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Most parents I speak to tend to worry about having "the talk"—aka teaching our kids about sex. But in our current cultural landscape, we can't put this off. Our kids need us.

We must talk to our children about their sexual health. No more excuses. No more avoiding. And, no more thinking you are done with "the talk" after just one conversation.

Gone are the days where we can shy away from talking to our children about consent and sex. In my generation, we received a little bit of information from our parents and a lot of information from our friends. But today, if parents don't take the lead on this, then friends, romantic partners and Google will be there their informants—and Google does not know your child.

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In conversations with parents in my psychology practice, the primary barrier to a successful sex-talk is often a parent's own feelings of discomfort. Because what do uncomfortable feelings make us do? Avoid, squirm and try to get it over with as soon as possible.

Trust me, if you are uncomfortable, so are your kids.

When we shy away from this conversation, we likely do a poor job of teaching our children about their sexual health, their rights to consent and the expectations for respecting others' rights to consent.

Why are we so uncomfortable?

More often than not, we recoil when a child starts asking questions like "Where do babies come from?" or "Mommy, why can't I marry you?" or, my personal favorite from my 5-year-old son, "Mommy, do you have a penis?"

We are ill-prepared to field these questions, especially when they are sprung upon us—and they are ALWAYS sprung upon us. No child ever has said, "Dad, I'm planning to ask you about sex tonight, so be prepared."

We are likely so uncomfortable because we didn't receive an open and thorough sex talk when we were children from which we can model. And because we never feel prepared for this topic, we fall back on what our parents did, which is likely not what our children need in this current generation of the internet and social media.

So, take a deep breath. It's time to show up.

What are they ready for at each age?

Preschool

If we truly want young people to respect each other's bodies, we must teach them. Generally speaking, preschool children are ready to learn about male and female body parts and the privacy of these parts.

We can teach privacy without making it taboo. We teach young children that private parts are the ones underneath their bathing suit. They shouldn't show them to anyone other than at a doctor's appointment or taking a bath, and no one should ask to see them without a parent in the room. If you have ever lived with a preschool child, most are not shy about their bodies (yet), so this talk merely is about privacy and safety.

Preschoolers can also learn about consent to be in someone else's space. For instance, when another child does not want to be chased on the playground, we teach children to stop chasing them.

Elementary to tweens

Elementary children are ready to learn how babies are made and about upcoming puberty, body changes and hormones. This is actually the best time to teach it because they are generally not embarrassed by these conversations with you (yet). They may think an idea is gross or silly, but you can laugh about it together.

Tweens need to be prepped on the idea that as puberty begins, they may have feelings of attraction towards others. However, they may not act on this attraction unless it is mutual, just like the playground game of chase.

Teens

As tweens become teenagers, their primary mode of socialization shifts from family to peers, so it's normal for them to talk to peers about these topics more than you. However, they will hear all kinds of things that may or may not be true. This is when you reap the benefits of the trusting relationship you've built so they can ask you about something they heard.

And, yes, they are going to Google things. This is why instilling a healthy sense of critical thinking in them from a young age is vital—when they read or hear about something that doesn't sound quite right, they question it and come to you (or another trusted adult) for clarification.

A few other tips to remember:

Dads must show up for girls and moms must show up for boys.

In my psychology practice, the most discomfort comes from an opposite-sex parent. I know. You are uncomfortable with "the talk" to begin with, and you are especially ill-prepared if you are talking about an experience you have never had. Yes, the same-sex parent may likely have a better explanation that comes with experience. But when we run out of the room, we model that we are uncomfortable with our child's questions and, thus, send the message that this is an awkward topic.

Try to be present for the conversation.

Think about how powerful it would be to have a conversation about consent and respect from the perspectives of mom and dad. This is especially powerful if you have, or have had in the past, a respectful partnership yourself and can share stories about a kiss between two people who both wanted it to happen. Single parents and parents in same-sex relationships have been handling both sides of these talks for years. Sharing different perspectives is powerful, and we can share others' perspectives through stories. The intention is that the child receives the message that you are comfortable with any and all questions.

Follow the questions.

You do not need to have all the answers at that moment. In fact, you won't, because it will almost always be a spontaneous conversation. Good teaching is filled with honest conversations, and at times you might need to pause, talk to your partner or a friend or parent, get the book that goes with the conversation, or Google something yourself to get prepared to explain something on your child's developmental level.

Don't feel you need to over-prepare and have answers to every question that could come up.

Your child will ask you things you can easily answer. Answer their questions and then stop. The rest of the conversation will continue later. Talking about a child's sexual health is never just one conversation. Children are developing human beings who deserve to develop their curiosities in discussions over time.

Consider individual differences.

Consider your child's specific brain wiring. If your child is impulsive, you are going to want them to understand this aspect of themselves prior to their hormones developing. If your child is a literal thinker, you will want to teach the ideas of "some people like this and some people don't, so if someone says stop, you stop" to help them understand the gray areas of consent. If your child has delayed social skills, it is likely that they may develop hormones earlier than they develop the capacity to understand the nuances of romantic relationships. These are situations in which you may need to reach out to a professional to help walk you through the best way to support your child through puberty.

Above all, you want to start early to build your child's trust when discussing sexual health. And building trust means that you have to get comfortable with it so you can stay in the conversation as long as your child needs you. They need to know you are a safe person with the most accurate information.

This article originally appeared on dremilyking.com.

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This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades, "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4-year-old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year:

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keep an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Follow children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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9 products that will help baby sleep better (and longer!)

For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

How do I get my baby to sleep? This is one of the most commonly asked questions among new parents, and it makes sense, given that babies are born with their days and nights mixed up. For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

And while that might not exist (yet), we have found some of the best products out there that can help baby fall asleep faster and for longer durations. Because when baby is sleeping, so are you!

Dreamland Baby weighted sleep sack and swaddle

Designed by a mama, parents swear by this weighted sleep sack. It mimics your hug to give your baby security and comfort that helps them get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. The detachable swaddle wing makes it easy to transition as they grow.

It's also super easy to get on and off, and includes a bottom-up zipper for late night changes, so you don't have to wake your baby in the process.

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Yogasleep Hushh portable sound machine

Yogasleep hushh sound machine

With three soothing options, this is a perfect solution to help your baby settle when naps are on the go and during travel! I love how compact this noise machine is and that it can run all night with one charge.

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Bebe au Lait muslin crib sheets

Burt's Bees Organic Crib Sheets

With a variety of print options to choose from, these breathable sheets are *so* soft and smooth, even through multiple washes. The luxury fabric keeps little ones warm without overheating—a formula that helps ensure more sleep for everyone.

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The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

You know what's going to help baby have their best sleep ever? Some quality, super soft pajamas. The timeless (and aptly named!) Perfect Pajama from The Simple Folk are some of our favorites. They last forever and they're made from organic pima cotton that is safe on baby's precious skin. They come in a wide range of sizes so siblings can match and feature fold-over hand covers on sizes up to 12 months.

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The Snoo bassinet

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Designed by expert pediatrician and sleep guru Dr. Harvey Karp, the Snoo bassinet gently rocks your baby to sleep while snuggled up in the built-in swaddle. Not only does it come with sensors that adjust the white noise and movement based on your baby's needs, there is also an app that allows you to adjust the settings directly from your phone.

While this item is a bit on the expensive side, there is now an option to rent for $3.50 a day, which is a total game changer!

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Hatch Baby Rest sound machine + nightlight

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The Hatch Baby Rest is a dual sound machine and nightlight that will grow with your family. Many parents use this product with their infants as a white-noise machine and then as a "time to rise" solution for toddlers.

The thing I love most about this product is that the light it gives off isn't too bright, and you can even select different color preferences; giving your toddler choices at bedtime.

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Crane humidifier

Crane Humidifier

The only thing worse than a sick baby is a baby who is sick and not sleeping well. The Crane humidifier helps take care of this by relieving congestion and helping your baby breathe better while sleeping.

Personally, I think the adorable design options alone are enough of a reason to purchase this product, and your child will love watching steam come out of the elephant's trunk!

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Naturepedic organic crib mattress

Naturpedic Lightweight Organic Mattress

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Naturepedic uses allergen-friendly and waterproof materials with babies and children in mind, making them easy to clean and giving you peace of mind.

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Happiest Baby sleepea 5-second swaddle

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Becoming a mother has been life-changing. It's been hard, tiring, gratifying, beautiful, challenging, scary and a thousand other things that only a parent would ever understand.

It is these life-changing experiences that have inspired me to draw my everyday life as a stay at home mom. Whether it's the mundane tasks like doing laundry or the exciting moments of James', my baby boy's, first steps, I want to put it down on paper so that I can better cherish these fleeting moments that are often overlooked.

Being a stay-at-home-mom can be incredibly lonely. I like to think that by drawing life's simple moments, I can connect with other mothers and help them feel less alone. By doing this, I feel less alone, too. It's a win-win situation and I have been able to connect with many lovely parents and fellow parent-illustrators through my Instagram account.

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