Talking about sex and reproduction with a young child is a challenge, and while some parents have a relatively easy time, others find it difficult to approach such a delicate topic.
However, all children will eventually wonder where babies come from. The goal should always be healthy and effective communication between parents and children, with a focus on listening, opening up, supportive responses and learning to problem solve. We’ll provide some tips on how to do just that.
Early Discussions: 4- and 5-Year-Olds
Children in pre-school are beginning to interact with their peers — many of them for the first time. Several are also becoming big siblings. These new experiences increase the likelihood that they’ll think about babies, and realize that they come from somewhere. As always, the most important thing is to be loving and truthful.
Answer the exact question asked, giving no more or less information than was requested. For example, if a 4-year-old asks how the baby comes out, you can simply say, “The mother’s vagina.” No need to say how the baby got in there in the first place, and you might not even get questions about what a vagina is. Be sure to use correct anatomical terms. Your child needs to know he or she can count on you for accurate information. It’s important for people of all ages to be comfortable with the names of body parts, and that comfort begins at a very young age.
Getting into More Detail: 6- to 8-Year-Olds
The truth is that, by this age, children have probably had some conversations with their friends about sex and reproduction. Because we want our kids to have accurate information, it might be helpful to get a sense of what they already know, or have heard. When they bring the topic up, carefully ask if they are confused about anything, or heard information that contradicts other things they’ve come across.
You may want to consider an age-appropriate book. As with younger kids, don’t bombard children this age with more than they need or want. However, if he or she is asking lots of questions, provide resources that help, just like you would if they wondered about other, less sensitive topics. Also continue to use proper names for body parts, and acknowledge that sexual organs are complicated, and actually involve several names. Keep in mind that some kids might already be experiencing changes in their own bodies, and deserve the cognitive and verbal tools that help them understand those changes.
Talking About Experiences: 8- to 10-Year-Olds
By this time, your child’s school may have introduced a sex education program. This takes some of the burden from parents, though you should continue to be a source of support and honesty at home. Familiarize yourself with the school’s plan, and consider how it will impact your child’s understanding. If there is no school program, consider having your own talk, and be prepared to discuss with a significant amount of detail.
Further, the kids themselves are about to enter puberty. While certain boys and girls are very private about what happens, they still must know it’s all right to talk to their parents. Don’t pry, but remind them you’re there to answer questions or just talk — about anything. Sometimes a conversation about soccer practice might lead to something else.
A Part of Life
Sex and reproduction are facts of life. To have adults with healthy and safe perspectives on sexuality, parents and caregivers must be open with children from an early age. Gauge what your child is prepared to know, and create an atmosphere of loving, open communication. You’ll be amazed at how much easier the process will be!