Talking To Young Children About S-E-X
Sooo, here’s an awkward question for you! And I’m sure there are books out there, but I’m too lazy to Google them. What’s your best advice about dealing with the birds and the bees and medium-aged children?
I’ve got a 4 year old and a 7 year old and I just want to make sure I’m on the right track here. We label body parts appropriately, discuss why some parts are private, and have discussed the basics of baby growing- where babies grow and even how they get out! No one has asked yet how they get IN and while I’m pretty comfortable discussing body parts, I’m a little less comfortable discussing the mechanics of sex. I kind of want to have a good, age-appropriate answer before I’m asked. Any been there, done that advice? I mean, if asked, I’m planning to explain, but I don’t want to scar the poor dears with too much or confuse them with too little.
For the sake of future google-able privacy, please don’t include my name!
Personally, I’ve been a bit surprised at the LACK of questioning/curiosity my children seem to have on this particular topic. Which means as my children become less “medium-aged” (great term btw!) I’ve actually had to force a conversation or two on them, just to make sure they weren’t getting (possibly wildly inaccurate) information from other sources. Those conversations (thus far) have still remained pretty basic and straightforward (body part goes in body part, baby might be eventual result), but even that level of detail seems to be something beyond what is really needed at the 4 and 7 year old level. At those ages, we still talk more in the abstract. What makes a family? People who love each other. Sometimes when people love each other they decide they want a baby together.
Most of the follow-up questions (again, in my own experience, YMMV) tend to be about be more about the different “types” of families they know (two moms, two dads, single parents, couples without kids, etc.) and other things that sort of directly impact/involve themselves. (Which is very normal for this age range.) They like hearing the stories of how and when I found out I was pregnant with them or that they were going to be boys, how we chose their names, and what they looked like when they were born. Like you, the “how a baby gets OUT” conversation happened a lot sooner than the “how baby gets IN” question ever seemed to occur to them, probably because it involves a time/thing that happened before they existed. Thus they seem content keeping it kinda vague and abstract.
It’s really not enough to just view it as having “The Talk” with your kids; it’s more of an ongoing, open conversation.
ALL THAT SAID, we do have two books on the shelf about this topic, and both are books that I’d recommend to continue to the conversation and reinforce all the good stuff you’re already doing (i.e., labeling body parts accurately vs. silly nicknames, discussing private parts and associated boundaries/safety issues), or to just read yourself and have on-hand if/when your children start asking for more details.
The first one is Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts, which is written for the preschool-to-first-grade age range and basically includes everything but the p-in-v specifics, skipping from “when a man and a woman decide they want to have a baby” to the mechanics of sperm meeting egg. It’s mostly intended to teach children basic yet accurate anatomy of both their own reproductive parts and those of the opposite sex, and reinforces good touch/bad touch while ALSO making sure kids know it’s perfectly normal to be curious about their own bodies and other people’s. It does an excellent job of staying both straightforward and body positive, making it clear that while yes, there are rules and boundaries about our private parts, those parts of our bodies are not “bad” or anything to be ashamed of.
(And yes, there are cartoons of an unclothed boy and girl that are very detailed, much to the hilarious surprise of some Amazon reviewers. It also includes a line about it being okay to touch yourself, but to only do that in private, aka your room. This is also a noted point of contention in the Amazon reviews, but uhhhhh….I’m just happy the book reinforced that whole “IN YOUR ROOM PLZ” concept, cuz yeah. I do agree with the reviews that ding the book for not being super inclusive or diverse — most of the illustrations depict a white family and there’s no mention of gay, step- or single parents at all. My kids have the benefit of knowing a LOT of diverse and different family make-ups so we can have those conversations pretty naturally, but this book would certainly benefit from an update/reprint with an eye on diversity and inclusion.)
The second one is What’s the Big Secret? Talking About Sex With Boys and Girls. This is another one aimed at preschoolers to early elementary aged kids — so not enough detail for a child nearing puberty, but will again cover pretty much all the anatomy/sex basics and mechanics in an upbeat, non-overwhelming way. It’s just a frank, straightforward, “just the facts, ma’am” sort of book. This one actually discusses intercourse and touches on the fact that there’s pleasure involved as well, rather than it just being strictly a baby-making/reproduction thing. We bought this book AFTER Amazing You! (which honestly satisfied most of my kids’ initial questions and curiosity without providing ALL of the details) once we decided to have more of a guided, parent-led conversation with our oldest. Again, I appreciate that it presents all the information as a perfectly normal part of being a human without shame or judgement or religious overtones. It also tackles gender stereotypes just a few pages in to differentiate gender from biological sex (girls and boys can like whatever games and toys they want! boys can cry and girls are allowed to get mad!).
Again, it’s not the most inclusive resource if your family isn’t of the straight mom/dad variety, or if you’re looking for something that will cover stuff like IVF or adoption. This (slightly old) article includes a few recommendations that either explicitly depict different types of families or do a better job at being diverse and inclusive for “every kind of family and every kind of kid.” Those include What Makes a Baby?, It’s NOT the Stork, It’s So Amazing! and It’s Perfectly Normal. I plan to check all of these out myself, then hopefully include them going forward as my kids continue to ask questions. Because it’s really not enough to just view it as having “The Talk” with your kids. It’s more of an ongoing, open conversation, and it definitely helps to have solid resources around that remind both kids and parents that it is, indeed, a perfectly normal, natural thing to talk and ask questions about.
Photo source: Depositphotos/Tuja51
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