Talking to Our Children About Sexuality

Easy!! How can talking about sex with your child possibly be easy? At first it may not be but with continued discussion and use of proper language it will get easier especially if your child is still young enough that the usual social taboos surrounding sexuality have not yet affected him/her. But how to start? In this article and more to follow we will relate some of our “Tips to Talk” to your children. Picture this: Your child poses the question “Where does a baby come from?”. The general method of answering all your child’s questions follows the acronym LAST.

First, “Listen”. This means active listening. Stop whatever you are doing. Bring the child up to your level or go down to his/hers so that eye contact can be made. Use a serious facial expression that shows interest. Your child will get the message that he/she is worth listening to and that the question is important.

Then “Ask”. Make sure your understanding of the question matches what the child means. If this is not clarified, a parent may launch into a full discussion of sexual intercourse, pregnancy and birth with some blushes and discomfort while the child only wanted to know where he/she was born. If a parent answers a question that the child is not asking, all those words of wisdom will probably go to waste. The child may not pay attention to the answer because it did not relate to what he/she was ready to hear. Clarifying the question prior to answering would solve the problem. This could be done in two ways. The child’s response to your question, “What do you think the answer is?” is an excellent way to figure out exactly what the question is and also get a grasp of the child’s level of understanding and misunderstanding. You can answer the question asked, add to what the child already knows and clear up misinformation. A second approach would be to ask, “Do you mean how is a baby made?” This gets straight to the point of what question is being asked.

Third, “Sort”. Sort out how you are going to respond to the question. If it’s a difficult question, this may take some time. You may want to refer to a book or to a professional to make sure you are getting the facts straight. Consider the values you want to communicate to your child about the issue. All questions do not need to be answered immediately although all need to be answered eventually. You might say, “That’s a really good question and I want to make sure I give you a really good answer. I think I’ll talk about it with Dad or look it up in a book.” The key here is to add when you plan to answer it. Give a specific time: “I’ll answer it at bedtime.” Without a concrete commitment to answer the question, a child may conclude that Mum or Dad doesn’t want to answer and may not return with a similar question. Be sure you have your answer ready at the agreed time and keep your commitment.

Finally, you get to “Talk” and answer the question. Always boost a child’s sense of self-esteem by telling them that the question is a good one – even if it is the last one you expected or wanted to hear. Then give them the facts. This is usually relatively easy. If you don’t know the facts or are unsure, look them up, perhaps with your child. Sometimes saying particular words, like “penis” or “vagina”, may make you feel uncomfortable. Practice saying them in front of the mirror a few times. If your child is a preschooler, start with a few facts. Your child will ask if she/he wants to know more. Older children want a more complete answer without too many gaps. However, they too will ask more questions if the gaps puzzle them.

Facts are followed by talking about your values. This step is most difficult. It is easier if you have sorted out your values before questions arise. Values around issues like masturbation, homosexuality, the right age to have sexual intercourse, nudity, pornography, body image etc. etc. need to be explored. Discuss them with your partner to ensure that the messages delivered to your children are as consistent as possible. If you don’t add a value message to the question, your children will learn them from friends and the media. These messages may not agree with your own. Adolescents, who may rebel against parent’s values for awhile as a normal part of their development, still desire value messages from their parents and consider those that are obviously well thought out as most important, usually returning to them post-adolescence.

Finally, add the expectations you have for your child’s behaviour based on those values. For instance, your value on when it is o.k. to have sex may be based on love but not necessarily on marriage. You would then add, that you would prefer that your son/daughter waited to have intercourse until they were sure they were deeply in love. Although you are suggesting a behaviour based on your values by saying this, it is not absolute. You are telling them what you would prefer, but the decision is still up to them. It may be difficult when your child then asks, “How do I know when I am deeply in love?” That discussion will have to wait for another article but give it some thought because it is sure to come up. By following this guide, the impression that your answer will give will be sure to LAST.

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