Kids’ questions are more varied and diverse than only being about “s-e-x.” And as I’ve said many times before, the earlier you start talking with your child, the easier it’s going to be and the more willing your child will be to come to you with their questions and concerns. However, it is never too late to initiate open, honest conversation with an older child as well. It all might feel dicey, but not talking is definitely the bigger risk. (If you missed part I of this post, you can find it here.)
1. Cars are great places to have conversations.
I like the idea of initiating conversations in the car because it’s less threatening, with little-to-no expectation of eye contact, and your child is a captive audience. Start a conversation with something simple, like hygiene (What are some things you need to do everyday to stay healthy?) or staying safe (If a stranger approached you and you didn’t feel quite right about it, who else could you go to for help – besides me?). Look in the mirror to see their reactions. If your child is fairly young, there might be some giggling. If they’re tweens or teens, they’ll probably get quiet, roll their eyes or give you a, “I know all that.” Don’t let their responses stop you, and don’t get frustrated. Just stay quiet for a bit, and if they don’t answer, try again. Like most aspects of parenthood, these conversations take patience and perseverance. You might break the ice by sharing some of your own experiences. If you’re lucky enough to get an answer the first time around, take it slowly. Congratulate them at the end of the conversation, and maybe change the subject. “So how is Minecraft going these days?”
2. Continue the conversation; it’s only successful if it’s ongoing.
Parent: “We had one talk, then I gave them a book that should get them through college.” Not!
These are ongoing conversations that ultimately give your child the trust and belief that you’re the right person to go to if they have any questions or issues. They will also be more willing to share what’s happening in their peer group or online if you’ve developed a relationship built on mutual trust. In this technological world you could talk with your child daily and never run out of discussion topics. These conversations are also a really great opportunity to develop your child’s critical thinking skills by asking questions for them to ponder and respond to like, “Why do your feet get bigger before a growth spurt?” or “Why is it important to use a washcloth in the shower and not just your hand?”
Remember: this is a conversation not a lecture. Be curious and willing to listen. (Find the answers to these questions and others in our classes.)
3. If you tell your child you’ll get back to them with the answer, you better dang well do it!
How often have I heard a parent use the excuse, “I’ll get the answer and get back to you,” when they don’t feel comfortable answering a question? Often. This is very bad form. Some kids will forget, but others will figure out your ploy, and they won’t trust you with subsequent questions. If you honestly don’t know the answer, then you can say you need to go do some research—or you can engage them in your fact-finding mission. If the timing of their question isn’t right, let them know when you’ll come back to it and DO. If they’re too young for the answer, let them know that and then promise to answer when it’s appropriate—and DO. Being reliable here will help teach them that it’s safe to rely on you in general. This is all part of the whole.
4. “Boob” does not mean breast. Call it what it is!
Whether you have a young child or an older one, it’s important to give them the correct terminology for reproductive parts. When it comes to our bodies, especially our reproductive anatomy, calling it what it is is very important. Using proper names engenders respect for self and others and effective communication with other adults (doctors or counselors), if the need should ever arise.
“Boob” means dull or stupid person. How is that a positive message when discussing breasts, which have been critical to the survival of our species? Girls should be proud of them. And what do you usually call a penis? A “dick.” This sounds about the same as “boob.”
Yes, on the one hand, both breasts and penises are interesting parts of the male and female body, but calling them stupid names devalues them and implies a negative connotation. If you doubt this, try calling your knees your “bendy places” out loud or your skin your “outside part,” and I think you’ll get how attaching nicknames to some parts, but not all, carries additional messaging.
5. The shower is the best place to have a “birds & bees” talk.
If showering with your young child is part of your routine, it’s the perfect time to initiate talking about gender differences, anatomy and even where babies come from. When it comes to males, it’s pretty obvious. For females, it’s another story. The bath or shower is a perfect time to discuss that inside a woman’s pelvis is where babies can grow inside the uterus. If they ask how they get there, you can answer with something like: “Mommy and daddy hugged very closely, and daddy had a seed inside his body called a sperm. He shared it with mommy’s tiny egg inside her pelvis and that’s how babies start to grow inside the uterus.”
Take a moment to let the information sink in, and, more than likely, that will be the end of the conversation. Besides, the water will be getting cold as well. Though it may seem to be a funny place to have the conversation, it really makes sense in the shower or bath environment. I would say that conversation is most appropriate for anywhere from 5 – 9 years of age.
That being said, I realize this is not the story for every baby. There might have been an adoption, artificial insemination or a surrogate. Take a moment and think about how you would like to share that information at their level of understanding. Don’t think it’s a conversation to be left until adolescence. Like everything else, it needs to begin earlier rather than later.
First and foremost, parents have a responsibility to create an environment where children feel healthy in their bodies and minds, thereby laying the foundation for positive self-esteem and body image. In the world we live in, there are high expectations for parents do so much for their children. Our goal at the Birds & Bees Connection is to support parents in making each of these transitions easier. Check out our resources page for additional suggestions, attend one of our upcoming classes (or organize your own), or if you have more specific questions or are looking for more one-on-one help, consult with me privately.