Are you finding the sex talk about being daunting? You’re not alone, many parents dread the talk, but experts recommend talking about it differently based on the age group of your child, covering different aspects from gender identity to puberty and sexual consent.
You may have a niece or nephew that asks about your growing belly or ask how the baby got in your tummy. Perhaps you are having your second child, and your first is interested and curious. It is probably best to leave the answers to the parent’s choice if it’s a niece or nephew, but being open and honest is a good approach for your own children.
However, instead of waiting until puberty to have one big talk about the birds and bees, there’s no reason you cannot (and should not) break it into categories and discuss it during various stages of your child’s development process. The following will help guide you through some ways to bring up sex and explain it to your child as they develop.
How to Talk About Sex: Birth to 2-Years
According to experts, the talk should start before they are verbal by using the proper wording for genitals during casual activities such as bathing. Some experts say toddlers should know the basic names and wordings, including vagina, vulva, penis, nipples, bum, and clitoris. Although cute names are okay, it is important they know the terms to communicate injuries or health concerns.
The important thing is to do it casually; over time, your toddler will naturally learn the anatomically correct terms, just as they would with ‘leg,’ ‘arm,’ or ‘head.’ However, it is recommended to avoid linking sexual biology and gender at this stage. For instance, instead of saying “boys have a penis, girls have a Virginia,” simply say “people with vaginas” or “people with a penis.” This allows you to easily discuss gender identity at a later stage in development.
Closer to the 2-year age, you can begin introducing appropriation. For example, if your child often touches their genitals, while normal to be curious, it can be an opportunity to teach them the difference between privacy and public. The trick is to be calm about it, so they do not feel shame for being curious.
How to Talk About Sex: 2-Years to 5-Years Old
This stage of development is good for teaching when touching or being touched is and is not appropriate. This builds a foundation for consent, and experts say it is important to teach children this age when not to touch someone. This can be done through various methods, including touch-based games, including boundaries, tickling, or sharing lessons. This includes telling them when it is or is not okay to climb on you.
By building a foundation for consent, you are letting the child know they have control over when they are or are not touched by others. This can help teach that others should never attempt or ask to touch their genital areas. Furthermore, you want to reassure your child they can always come to you about inappropriate touching.
Remember, at this stage, children are very curious, and that includes the bodies of others. This can be an opening for going over family values and rules and when it is appropriate to be naked. However, if you find kids playing doctor, stay calm and explain it is not appropriate because of their private areas.
If your child starts to ask about where babies come from or how they are made during this age period, the best answer is to be vague, such as “many ways.” You simply want to answer without telling a lie or refusing to talk about it. Experts suggest using the child’s own birthing story to introduce them to the topic when it’s time and let them know it is only one of many methods.
How to Talk About Sex: 6-Years to 8-Years Old
This is a good age for explaining digital space to your children, even when you do not expect unsupervised internet usage for years. It is good to start establishing rules early regarding photo sharing and strangers and what to do when they find something online that makes them uncomfortable.
This does not mean you discuss pornography with children pre-emptively; you should have a game plan in place when they do come across it. Simply discuss that those are websites for adults that talk about grown-up things. You do not have to present them as horrible and bad, but let them know they are for adults only.
Additionally, this is a good time to introduce or revisit the topic of masturbation. It is common for most kids to be exploring their bodies by this stage. You want to cover proper hygiene and let them know it is normal, but something is done in private.
Sexual abuse can be easier to discuss at this age as well, as they will understand better. It is significant that children understand that sexual abuse is a sad reality so they can protect themselves or a friend. The depth of your conversation should be based on the child; some may develop earlier or later.
The fundamental mechanics of sex may be introduced if they are maturing quickly. If you think it would not hurt development, you may delay until closer to the property.
How to Talk About Sex: 9-Years to 12-Years Old
This is the age period to begin discussing sexism, start with those found around your community or the media. For instance, how grandparents may believe boys should have shorter hair, while girls have long hair. This will often spark questions and open the opportunity to talk about those who have overcome stereotypes.
Remember, this is the age most begin puberty and go through various emotional/social changes. You want to be calm and open about the changes tweens will go through, especially girls. This way, they do not freak out when they happen.
Finally, you want to teach how to have safe sex choices. The idea can be daunting, but it is an important talk to have so your child will make smart choices. Cover various types of protection, birth control, etc.