Talking to your kids about sex can be an embarrassing and uncomfortable necessity. Maybe you’ve avoided it because you haven’t found the right time. Maybe you haven’t found the right words. The unfortunate truth is that there may never be exactly the right time or the right words. But when your preschooler asks the question you’ve been dreading or your teenager starts showing interest in the opposite sex, it’s a critical moment in the parent-child relationship. How you react sets the stage for the future. For some of us, it’s as simple as reminding our child of the discussions we’ve already had about the birds and the bees. But for others, these are the openings we’ve been waiting for.
Begin the conversation when your kids are young. That doesn’t mean you have to explain the technical or emotional aspects of sex to your toddler, but you can start by calling body parts by the correct terms. From a very young age, children need to know that boys have a penis (not a “winky”) and girls have a vagina (not a “hoo-hoo”).
Deal with the privacy aspect of masturbation with toddlers and preschoolers, too. Kids at this age will inevitably explore their own bodies and discover it can be pleasurable. Without shaming your kids, you can affirm that it does feel good, but it’s something that should be done in private.
Provide clear, accurate and age-appropriate information. Explaining the basics of how babies are made is enough information for your preschooler, but older children need to know more. Talk to them not only about the physical and emotional changes they are currently experiencing, but also about those yet to come.
Take advantage of teachable moments, however subtle they may be. TV show plots, the way your child’s favorite star dresses or the obvious growth spurt of the girl-next-door are all moments that can open up a dialogue. However, take your child’s lead once the conversation begins. Most children will continue to talk and ask questions until their curiosity has been satisfied. Once he loses interest, you’ve probably talked enough for one day.
Examine your own views and share them with your kids, particularly when talking to your teenagers. Tell them if you’re worried about the emotional implications of having sex. Tell them about your concerns for their health and safety. If you don’t believe in premarital sex, share that too. Though your kids may feel differently than you do, they will be more likely to take the time to define their own values if they have an understanding of yours.
Admit it when you just don’t know. Sometimes kids will ask tough questions that we can’t or don’t know how to answer. Telling them you don’t have the answer instead of bluffing your way through it can make it easier for kids to continue the conversation. However, instead of dropping the subject, take the time to research the answer together.