There comes a time in every parent’s life when they must address the birds and the bees with their child. “The Talk” is often one of the most dreaded events in parenting. That’s somewhat ironic, since what’s being addressed is so completely natural.
Time was, parents could wait until their child hit puberty before they broached the subject. These days, kids are exposed to so much more, so much earlier in life. Moreover, the range of topics has grown from the basics to gender issues to vastly expanded definitions of family.
Addressing sexual topics with children from infancy through their teenage years is now the recommended strategy. So is the concept that kids should be allowed to explore their own bodies without taboos. The modern world has made an often uncomfortable conversation perhaps more challenging for parents than ever.
There’s nothing for it but to brace yourself to discuss everything from gender noncorformity to the birth control shot. Sex and all it entails is far too important to the health of your child to dodge the responsibility. So when it’s time to talk — and that will be more than once — here are five subjects you should address.
1. Sexual Anatomy
You’re probably comfortable asking your one-year-old, “Where’s your nose?” and delighting when that little finger touches the center of their face. You probably don’t refer to it as a “schnoz” or “honker,” but rather you call it what it is. But what if you’re talking about a penis?
Experts recommend that you refer to body parts using proper terminology from infancy. That way, your child won’t be confused later. Plus, referring matter-of-factly to a vagina helps your child understand that using the term is nothing to be embarrassed about.
Make sure you also address the proper names of genitalia your child doesn’t have so they know those terms, too. This will be useful should your curious youngster spot a parent’s, sibling’s, or friend’s particular body features. Begin these anatomy lessons early, and you and your child will be far more comfortable down the road.
2. Appropriate Sexual Behavior and Permission
It is beyond unfortunate that toddlers must be taught what kind of touching is inappropriate. It’s also vital to their health and safety. You’re providing the agency children need in the 21st century to protect themselves.
You should also address when and where it’s appropriate for them to touch themselves. Just guide them in a way that doesn’t make them feel ashamed about such natural behaviors. At the same time, advise them that touching others in that way is as inappropriate as others touching them.
You should continue to address appropriate sexual behavior and permission as your child ages. Your teenager should have the same agency to tell a classmate not to touch them in an unwanted sexual manner. Talking plainly on this topic may save your child from physical and emotional harm.
3. Where Babies Come From
Basically, the answer to the question about where babies come from is still about sperm fertilizing an egg. But the circumstances surrounding that occurrence can vary widely now. It’s a topic you’ll be unable to avoid because inquiring child minds want to know.
The specificity of your response will depend on what you think your child can understand at various ages. Under any circumstances, it’s important that you don’t lie. In other words, don’t use the stork mythology to avoid an honest answer.
These days, you also need to keep in mind that a lot of families don’t have the traditional mom and dad. That’s why it’s important to cover the variety of ways that a fertilized egg can become someone’s child. You’ll build their understanding of where babies come from as well as the diversity of modern families.
4. Sexually Transmitted Infections
The time to talk about this critical topic is before your child becomes sexually active. That could be as young as 10 to 12 years old, according to some experts. You will need to judge whether you think your child is mature enough to understand the conversation.
STIs are extremely difficult for even adults in relationships to discuss. Talking openly and honestly about them with your pre-adolescent will help break down that barrier before they reach adulthood. However, this may be a topic you think you don’t know enough about to address.
To make sure your child receives accurate and complete information about STIs, ask your child’s doctor to lead the way. You should also participate in the discussion, which will equip you with the information you need to provide ongoing guidance. Of all the sexual topics you should address with your child, this one could literally be a lifesaver.
5. Birth Control
Birth control is a topic that needs to be covered comprehensively with all genders. Your child should know that contraception is the responsibility of everyone involved in intimacy. That mutual responsibility also applies should a young woman become pregnant.
Because there are numerous birth control options, this is another topic for you, your child, and a healthcare provider to discuss. Everything from abstinence to IUDs should be included in the conversation. You should also point out that, of the common forms of contraception, only condoms are effective in preventing STI transmission.
As with the STI subject, broaching the birth control conversation before your child becomes sexually active is smart. Feel free to reinforce your values about when to have sex while neither being judgmental nor necessarily providing your consent. Just remember that forewarning your child is forearming them.
Few of these subjects are easy for parents to address with their children. If that includes you, you aren’t alone. Fortunately, there’s always some sort of expertise available when you feel out of your depth.
Remember to encourage questions rather than talk at your child. Don’t lie or deceive them just because the truth makes you squirm. And if you don’t know an answer to a question, don’t be afraid to admit it and come back with one later.
You don’t do anything else perfectly as a parent, so don’t expect these talks to be any different. Just give every topic your best, most informed shot. Your child is far more likely to thank you for trying than thank you for avoiding tough conversations.
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