When you become a parent, there are so many fun things to look forward to: The first time your child says “Mama” or “Dada.” Christmas as experienced through the eyes of a child. Taking family vacations together. And then, of course, there are the less-fun moments like talking to your child about sex.
When it comes to talking to kids about sex, it can be tempting to point out a shiny object and make a run for it. So before you tell your kid a period is punctuation at the end of a sentence, here are eight tips for success:
#1 Remember that it’s not a single talk.
Don’t expect to sit down with your child just once and explain everything he or she needs to know about the birds and the bees. The details of human reproduction and sexuality should be an ongoing conversation with your child over the course of several years.
#2 Start early.
Children are naturally curious about everything. So you can expect to be fielding questions about where babies come from long before your kids are ready for a discussion about condoms and abstinence. Keep your discussions age-appropriate, and tell them what they want to know when they want to know it. This will help keep the conversational door open for the trickier stuff as they get older.
#3 Keep your embarrassment in check.
Sex talks are not the easiest conversations you’ll ever have with your child, to be sure. But try not to get carried away by your own discomfort, which will shut down an open dialogue before it ever starts. Be as open and honest as you can. Once you stop thinking about sex as a taboo topic, it becomes much less of one. And remember that your kid is even more likely to be embarrassed than you are — according to one recent survey, 50 percent of all surveyed teens reported feeling uncomfortable talking with their parents about sex, compared to just 19 percent of the parents.
#4 Use the proper words.
There’s no good reason to tell a toddler that she has “fingers” and “knees” and a “nose” and a “hoo-ha.” It’s a vagina. It’s OK to call it that; “vagina” is not a dirty word.
#5 Enlist the help of a good book.
If it makes you feel more comfortable, reading a book together that covers the basics — Where Did I Come From? is a timeless classic — can help you present the facts in a direct, low-pressure way.
#6. Remember that talking about sex does not lead to having sex.
Many parents fear that talking to their kids about sex will encourage them to go out and have sex. Nothing could be further from the truth. According to teen pregnancy expert Sarah Brown, quoted recently on bhg.com, “talking helps them understand the consequences of sex, helps them to delay having sex for the first time, and increases the chances that they will use protection if they do become sexually active.”
#7. Encourage follow-up.
As with all awkward conversations, the impulse when talking about sex with your child is to end the discussion as soon as possible. But that’s neither helpful nor productive. Instead, from the earliest days of having conversations about sex with your child, always ask, “Is there anything else you’d like to know about that?” That way, you know you’re giving your child the information he or she truly wants and needs.
#8. Know that they’re going to hear it from somewhere.
It’s nice to think that you can insulate your child from a world of sex talk , but the bottom line is that sex is everywhere — in the media, in the discussions your child is having with his or her friends, and in his or her own head. If you don’t intervene, early and often, to educate your child on the actual facts, he or she will be walking around with a lot of potentially dangerous misinformation.