Everyday life provides lots of opportunities for talking about sexuality. When watching a TV show that shows a young person going through puberty or going out on a date, seeing an ad that prompts thoughts about body acceptance, or running into a pregnant neighbour, we can use that to initiate conversations with our children. These teachable moments occur every day, and can help make the conversation easier and more natural.
When Should I Start Talking to my Kids About Sexuality?
Some of us plan "the talk" for months, expecting to say everything important all at once. However, talking with children about sexuality is a lifelong conversation. Doing a little bit at a time helps set realistic goals when we talk with our children. It also helps keep children from feeling overwhelmed. It's best to start talking with children about sexuality early. Children are curious about their bodies, and different kinds of relationships from a very early age.
Their curiosity creates a natural opportunity to begin the conversation and start building a respectful and trusting relationship. For young children, you can start by teaching them the names of their body parts or asking if they know why girls and boys look different.
When we talk to our children about sex, it's important to keep our conversation age appropriate. If a five-year-old asks, "What is birth?" we might respond, "When a baby comes out of a mother's body." If a 13-year-old asks the same question, our answer would have more details and might begin with, "After nine months of growing inside its mother's uterus, a baby comes out through her vagina..."
Providing young people with information that is age-appropriate makes it easier for them to understand that sex is a natural part of human and emotional development. It also makes it easier to talk with them about the more complicated aspects of sexual intimacy, as they get older.
Don't worry if you haven't started talking with your children about sexuality yet. It's never too late. Just don't try to "catch up" all at once. The most important thing is to be open and available whenever a child wants to talk.
What Kinds of Things Should I Tell my Kids?
It's important to give our kids truthful, useful, and accurate information that conveys our own values about sex and sexuality. It's also important to prepare them to make responsible choices whenever they become sexually active. So in addition to conveying our own values about sexual relationships, it's important to talk with teens about preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
How Can I Make our Conversations More Comfortable?
Talking about sexuality may be uncomfortable at first, but it will get easier in time. Being open to discussing sexuality can be challenging. It's common for parents and kids to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable when talking to one another about sex. Owning up to that can help relieve the tension. We might try saying, "It's totally normal that this feels awkward, but I love you and care about you so we need to talk about important things like this. In time and with practice, it will get easier.” The key is to keep the conversation open and ongoing."
Listening to children shows them that we're interested in and respect what they have to say. We don't always have to agree with what we hear, but it is important to pay attention to what they say.
It can be tempting to jump in and give our point of view, but if we spend some time just listening and asking questions, we help our kids learn how to explain their ideas clearly. We get to know each other even better, and we build trust by showing we really care about our kids' thoughts and feelings. We can show we understand their point of view by saying things like, "I think I see where you are coming from..." or "I understand what you are feeling and I often felt that way when I was your age, too."