Oh the dreaded day has arrived and you realise that it’s time to pony up and have one of the most nerve-wrecking talks with your kids. No matter how open-minded, informed, or confident you may be, talking to kids about the birds and the bees can be tough! It can feel awkward and uncomfortable for both you and your kids to have these conversations, but don’t let these feeling deter you because believe it or not, we are a powerful influence in our kids’ lives and more so when it comes to this topic! When is the right age to start you ask? The sooner you start, the better! It’s all about health and safety for your kids – both physical and emotional health. Kids who have an open communication with their parents about sexuality are offered some protection from sexual abuse. Don’t hesitate, just do it, so that they won’t do it without being properly prepared and protected. Here are some principles to keep in mind as you start off a conversation with your kids.
Be clear on what values and beliefs you want to share with your child
First things first, you need to be clear about your own values and beliefs and what you want to share with your child. This involves how you feel about pre-marital sex, same-sex relationships, contraception, and even abortion. You can start such conversations early and let it be made known to your kids about how about how you feel towards these issues. Simultaneously, you’ve to constantly remind them that this is ‘grown-up stuff’ and they will know more when they are older.
Speak honestly and objectively at all times with every age group
At every stage of your child’s life, you’ll have to approach this topic differently. What exactly do you want them to know when they’re ready to start kindergarten, primary school, secondary school, college, university or their wedding night? This takes a bit of research and planning. You can write up cue cards for different age groups on what are the crucial things they need to know. You know for a fact that your kids won’t bring up this topic so you’ve got to be proactive and start the conversations. Be honest and keep to the facts.
- Younger ones up to two years old
For these little ones, you’d want to approach the topic as matter of fact as possible and not offer more information than necessary. Stick to the facts and it can be as simple as incorporating the proper names for genitals into everyday activities like bath time. Once they turn two, kids will have the tendency to touch his/her genitals which is perfectly normal. Start by explaining to them that such an act is not for the public eye but done in the privacy of our bedrooms.
- Two to five year olds
Within this age group are the terrible twos and threenagers which means when approaching this topic, you’ve to focus on boundaries and appropriate behaviour. Especially for kids in this age group with a younger sibling, they might start asking you about how babies are made. How much should you reveal? The number of details really depends on how much you think your child can handle. Once again, the key thing is to stick to the facts and be as objective as possible. It’s also important to introduce kids of this age group to the idea that families and relationships
- Six to eight year olds
The tween age is all about learning how to exert self-control especially when it comes to digital space exploration. Kids this age are already nifty with tech devices and even navigating through videos on YouTube. It’s better to start young and give them a checklist of dos and don’ts when watching their favourite cartoon online. Once they start going to school, you’ve to also establish rules about speaking to strangers and sharing photos online. While their online platform for Home-based Learning is safe, you never know what might pop up on their screens or what they might stumble upon.
This is also a good time to talk to them about exploring their bodies. If you catch your child in the act of playing with his genitalia, keep calm and frame it as something that, while normal, is done in private. In any case, proper hygiene must be always observed and always remind your child that.
At this age, you can prep them about puberty and simply discuss about how their bodies change as they grow. Using old photos is great tool to show them how much they’ve grown and how different they look. You can also use a book to explain the more technical details about why girls and boys mature differently because of testosterone and oestrogen.
- Nine to twelve year olds
With this group, the emphasis should be this on internet safety as at this age, they spend a bit more time online for work and assignments. Reiterate the importance of digital rules and values that you might have brought up when they were younger. Remember when you brought up the topic of sharing photos online? Now, share with them the facts that nude or sexually explicit photos online may be considered illegal. This is also the age when you start getting serious about topics like safe sex and birth control. Give them the facts and explain the basics of why birth control is important and the problems of underage pregnancy.
- The teenage years
If you’ve started off early and on the right foot, once your kids hit the teen years, they’ll likely feel more comfortable sharing with you about this topic and are willing to ask questions. Now at this stage of their lives, they need to know about consent in sexual relationships. Have frequent conversations about healthy relationships because by the time your tot has become a teen, you’d want him/her to be able to evaluate risks and make sound decisions.
Keep conversations simple and casual
Use different modes to approach the topic
Mini conversations need not just happen at home, on the couch or in your child’s room. If you’re going for a casual conversation, talk to your kids in the car, over a meal, or even write them little notes of advice perhaps. While face-to-face chats are always the best, it doesn’t mean that you’ve to do so all the time, every time. Be creative because you know what works best for your kids; you know what will capture their attention.
Look for teachable moments
Watch a movie, television series or pluck out examples from your child’s friends’ lives – these are all perfect moments to start a conversation with your kids and align with scenes from the movie, television show or their friends’ lives. These teachable moments can be particularly successful especially if you’ve committed to being an open family right from the start, where everything and anything can be discussed at any time. Kids will feel safe, accepted and know that they can find answers through you.
Get age-appropriate books and videos
Books and videos are fantastic resources as they provide you with age-appropriate information and can help to make conversations feel less awkward. You can also introduce books about puberty and adolescence. How about also renting movies that mirror your values? This will open up plenty of ways to talk about sex and relationships as they grow and learn more about the world. Some examples of good books include:
- The Family Book by Todd Parr
- It’s So Amazing by Robie Harris
- Where Willy Went by Nicholas Allen
- S.E.X. by Heather Corinna
- Hair in Funny Places by Babette Cole
- What Makes A Baby? by Cory Silverberg
- What’s Happening to My Body? Book For Girls; What’s Happening to My Body? Book For Boys by Lynda Madaras
- It’s So Amazing! A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families by Robie Harris
- What’s the Big Secret? Talking About Sex With Girls and Boys by Laurie Krasny Brown
Acknowledge their feelings of embarrassment and discomfort
Rather than dismissing the awkwardness and discomfort, acknowledge them and also share with your kids on how you are feeling about this topic too. Kids need to feel that they are not alone and that you understand from their perspective. This is a great way to start off the conversation with them too and older kids, especially teens appreciate your honesty.
Be their mentor and listen more than speak especially when they are older
Let’s face it – no one likes to be told what to do or worse yet, nagged at day-in day-out. With the series of mini conversations with your kids, as they grow older, they’ll see you as their mentor and a listening ear. You can introduce them to grown-ups that they can speak to or confide in. It’s important too that you reserve all judgement and stay calm. Peer-to-peer communication works best with older kids.
Relax, take time to plan, and rehearse!
Practise makes perfect, and so true in this case. Even if you’re not usually a planner, when it comes to this all-important topic of the birds and the bees, you might want to draw up a plan and practise over and over again! How about practising in front of a mirror? Prior to starting on these conversations with your kids, do you research well and arm yourself with lots of arsenal. There are plenty of books to read to help you get comfortable with such talks. One such book is Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids To Know About Sex But Were Afraid They’d Ask by Justin Richardson and Mark A. Schuster. Another good resource is From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children – From Infancy To Middle School by Debra W. Haffner.
Having the birds and the bees talk is a continuous process and takes time and effort to be executed well. As your kids get older, take long walks, have meals together, run errands together. Those times are priceless and sometimes it’s much easier to talk when you’re all at ease and it’s also through these occasions that more heartfelt issues arise. Talking to kids about the birds and the bees can feel tricky when you first get started, but one thing’s for sure, the more you talk, the easier it gets!