw, and be sure to emphasize that he didn’t do anything wrong. Don’t chide, “You should have knocked!” By now your child is already wishing he hadn’t gone in.
- If you’re sure your grade-schooler understood what he saw, you might try to ease the tension with a little humor by saying, “Well, this isn’t exactly how I’d planned to teach you about sex! I’m a little embarrassed, but I’ll get over it. Now, ask me anything you want.” A grade-schooler’s response to seeing you making love can range from an upset, “Were you hurting each other?” to a curious “Why were you making that noise?” to an embarrassed, “I’m getting out of here!” “
If you ask me, I’d rather the bedroom-locking option , any day.