You can never start too soon when it comes to talking to your child about sex. How do you broach the subject and how much detail is appropriate?
Today’s Parent makes the good – and potentially scary – point for many parents that we’re sexual beings from birth. Tara Johnson, a sexuality education specialist, says infants are curious about their bodies and will often touch their genitals. Toddlers also have no sense of privacy and may masturbate openly. This is why it’s important to educate your child as early as possible about their bodies and sex. What you share and how you share it is dependent on many factors, including their age.
0–2 years old
Today’s Parent suggests 2 points to include during this life stage:
- Allow your child to explore his or her body, but also teach them when it’s appropriate to do so. Don’t scold or embarrass them; simply explain that we don’t show our underwear in public, for example.
- Teach him or her the correct terminology of all their body parts. This discourages feelings of shame or shyness about their genitals from the beginning.
3–5 years old
Start teaching the difference between good touching and bad touching. Without alarming your child, explain that their genitals are private and they shouldn’t allow anyone except their parents or a doctor (when they have a check-up) to touch them.
Today’s Parent adds that children are intensely curious at this point and that it’s important to answer their questions correctly as they’re also very imaginative and susceptible at this stage. How much you share should be dependent on how much your child wants to know. You don’t have to go into too much detail – your child will no doubt have a short attention span and may be overwhelmed if the information is too complex.
6–8 years old
Show yourself to be a non-judgmental, honest parent at this stage, says Planned Parenthood. If your child asks a question (even if it’s about oral sex, for example), answer in simple terms but truthfully. At this stage, your child will be in primary school, where they’ll come into contact with other curious children and adolescents who may take it upon themselves to share (possibly inaccurate) information.
Your child is also only a few years away from entering puberty, so this is a good time to start preparing them. You can give them an educational book and encourage them to approach you if they have any questions after reading.
9–12 years old
By the time your child reaches puberty, you want to have established an open relationship with him or her. Your child will be going through physical and emotional changes that could be overwhelming. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) lists depression, anger and low self-esteem as some of the feelings your child could be experiencing. Offer support and remind them that their home is a safe space.
Now is also the time to make sure your child knows how to practise safe sex. Talk about romantic relationships as well. It may seem too early to do so, but once your child reaches their teens, they may start engaging more with the opposite sex and it’s important to teach them to be respectful of their own and others’ bodies. You also want to educate them about the emotional aspects of being in a romantic relationship, including break-ups and rejection, so that they’re able to handle these negative emotions when the time comes.
As they become more interested in romantic relationships, they’ll start questioning their gender and sexual orientation. Remain open and non-judgmental and don’t assume that they’re ‘going through a phase’ – what your child is experiencing is very real and how you handle it will greatly influence how they feel about themselves. If your child ‘comes out’ to you, educate them and yourself, if necessary, and respect them. Follow their lead.
13–18 years old
At this stage, hormones will be informing a lot of your child’s decisions. They might be experiencing pressure from their peers to have sex. If they trust you and are willing to come to you for advice, don’t become angry or judgmental. Remember that everyone has experienced this and how you and your child handle these moments will inform their relationships going forward. Make them aware and be sure they understand the emotional (and legal, if they’re below the age of consent) consequences that come with sex.
If your child thinks he or she is ready for sex, talk to them about their contraceptive options as well as sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Provide additional resources, such as educational books or appropriate online articles, as children are also easily influenced by what they see and hear. If they want to use contraceptives, go with them to a clinic to show your support and help them make an informed decision.
News24 offers the following tips on how to talk to your child at any stage:
- Remain calm so your child doesn’t think he or she did or said something wrong.
- It’s natural to feel embarrassed when talking about sex but it’s important to do so. The more you talk about it, the less likely your child will be to engage in inappropriate sexual behaviour when they’re older.
- Use cues from their environment. For example, if your child hears about something relating to sex on the news, use the opportunity to talk about the subject.
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The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a healthcare professional. E&OE.
- Embrett, C. (2016). Age-by age guide to talking to your child about sex. [online] Today’s Parent. Available at: https://www.todaysparent.com/family/parenting/age-by-age-guide-to-talking-to-kids-about-sex/ [Accessed 16 April 2018].
- News24, (2014). When should you first talk to your child about sex?. [online] Available at: https://www.news24.com/You/Archive/when-should-you-first-talk-to-your-child-about-sex-20170728-3 [Accessed 16 April 2018].
- Planned Parenthood, (2018). Elementary School. [online] Available at: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/parents/elementary-school [Accessed 16 April 2018].
- NHS Choices, (2016). Stages of puberty: what happens to boys and girls. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/livewell/puberty/pages/puberty-signs.aspx [Accessed 16 April 2018].