‘The Conversation’ is something that most, if not all parents always dread! What are we to say? How much are we to say?
It’s awkward and very uncomfortable. I suppose during the time our parents had to have ‘The Conversation’ with us, we were slightly more innocent and the amount of information that we had gotten previously were limited. In my case, and the case of all of my cousins, ‘The Conversation’ was more of a – read this book and we’ll have a Q&A session afterwards! We all had to read ‘a book” that my grandmother had (which I’ve managed to land!). The book covered important information on puberty and sex education that we all read when the time was right (which was somewhere in the mid teens! The girls got it earlier when they attended puberty.). This was followed by a very awkward and rather non-existent Q&A session.
What I’ve noticed now is that as with most things, children know more! With TV programs, the internet, music videos, music lyrics and probably discussions at school, children are more aware of certain concepts than we were when we were that age. ‘The Conversation’ sometimes has to take place earlier than when we had ours. Likewise, this generation of children are more observant and intelligent and thus their questions too, reflect this. The good news is that parts of ‘The Conversation’ can be staged and you can introduce your child to certain information at specific ages. Now the question of course is what do we say, and when do we say it.
As a parent, I personally know that we all want our children to remain as innocent as possible for as long as possible. None of us want overly mature young children or tweens. At the same time, for the sake of their safety, I see a growing need to let children know about their bodies. You don’t want your child being the one introducing new concepts to their friends but it is necessary to teach them important facts. The key to what to say is to make it age appropriate. Whatever information you give your child has to be given specific to their age so that they are able to grasp these concepts. In this day and age, it is important to make sure children (even if they are young) know about their bodies (as opposed to sex and sexuality) to make sure that they are kept safe. This will also make sure that they do not get their information from dodgy sources and are less likely to ‘explore’. Remember, what you say to your child also depends to a certain extent if the child is a girl or a boy.
What do you tell a preschooler?
Even a preschooler will have questions pertaining to sex. Mummy where did I come from? Or Mummy how was I made? At this age, you don’t have to be specific about the information that you give. I prefer to go with an answer which is very diluted but still is the truth. Kids nowadays know so much and they might be ridiculed if they repeat a story which is far from the truth (Like a stork delivered you home.) You can go with an answer like – 1. You were made in mummy’s tummy. 2. Mummy and daddy made you together. Now this of course will bring about more questions. Remember, typical preschoolers never stop their questioning! You can answer by saying; it’s possible, there are ways that Mummies and Daddies know. If their line of questioning gets too much you can say I’ll explain it later and gently change the subject.
Next comes the question of the parts of the body. It’s very important that Preschoolers know what their private parts are, even if they are very young and are in day care. Sadly, due to the things that are currently happening, we do have to teach our children to be safe. So from the time that they are very young, explain to them that their private parts are all the parts of their body that they cover with their swim suit and that these parts are NOT to be touched by anyone other than Mummy & Grand Mummy and/or Daddy. Preschoolers should be taught the names of their correct body parts – do not give them names or have alternate baby-language names. There is however no necessity of teaching them the body parts of the opposite sex unless questions arise if they’ve noticed siblings, etc.
Preschoolers also may have many other questions. If you are feeding one of their younger siblings or if they have seen a baby being breastfed, they may question what it is. Being truthful is important and sometimes technical answers watered down will help. So if you are asked what breastfeeding is, you can say something like, most mummies have food/milk in their bodies to feed their babies. You can even go onto say that most animals that are mammals can do this.
If your little one asks about how he came out of the tummy – keep it simple, you can say that a doctor took you out. How? Well Doctor’s know how!
Differences in body parts – the differences in body parts can be observed by children. Frankly natural curiosity may cause them to ask questions from you. They may notice differences in body when they are out at a swimming class or when they see a sibling or even accidently when they notice things about their parents. Tell them frankly that boys and girls have different body parts and that’s how it is. Take this opportunity to reinforce that they should not allow anyone else to touch their private parts as well as they should not touch anyone else private parts. Stress that private parts are not for anyone else to see.
What to say to slightly older children aged 5-7?
I know you’d like to keep things simple and only let your child know what’s absolutely necessary. Nevertheless, they do get a certain amount of information from their friends and from other sources. These sources include the TV, movies, and even things like songs. By this age they might start asking the same questions again. ‘But Mummy, how was I really made?’ Once again give age appropriate answers. You can start by saying ‘Remember I told you that Mummy and Daddy made you together? Well, we each have a cell that joins together.’ This most likely will trigger the question, ‘How can you do that?’ You can answer to smaller ones that Mummies and Daddies bodies are made in such a way that it’s possible. Usually this is food for thought, this topic is not interesting as you think it is and they’ll leave it be, till a few more years when they’ll want to know how that’s possible!
General guidelines on having ‘The Conversation’ with your child:
- If your child is younger, prepare and chose what answers you would like to give your child. Within your level of comfort, divulge information.
- Always try to make sure that the information you give is correct and factual. Stories about storks and other tall tales will put your children off asking you for information in the future and they may look at other sources for information.
- If you are having a chat with an older child and are planning on getting into more facts (ie, sex) you may want to ask the father to speak to a son and likewise the mother speak to the daughter.
- Always give correct, age appropriate answers. The answers can be simple but this information can later be built upon and explained.
- If a younger child asks you for information that you have not thought about, simply say, wow I haven’t really notice, let me get back to you and you can discuss with your partner and talk to your child again. The important thing is that if you child has a question, answer it. Never leave it be. Their curiosity will get the best of them and they will try to find the answers by themselves or come up with their own – both of which are potentially dangerous.
- If you are having a chat with an older child, practice before hand, as there will be many ‘uncomfortable’ facts that you’ll have to go through and most times, you’ll have to talk about sex. Use resources such as simple books which you can use to understand the most important issues as well as let them read these so that they have all the information.
Sex education and talking about sex maybe both taboo and terribly uncomfortable for parents of our culture, nevertheless, for the sake of keeping our children safe, we need to change from a culture that does not talk about sex to a culture that teaches our children to be safe. If you do not provide the correct information yourself, they may get the wrong information from friends or worse still by the means of the internet which is like Pandora’s box.