As long as it is an open conversation, it really doesn’t matter who begins it. Often times I am the one who delicately brings up “the talk” at tween/teen well checkups. I understand that it can be an uncomfortable topic for parents and kids, but I do think that the more we move away from it, the more our children will develop a shameful attitude towards their bodies. My 8 year old asked me how she got her blue eyes. I answered something along the lines of love and beauty. “Whew, dodged that one” or so I thought. She followed with, “but how did the genes actually get together?” Glaring up at me waiting for the answer, I could see her curiosity beaming. I had a decision to make… repeat myself using other words that mean the same thing or have “the talk” (or tell her to go ask daddy). Then I had to decide how much of the talk to have. What words do I use? How much do I tell her? Is she too young? What if her friends explain things to her before I do? These are common questions we all have as parents. In the very beginning we see our babies exploring their bodies, our toddlers running around naked, our preschool kids asking questions or playing doctor, our school age kids wondering about where babies come from. This blog is for you - the parent who may be uncomfortable, confused or just needs a little guidance to approach these topics in a healthy and helpful way.
Babies touch their genitals as early as in the womb. They explore their bodies as infants and toddlers. As if having a toddler is not challenging enough, we now have to talk about poop, pee and body parts in addition to poop, pee and why we don’t eat erasers. When they reach toddlerhood, they often prefer to be unclothed which is a healthy part of development. Allowing them to do this at home is ok. Just teach them about “privates” and not being naked in public or around anyone else except immediate family. When approaching the topic of nudity or other areas of sexuality, be casual. Take it seriously, but remain lighthearted. Never laugh at your child when they ask questions about their bodies. Never get angry with them. Use the proper words for body parts. The kids often change these up so don’t be surprised if they yell something about their “jyna” in a public place.
Here’s an scenario: your 3 year old just got out of the bath and is watching cartoons on the couch. He/she is naked and starts touching their private area. Do you bring attention to it or do you ignore it? At that age I would probably just casually redirect them. An older child? I would explain that it is ok to touch their body, but only in the privacy of their room or bathroom. This is a good time to explain how no one else is to touch their bodies unless parents are helping to clean them or a doctor is checking them (always with a parent present).
Another scenario: you walk into the playroom to find your young child and her male friend playing doctor. Should you yell? Should you send the friend home? Ignore it? I would recommend that you calmly explain that it is normal to be curious about the opposite sex. Then tell them it is not ok to touch or look at someone else’s privates. Don’t make it a big deal. Don’t act too surprised. If you are really brave, ask them if they have any questions. Then simply move on to the next uncomfortable moment.
Third scenario: your 10 yo asks you where babies come from (or in my case my 8 yo asks about her genes). Your 10 yo does not have period yet and has just recently started puberty. Do you …
- tell her to go ask the other parent :)
- tell her to google it
- explain sex in a calm, nurturing, simple way
- tell her she’s too young to know
When in doubt, pick C! It is OK to have this conversation anytime depending on your child’s emotional and physical maturity. I personally believe that if a female has a period then they should know that they can become pregnant and how. (i have encountered some teens who have no idea why they get a period other than “I’m becoming a woman”) Be honest. If they get too anxious you can always explain it over time. You know your child better than anyone. You will know when “the talk” needs to occur.
Scenario: Your 16 yo son has recently started a relationship with a friend in school. You find condoms in his closet while you are “cleaning”. Which of the following is a healthy way to approach this situation?
- punish him by taking away his car
- taking him to his favorite restaurant and casually discussing risky behaviors, respecting others and himself, safe sex
- call the girl’s parents
- research monasteries
It’s not always C…this time it is B. Keep it simple, positive and informative. Let him know that you are available for questions and support. Remember that your pediatrician can also help you navigate these conversations. We do it all. day. long. For me, it’s never presented in the same exact way twice. My drawings vary:) My approach is tailored towards the age of the patient, the maturity of the patient and the wishes of the parent(s). But we are helping you to raise strong adults and this is an important part of it.