Navigating sex education with your child can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be an awkward conversation. We unpack approaches to maintaining an ongoing dialogue with them.
Most people reading this may have had to endure an awkward conversation about ‘the birds and the bees’ as a young child or teen. On the other hand, it’s also likely that you may not have experienced ‘the talk’ altogether, either because your parents assumed you knew enough to get by, or the subject was simply avoided at all costs at home.Now, the tables have been turned and you find yourself having to navigate this unfamiliar territory with your own child. Well, the first thing you should know is that sex education should not be a one-time conversation, or a lecture to your child about what they shouldn’t do. Instead, it should be an open dialogue that should continue through their stages of development until adulthood. Having plenty of little conversations about sex (and everything that comes with it) makes the experience easier for them to handle, and gives them time to properly digest each point and come back to you with more questions if anything is unclear. How much information you give your child is dependent on their age. Follow their lead and answer questions as and when they come up. As your child gets older and becomes more emotionally capable, then you can go into more detail, but it’s important not to give them too much information at once.
The formative years start the conversation early
The sooner you get comfortable with having these kinds of conversations with your child, the smoother future chats with them will go.This can start as early as age two, when you start teaching your toddler about male and female genitals. Dr Laura Berman, author of Teaching Your Kids About Sex, recommends referring to body parts by their proper, anatomical names – without giggling or acting embarrassed – so you avoid confusing your child when you deviate from using nicknames when they get older.
Teach your child body autonomy
It’s completely normal for toddlers to enjoy being naked. However, there will come a time when your child starts becoming aware of their private parts – and when they do start exploring, it’s important that you don’t draw attention to it as it’s normal curiosity and nothing to be ashamed of. Instead, explain to them that that kind of behaviour isn’t something that should be done in public. It’s crucial to reiterate to your child that no one, not even a family member, has the right to touch their private areas, and that they should always say ‘no’ if they feel uncomfortable in any way and come to you straight away.
Look for natural teachable moments
As part of the ongoing dialogue with your child, choose certain times, such as bath time, to speak about genitals and the topic of sex. ‘Where do babies come from?’ is bound to come up, and when it does, you can answer the question simply, and truthfully, but without mentioning the details of sexual intercourse. A simple explanation could be, ‘A baby is made when two adults love each other so much that they’re able to create a baby inside the mother.’ If your child presses you for more detail, you could say that a sperm from the father joins an egg from the mother and together they grow into a baby.
Prepubescene prepare them for puberty
As your child starts to become more self-aware, they’ll naturally start to feel a little awkward around the subject of sex thanwhen they were younger. Alternatively, they may be more openly curious and start probing you with questions. At this stage, you can start to explain the physical changes that start to appear in boys and girls to prepare them for the onset of puberty. During this time, their self-esteem is especially fragile, so if you do start seeing signs of change, refrain from making comments that might lead to them feeling embarrassed or ashamed, as this can have a damaging effect on how they felt about their bodies and sex later in life.
Keep an open-door policy
Don’t rely on school educators alone to inform your child of the ins and outs of sex – sometimes the information kids get at school is too little, and too late. On the other hand, in today’s world, it can be tricky to protect your child from the constant barrage of information. While you may not be able to monitor everything they consume – whether it’s through the internet, television or movies – you can keep an open-door policy and let them know that you’re always available to answer any questions they may have about puberty, sexuality and intercourse. If you’re unsure of how knowledgeable your child really is, the type of questions they ask can be a good indication of what they already know.
Offer age-appropriate resources
If you find that your child is shying away from approaching you with questions, consider leaving them educational material so they can learn in their own time, privately – just be sure to read it yourself first to make sure it’s age-appropriate. Something like Easy Answers to Awkward Questions by local authors Nikki Bush and Ilze van der Merwe is a good starting point for kids aged eight to 13.
Words by Emma Follett-Botha