By Melissa Grant
Talking to your child about sex and reproduction can be pretty awkward.
Their questions may make you feel uncomfortable, or you might think it’s time to ‘have the chat’ but don’t know how to start it.
But there are things you can do to make those ‘birds and the bees’ talks less difficult.
First of all, it’s important to understand most parents find these conversations tough.
Relationships Australia Victoria senior clinician, Jayne Ferguson, says even experts find it difficult to talk to their kids about how babies are made.
“It’s an anxiety provoking conversation, even for experts,” she said.
“Even the term the birds and the bees – it’s almost our embarrassed way of saying ‘let’s talk about sex’.
“I have kids and I do feel anxious, because kids can ask the most candid and unexpected questions.”
Those questions may also begin earlier than you anticipate. Many pre-school aged children will ask questions about their body parts and may even ask what sex is.
Ms Ferguson says it’s best to be open and honest, while giving age appropriate answers.
“A five-year-old might ask ‘what is sex?’
“You can say ‘that’s a good question, how did you hear about that?’
“Maybe they caught a glimpse of a TV show sex scene or someone at kinder said ‘my parents have sex’.”
Asking what prompted the question can help you answer it.
When it comes to making babies, all small children really need to know is that when two people love each other they get their bodies together.
Ms Ferguson says you may also want to explain that there are other ways to conceive a baby, such as IVF.
What you shouldn’t do is make your child feel bad for asking a question or avoid answering it.
“The minute we close down those conversations they become shameful,” Ms Ferguson said.
“What we do know is that when kids aren’t given the right information they will go searching for it, particularly if they are in their teenage years.”
They may type their unanswered questions into an internet search engine, a move bound to yield x-rated results you’d prefer them not to see.
If your teen is asking questions about sex, then it’s important to have a conversation about contraception.
“If that’s something happening in their peer group you need to be giving cautionary information,” Ms Ferguson said.
“They need to understand the consequences. The message needs to be that when they are asked to do it, it needs to be something they want to do and that they are aware of the consequences.”
But what if your child isn’t asking questions about the body and sex as they get older?
Well, it’s up to you to bring it up.
Relying on sex ed is never a good idea, Ms Ferguson says, as kids can be dismissive of information they learn in the classroom.
So how do you broach the topic of baby making?
“If you are watching TV or visiting a baby in hospital, it may be appropriate to have a conversation,” Ms Ferguson suggests.
“Tell your child about their own birth story – as long as you say it with love, kids are more likely to be interested if it’s about them.”
There’s also nothing wrong with giving your child a book explaining where babies come from.
Once you get the conversation started, it’s important to keep it going.
That’s because there are many topics to cover, including changes to the body during puberty and body safety.
As a parent, remember you probably know how much information your son or daughter is ready to digest.
“You’re much more likely to know what your child will understand,” Ms Ferguson explains.
“There are no golden rules or specific times about when to have these conversations.
“Some parents will find it trickier than others, but you should always have open and honest conversations with your children.”
TIPS FOR PARENTS
– Use appropriate terminology. Referring to the reproductive organs as vaginas and penises from the get-go, makes later conversations easier.
– Honesty is the best policy. Always be open and honest when your child asks a question about sex or the body. If you aren’t sure how to answer, say it’s an interesting question and you’ll get back to them.
– Be guided by what your child says and give factual information.
– Provide age appropriate answers. For children up to five years, for instance, it’s appropriate to talk about bodies and how they work.
– Make body safety part of the conversation. Talk about inappropriate touching and what to do if it happens.
– Explain that explicit online content is a crime. Your child needs to know that posting ‘nudes’ can have serious consequences, including criminal convictions.