How does one have a sex talk with a young child?
It is never too soon to start talking to your young child about the basics of their bodies and that of the opposite sex. Pre-school children are exposed to lots of opinions, ideas and misconceptions that come from other children their own age and older. Their peers are becoming important to them so they are likely to put a great deal of faith in the ‘facts’ that they may hear from other children, no matter how outrageous they are.
Preschoolers are also ready for slightly more sophisticated answers to their questions about sexuality now. And at this age they’re still not too embarrassed to ask. Parents are much more likely to be the ones blushing or avoiding the topic.
At the same time, a 5 year old can’t [and doesn't need to] grasp the actual mechanics of sex, they don't understand the emotions behind adult love, and they may be frightened by discussions of erections, periods, labour and other bodily functions that they can’t understand.
How to talk about it…
1. Be calm and relaxed.
It is best to be as matter-of-fact as possible when your child asks questions so that she/he doesn’t get the message that talking to you about sex [or any other difficult topic] is embarrassing or taboo. Many adults feel awkward talking about sex with their children, because they don’t have much practice doing it and because they’re afraid of telling too much once the discussion gets going.
The best strategy is to try to answer questions kindly and calmly, however unusual or embarrassing it seems. If talking about sex is difficult for you, try rehearsing your answers in advance, either done alone or with your partner or spouse. “The important thing is for a parent to explain difficult topics without seeming anxious. The child is picking up on the melody line, not the words.” Profession of Psychology, Jerome Kagan.
2. Keep it simple.
At this age the best answers are short and uncomplicated. “How are babies made?” “ Well, it’s an amazing thing: a seed from the daddy and the egg from the mommy join together in the mommy’s tummy. That’s where the baby grows—in a special sack there, called the womb.”
While you don’t want to sound like a doctor, you should use the correct names for body parts [penis and vagina—not pee-pee or wee-wee]. It will lessen any sense that sexual topics are off-limits and embarrassing. Keep answering questions as long as there is interest shown, but don't overload them with information when they’re ready to stop asking and play with a toy.
3. Encourage their interest.
No matter what your child’s question, try not to snap, “Where did you get that idea?” and don’t try to steer the conversation elsewhere. Either way, your child will get the message that her/his questions are taboo, and that she’s bad for even thinking them.
“You want to be an ask-able parent”, says Pepper Schwartz, a sociology professor and co-author of Ten talks parents must have with their children about sex and character. Your child should know you love this kind of conversation. She’s constantly forming pictures in her mind of what reality is— and they’re not always accurate. You want to be there to give her the truth and assuage any worries. So answer her questions and praise her for asking them.
4. Use everyday opportunities.
You don’t have to wait for your child to start asking all the questions. At this age she may already know a fair amount about sexuality and reproduction simply by having watched the mommy goat nursing her baby at the zoo or by asking you about the broken bird’s egg she found in the garden. Many children’s books and movies also provide opportunities for talking about babies and how they are born. Some parents use story time to look at children’s books that are specifically about reproduction.
5. Teach Privacy.
Your young child understand the occasional need for ‘private time’. And she should know that she needs to knock before coming in when your door is closed. Be sure to follow the same rule yourself when your child has shut her door. She may or may not really desire privacy at this age, but she’ll better understand the household rule if you follow it too. A young child should also know that her private parts are private, and that no one should touch her there but mom and dad, the doctor and then only for helping after using the toilet or for a check up. Let her know that if anyone else tries to touch her there, she can and should say no, and she should tell you or another trusted adult nearby.
Thanks to Mary Van Clay for input to this article.
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