When Max (now 11) was a baby, I would think occasionally about how I’d handle “the talk.” What I didn’t realize then was that there is no such thing as “the talk.” Talking to your kids about sex and life changes is something that starts pretty early, as early as 3 years old, when they ask that dreaded question, “Where do babies come from?” This is followed sometimes immediately after, but usually much later, even years later by, “How do they get there?” I know it’s cliché, but at some point, they all ask. As they grow, the nature of their questions evolve, and “the talk” in reality becomes “the talks.”
I always knew what I would say to my kids when they asked me the big questions. The only problem was that in my mind, they were about 8 or 9 when they asked me what sex was, and in this scenario, I was hip and cool, and felt completely at ease. It wasn’t awkward. I just laid it all out there. I also had 3D diagrams in the drawer of the large oak desk in my study. (The fact that I had a study should have alerted me that this was a fantasy.) In reality, though I am young and very cool, it is reeeeeeeeeally awkward.
I thought I’d share with you some tips that I’ve picked up to hopefully make “the talks” a little easier on you:
1. Be prepared! Arm yourself with knowledge. Talk to other parents. Read books and articles. While you can’t prepare for all the questions you may get–like, “Mom, what’s it mean to give someone a ‘cheese grater?'” (I saw the phrase once on askmen.com or something, and I still don’t know what it is, nor do I want to.) So while you can’t prepare for everything, it’s nice to have at least some idea of what you are going to say.
2. Dish out a little at a time. When your 3 year old asks where babies come from, that doesn’t mean you have to explain the mechanics of sex. When your 8 year old asks exactly what sex is, that doesn’t mean you have to explain how oral is performed, and so on. Answer honestly and simply, but remember that to them it is not always a life-changing conversation. Sometimes they just have a simple question, and when you answer it, they are satisfied. Well, for the moment anyway.
3. Don’t go it alone, and feel free to (conscientiously) pass some of it off to others. There are resources out there to help you prepare, and to help you through it. There are books, videos (like the one above), foundations, and organizations like the Chicago based For Youth Inquiry. They have all sorts of resources and materials for parents and children on every topic you can imagine. If you are uncomfortable answering a certain question, it’s okay to ask for help. Organizations like the aforementioned, school counselors, and even churches have resources for you and your child. Some churches, like the Unitarian Universalist church, even offer sex education classes.
As for books, head to your library. We checked out a few books for the toddler/lower elementary set when I was pregnant with my second child. When they get to be a little older (10 and up), I highly recommend a book called It’s Perfectly Normal. It covers all the topics that make most parents quite squeamish, and in plain, straightforward language. It starts with the basics and builds as kids mature. We own this one. My son has only read the first few chapters, but as he gets older, it’s there for him to refer to. In later chapters, it even covers proper condom use and has information on the controversial HPV vaccination. (Note: It does have illustrations. I recommend screening any book, including this one, before handing it to your kid.)
4. Approach them if they aren’t asking. You don’t have to wait around for them to get the ball rolling. If your kids are shy on the subject, or just haven’t brought it up with you for whatever reason, check in with them. They might have taken a class at school. Talk to them about it. Find out what they learned in that class, and if they have any questions. Are there any holes that need to be filled? They could be getting their information elsewhere, like from their friends. It’s your job to make sure that they A) have good, quality information, and B) know that they can come to you with questions.
Kids can come to all kinds of crazy (and even scary) conclusions when left on their own. When I was a young teen, I actually believed that the first time having sex was so horrible and humiliating of an experience for a girl that she should do it with a stranger, or someone she doesn’t love. That way, when she meets the guy of her dreams, she won’t ruin the whole relationship with her awkward virginity. Yeah. True story. Remember that knowledge is power. We want our kids to be armed and prepared when they are out there in the world. If we don’t talk to our kids about sex, we’ll never find out if they think they can’t get pregnant if they do it upside down. (You’d be surprised at what they come up with.)
5. Don’t leave anything out. While you do, as I said, need to dish it out in consumable servings, kids still need all the information. Don’t skip over things like masturbation, homosexuality, coercion, rape, stds, or whatever it is that makes you most uncomfortable. If you just can’t fathom discussing it, or you don’t want to do it alone, refer to my tip #2.
6. And finally, make sure they know that it’s not their job to inform all their peers. It didn’t occur to me to tell Max that the “sex conversation” is something that each kid needs to have with an adult in his or her life. Since I neglected that information, when he was 8, he took it upon himself to explain exactly what sex was to his 5 yr old cousin, Wesley.
Here’s a conversation they had, after Max explained to him the mechanics:
Wes: Whoa. I am NEVER doing that.
Max: You will if you get married.
Wes: If my wife wants to do that, then I won’t marry her.
Max: Well fine, but you still have to do it if you want kids, unless you want to adopt.
Wesley thought about it good and hard for about a minute.
Wes: Alright. I’ll do it. I will do it for my kids.
Ah, the things we are willing to sacrifice for our children. Even at 5, Wesley understood that concept.
For the record, I didn’t hear this conversation first hand. This was according to Max. I wasn’t in the room. Max only told me about it because he was concerned about his cousin’s future.
So good luck to all of you. Be like little Wesley, and even if you are uncomfortable, do it. Do it for your kids. =D
Is there anything you would add, or any resources you wouldn’t live without? Please share them in the comments.
I like the book “It’s Perfectly Normal” also, but I always recommend it with a warning for parents to pre-read first because it pretty much lays it all out there. ~ Lara
I’ll throw in a recommendation for the Usborne puberty books. They have one specifically for boys and one specifically for girls. ~ Charlie