Mum/Dad…do snails have dreams?
Why does that lady have hair on her chin?
Where does the sun go when it’s dark?
Kids are always asking questions.
Some are funny, some make you wish the ground would open up and swallow you, while others get you Googling to find out the answer.
But there’s one question that parents don’t look forward to their child asking:
Mum/Dad…how are babies made?
When they’re very little you might manage to get away with a few obscure answers, sudden changes of topic or fun stories about seeds growing or storks delivering parcels to explain how events transpire to make a baby.
However at some point you will have to face the music and explain the act itself.
When is the right time to have THAT conversation and how on earth do you even begin the “Birds and the Bees Talk”?
Don’t think of it as just ONE talk
We tend to imagine having one big conversation with our children about the birds and the bees. In fact, it’s better to have several chats with your child over time.
Learning about sex and sexuality is a lifelong conversation. Your child will ask about and learn about different things at different times.
At ages 3-5 they might be curious about their body and why it is different to their brother’s or sister’s.
At ages 7-9 they might start to wonder about how exactly a baby is made and how it gets out of a Mummy’s tummy.
At ages 9-11 girls might start worrying about their changing body and puberty.
At age 13 your child might have all sorts of questions about dating and sex.
By answering their questions openly and honestly right from when they are little, they will feel more able to come to you later on to talk about other things they are curious or worried about.
What is the best age to tell them about sex?
According to the book Talking to Your Kids About Sex by Dr. Laura Berman, most kids develop an understanding about the basic mechanics of sex by age 8 or 9.
Young children are naturally curious about their own bodies. They will also see pregnant women and wonder how babies are made and will be full of questions.
It makes sense to plan this talk with them so that you are the one they talk to about any questions.
You can then make sure they are given the correct information and honest, age appropriate answers to their questions.
How to talk about sex?
You never know when curiosity will strike for your child.
They might hear about sex from a friend or sibling, before you get a chance to have your talk. In which case they will probably come running to you to share this newly found piece of information and to get more details and clarity on the subject.
Be ready for their questions, however they emerge.
Have an idea of how you want to explain it to them in your mind, so that you can handle the conversation calmly if it does come up out of the blue.
Choose the right moment
Hearing suddenly ‘Mum/Dad, how did the baby get in that woman’s tummy?’ while you’re in the middle of the supermarket doing the weekly shop can make you panic.
If they spring tricky questions on you at a chaotic or very public moment, then it is probably better to tell them that you will explain it to them later at home, rather than trying to have the conversation with a crowd of onlookers, while scrambling for groceries.
If your child hasn’t brought up the subject, then you can choose when you feel the right time would be to talk to them about it.
Choose a calm day when not much is going on.
You could start the conversation with ‘have you ever wondered how babies are made?’ and go from there.
It’s easy to get nervous when your child starts asking ever more complicated questions on the subject of sex.
Parents get anxious as they don’t want to end up saying too much and having to explain a whole other myriad of adult themes to their children.
Try to be relaxed and stick to the basics of what they need to know depending on their age.
Keep it simple
There’s no point getting into debates about different types of sexual relationships, for example whether women and men only have sex after marriage (unless of course there are certain values that are important for you to pass onto them).
Just explain the act itself in as simple terms as possible and you could say simply that it happens when two adults care about each other deeply.
You can then choose to delve into more complicated topics, like dating and what to be careful of, when they get a bit older.
Try using helpful books
If you or your child is feeling a bit shy and awkward about talking over these things then it can help to share books with them to start a conversation.
Books on sex may be cringeworthy for the parents but they can help children understand how it works through some visual aids and carefully worded explanations.
Books can also help by answering common questions that children have about the subject in simple and diplomatic ways.
They may also help them prepare for the changes that come about with puberty. These are some books that may help:
What’s happening to me? (Girl’s edition) – Usborne
What’s happening to me? (Boy’s edition) – Usborne
Asking About Sex & Growing Up: A Question-and-Answer Book for Kids – Joanna Cole
What’s the Big Secret?: Talking about Sex with Girls and Boys – Laurane Krasny Brown
The Body Book – Claire Rayner
Won’t school deal with sex education so I don’t have to?
Under legislation passed last year, relationships education is now compulsory in all primary schools in the UK. Sex and relationships education is compulsory in secondary schools.
However, the majority of sexual education in schools is based around contraception, pregnancy and avoiding sexually transmitted diseases.
The problem is that, in many schools, these programs aren’t answering the kinds of questions school kids have about sex and relationship.
They might also not be delivering sex education at the right time for your child.
Don’t leave it up to school or the teachers — their information may be too little, too late – take it into your own hands.
Prepare them for puberty
The average age for a girl to start puberty is 11 and for boys it’s 12.
This is just an average and puberty can begin any time from as young as age 8, to as old as 14.
It’s another reason why it’s best to start having conversations about bodies and feelings early.
If you talk to your child about how their bodies will grow and develop and how this might make them feel, then the whole process of puberty will not be as scary for them when it happens.
Again books are a useful way of helping your child understand how their bodies (and feelings) will grow and change and help answer any tricky questions they have too.
Books allow your child to inform themselves at their own pace but you could also check whether there is anything they want to talk to you about.
This can help break through any awkwardness they may feel about approaching you with worries or questions the books might throw up.
Bodies are amazing
It’s a wonderful thing to be able to talk openly to your child about their bodies (and yours) and to teach them that nothing about their bodies is shameful.
Learning to love your own body is a valuable life lesson.
But teach boundaries too
It’s important that your child becomes aware that some parts of their body are private.
They should know that they can say ‘no’ to anything when it comes to their own body.
If they hate to be tickled or to be seen naked (even by immediate family) then let your child make their own rules and feel able to say ‘no’.
The NSPCC has developed a brilliant resource for children and parents, encouraging them to talk PANTS. PANTS stands for:
P – Privates are private
A – Always remember your body belongs to you
N – No means no
T – Talk about secrets that upset you
S – Speak up. Someone can help
Their website even has fun games for children and all sorts of information for parents regarding how to talk to children about staying safe from sexual abuse.
Feeling too embarrassed to talk about sex?
If you feel awkward about talking to your child about sex then you’re not alone.
A recent survey revealed that more than 60% of parents feel embarrassed about talking to their children about sensitive subjects.
Half of those say they simply find it awkward or embarrassing, while another 54 per cent worry about how it will make their child feel.
Changing the subject
The survey also revealed that embarrassed parents go out of their way to squirm out of any difficult conversations.
4 in 10 parents admitted that they completely avoided talking about puberty, sex and relationships with their child.
A quarter admitted that they pretended to be busy or that they needed to rush out somewhere when their child asked a question that they didn’t want to answer.
Talking about tricky things can bring you closer together
Despite their embarrassments the parents surveyed admitted that when they bit the bullet and sat down to talk to their child, they felt it brought them closer.
That first uncomfortable conversation can mean that the next one is easier.
And hopefully the end result is a child who feels like they can come and talk to you about anything.
- Let’s Talk PANTS – NSPCC
- “No sex please we’re British! Parents are too embarrassed to talk to their own children about relationships and puberty”, Daily Mail Online
- “Talking to your kids about sex” by Laura Berman