How to have “the talk”
Some parents don’t prepare in any way for having “the talk” with their kids. They get surprised by a question, feel obligated to answer in that moment, and don’t have any resources to help their child understand what they’re saying. This is, shall we say, not ideal.
I want you to be prepared.
Maybe you’d like to wait until your child initiates the conversation with a question. Maybe you’ve decided to have the talk because your kid hasn’t asked yet, and you don’t want her to be the last one to know (most kids know by age 8). Either way, recognize that it’s going to happen. You’re going to have to explain sex and conception to your child. If that’s uncomfortable for you, it’s ok. Be ready to own up to it and say, “Hey, this is uncomfortable for me, but it’s also really important to me that we can talk about this.” Our kids benefit when they see us stretching beyond our comfort zones, messing up and cleaning it up, and modeling what it is to be well intentioned and deeply imperfect at the same time.
If you’re waiting for your child to ask, practice responding positively to the question. Let’s say your son asks you how babies are made. You could say, “Oh, I’m so glad you asked me!” or “That’s a really good question that lots of kids are asking, and I’m really happy you’ve asked me.” Welcome your child’s curiosity and let him know that you want to be the one answering his questions. This is a great way to open communication between you and your child and to encourage questions in the future.
Next, find out what prompted the question and what your child already knows. You could say, “What made you curious about that?” and “How do you think babies are made?” By asking these questions, you’ll get a window into your child’s world. You’ll learn about the funny conversation they had with a friend or the weird experience at the zoo. It will help you make sure that you answer the question and explain it all in a way that makes sense to your child.
Responding positively and uncovering the backstory are useful in their own right, with the added bonus that you get to stall. Use these few minutes to strategize. You might be ready to proceed – or you might not. It’s ok to delay the conversation if you need to. If you’re in, say, the grocery store, you might want to wait until you get home. Or, if younger siblings or your kid’s friends are also in the car, you might want to wait for a more private time. You can say, “This is a really important conversation, and now isn’t the best time for it. Let’s talk about it tonight” or tomorrow, or next week, when Dad gets back. Talking to your kids about sex is tricky, so make sure you have all the variables on your side before you start: a quiet calm setting, privacy, plenty of time, and a good book.
Yes, a good book. There are excellent children’s books available to help you explain sex and conception. The editor, author, and illustrator have carefully considered everything in that book. They have done the work for you! You get to preview the book to make sure it explains it all in a way you’re comfortable with. You might have time to check out these books in your local public library or to peruse them in a local book store, but personally, I’d order them all online and return the ones I didn’t like.
Kids generally are surprised (maybe horrified describes it better) that their private parts are used for anything other than the potty. Your precocious little one might look at her younger sibling, and turn to you and say, “So you and Daddy had to have sex two times?!?” You might smile and say “Yes” and leave it at that, but I encourage you to cover a bit more ground. Consider explaining to your child in this conversation that sex is a force for good in the world.
You see, when you explain how babies are made, your children gain some facts, but not your values. Just by being in this world, kids are seeing advertisements, hearing song lyrics, and watching news stories which convey a very distorted view of sex. You have the opportunity, in this conversation, to get ahead of all of that and lay a positive foundation. Consider saying, “Yes, and there are many ways and many reasons why people have sex. One of the reasons is to make babies, and people also have sex because it’s a wonderful way to feel close to another person and it feels really good.” Give them the idea that sex is sweet, before they learn all the ways that it’s misused.
Once you’ve taught these two things, it’s time for some boundaries. I’m sure you don’t want to receive a phone call that your child has become the local “sexpert” and is educating their peers! Tell your child that this is a big conversation which every kid should have with their parents, so no discussing sex outside our home, please. Private parts are private, and by extension, sex is too.
Second, now that they know what sex is, if they ever see pictures or videos of people having sex, they’re to look away and tell a trusted adult. This might sound like a contradiction to sex being a force of good in the world, so you’ll have to explain a bit more. Ask your child if they’ve ever seen something that they wish they hadn’t. Most kids can come up with something: a broken bone, road kill, a dog getting hurt (for me, it’s that scene in Alien when it bursts out of the man’s abdomen). These things can’t be unseen, and they replay in our minds, haunting us. Tell your child that kids’ hearts and minds aren’t ready for sex, and the sex that’s on the internet isn’t normal sex. Help them understand that this limit isn’t about keeping knowledge from them or restricting their freedom; it’s about protecting them from something they’d rather not see.
So here’s your plan:
- Teach about where babies come from and that sex is good.
- Create some rules about talking to friends and what your child should do if they come across pornography.
Between now and then, you’ll need to pick a children’s book (here’s a list of my favorites) and talk with your partner about how you want this conversation to happen and what your rules will be. It doesn’t matter whether mom or dad explains sex to your child, but it does matter that your child feels like they can talk to either parent. Maybe the whole family sits down and reads the book together. Maybe one parent reads the book with the child and the other checks in later that evening. Decide what will work for your family.
The world is a much more sexualized place that it was when we were growing up, and sexuality isn’t something we received much guidance about from our parents. This is the first conversation of many. You have the opportunity to be your child’s ally in a way that our parents weren’t for us. The earlier you normalize conversations about sex, the easier these discussions will be.
This topic and more is covered in Thursday’s webinar, The Birds & Bees and Beyond: 3 essential conversations to have with your young child about sex and relationships. Join us live to get your questions answered!
In support of you,
P.S. If you know you’re ready to be having conversations about sex and relationships with your child, but you can’t make the webinar, I’d love to help. I have a few openings in my calendar this week: grab one here, and I’ll be able to help you with some strategy to move you forward with your particular situation. Sometimes just one call can move you off the side streets and onto the highway, and I’d love for you to experience the closeness that comes with having open conversations about sexuality.