Sexuality education for children: Eight tips for parents
Having ‘the talk’ isn’t always easy. Find advice for parents and caregivers on talking to their kids about sex and reproduction.
- A good strategy is to start talking to your child about sex when they are young and continue that conversation as they get older.
- Explain things to your child in a way that is age-appropriate and do not provide them with too much information at once.
- Ask questions to find out exactly what your child wants to know about and why.
- Be honest when talking to your child. Children can often figure out when parents are not telling them the truth. If this happens, children are less likely to be receptive in the future.
Beginning a conversation about sexuality early and continuing that conversation as the child grows is the best sex education strategy. It lets parents avoid giving one big talk when the child reaches adolescence, when they think they already have the information and won’t be receptive. Talking early about gender expression, sexuality and different reproduction methods is important as well. These conversations are easiest when they come out of a life experience, like seeing a pregnant woman, a baby, a family structure that is different from your own or expressions of gender that are different from those your child is used to seeing.
Here are eight tips to try.
- Think about how you were taught about sex as a child
Ask yourself if you want your child to have the same or a different experience.
- Give age-appropriate answers
This means explaining things in a way that your child can understand given their age and level of development. There is no need to answer questions they haven’t asked. Don’t overload them with information. They will glaze over and nothing will get through. See our guide to developmentally appropriate sex education.
- Try to keep the exchange as a dialogue
When kids ask questions about sex, gently throw questions back at them. Find out what they know already and where they heard it from. This way, you can correct any misinformation from the start. Dialogue slows conversation down, giving you time to think, and lets you have a better idea when to stop.
It is very important to find out exactly what children are actually asking about. Sometimes when they ask where babies come from, they really want to know what ‘adopted’ means.
- Be honest
Children can often figure out when parents are not telling them the truth. If this happens, children are less likely to be receptive in the future.
Do not worry if you do not know the answer yourself. Tell your child that the question was a good one, that you do not know the whole answer, and that you can both look up the answer together. Again, this helps slow the conversation down.
There are great, age-appropriate books about sex, gender and reproduction for both parents and kids. Reading also helps get over any embarrassment.
- If your child hasn’t asked about sex, start the conversation
Some kids are just naturally shy and don’t tend to ask a lot of questions about anything. Do not wait. Initiate a conversation with the child about sex. Ask them what they know and what is being taught at school. Use examples from nature. Even in the city, animals are courting and mating all around us. Addressing animal reproduction first is a great way to introduce and reinforce sex education about people.
- Keep your cool
Get ready for the fact that sex talk will come up at badly timed moments, like in a bank line-up, and at full volume. Do not feel you have to answer, but rather say “great question, let’s talk about that in the car.” Moments like these are also a great opportunity to explain about privacy issues. As the child learns about sex, you can let them know that speaking about it everywhere is not appropriate.
The car can be a great place to speak to your child about sex. The fact that you are both staring straight ahead may take some of the embarrassment out of the conversation. Sitting side by side on a park bench will do the same thing.
If your child asks you personal questions, answer in the abstract. Tell them you understand their curiosity but some things are a private part of your life. For example, if they ask if moms and dads have sex every night they go to bed together, you can answer that when people sleep together that does not necessarily mean that they are having sex.
- Remember that sex education is a continuing process
Children will need some things repeated in order to understand. Keep talking.