Sex is never an easy topic to discuss with your children and often the most difficult decision can be deciding when is the appropriate age and what is the appropriate subject with which to start. Fortunately, starting sex education isn’t as hard as it sounds. But it is much more than the discussion of intercourse and how it all comes about. The first sex talks should be on the issues of personal safety. These start at an early age and are some of the most important that you will have with your young child. A great place to start is with the discussion of personal or private “zones” and the correct names for body parts.
As early as four or five, depending upon the understanding of your particular child, you should explain to your child that they have personal or private zones that include the breast and pubic areas. These areas belong to them and them alone. With the exception of being bathed or toilet trained by parents or other trusted family members (or in some circumstances, the babysitter), no one should touch them in these areas. If anyone attempts to or does touch them in these areas, they should tell a parent or another trusted adult (preschool teacher, family member, or authority figure) immediately. They do not need to fear if the person who touches them says they will hurt them or other members of their family. This is a common threat on younger children. “If you tell, I will hurt your mommy.” Mommy is the center of a young child’s world and they will do nothing to risk that. Stress to them that Mommy and Daddy are strong and that they can take care of themselves and the children or even pets in the family. It is very important that they tell mommy and daddy immediately so that they can protect them from the person. Unfortunately, sometimes the person who is assaulting your child is that authority or trusted figure. Because of this it is a good idea to stress to your children AT ANY AGE, that if a person’s touch makes you uncomfortable, it is best to TELL THEIR PARENTS so that it can be handled in the appropriate manner.
By the time your child is ready for kindergarten, it is necessary to prepare them further to protect themselves. All of the standard cautions apply and you DO have to share them with your child despite the fact that some of them might cause fear. Fear isn’t always a bad thing; in some cases, it provides the caution that saves lives. NEVER go anywhere with a stranger, no matter what they promise – candy, pets, a trip to see mommy. Let them know that no one other than the standard person will pick them up from school unless they have been told of it beforehand. I know that sometimes it is inconvenient and that a last minute change in transportation might makes things easier, but don’t confuse your child. Stick to the rule: No changes unless discussed beforehand. No talking to adults other than teachers on the playground or through the playground fence. The only persons that should be on the school grounds are students and teachers. Everyone else should be considered a stranger. Stay away! No wandering off alone. There is safety in numbers. Pedophiles who are willing to kidnap children shy away from groups; they prefer the easy pick-up of a single child to whom no one is paying attention. And even if a kidnapper does take the chance of taking a child from a group, those witnesses – other children that they may be – are better sources of information for police than no one at all.
When you begin these discussions, I can promise you that you are going to start to see the wheels turning in your young child’s mind. The questions will start at this point. Maybe not that very day, but they will begin. There are three things to remember when you begin to answer: 1) Use correct terminology, 2) ALWAYS tell the truth, and 3) answer the question only. They really don’t want long, detailed answers at early ages; only enough to answer their questions. Trust me, if the answer leads to more questions, they will ask them.
1) Use the correct terminology. Everyone has their own cute names for body parts that they use with children in order to make the conversations easier – wee-wee, winkie, cookie, cupcake, ta-ta’s, (insert your own preferred phrase here). But when you expect children to take your seriously, you should use the correct terms – penis, vagina, breasts. So, when it comes time for those serious question-and-answer sessions, let them know that this is not a game – it is very serious – by using the appropriate terminology. You can still “winkie” and “piddle” your way through the other “silly” conversations, but not with a topic that is so important to the safety of your child. I am sorry if those terms make you uncomfortable, but get used to them. Maybe you weren’t brought up in a household where “penis” and “vagina” were part of the vocabulary. Then practice in front of the mirror until you can say them without even blinking. No blush, no wince, no hesitation. It is for the safety of your child!
2) ALWAYS tell the truth. Babies don’t come from the cabbage patch or the stork. While there is a period at the end of a sentence, it isn’t the one your child is referring to and your young son doesn’t want to hear that perhaps he wet the bed when he has his first “wet dream”. No matter how uncomfortable it makes you, you have to tell the truth. Your truthful answer will depend upon their age and the amount of explanation that satisfies their curiosity. On the simple end, that babies come into being when a mommy and daddy decide they are ready to start a family might be enough for your younger child. But then again, they may continue to question until they get the answer that babies grow inside the mommy when a mommy and daddy loves each other very much and wants to make a family together. And when your child is older, they are going to ask what caused the baby to grow inside the mommy. And by teenage years, sexual intercourse will need to be discussed whether we like it or not. Would you rather your children learn from you, or from the rumors and misrepresentations of other children their own age? That’s what I thought. Thus, key word is TRUTH.
3) Answer the question only. Children, especially the younger ones, will ask what they want to know. Answer the question; if they want more information, they will ask another one. If you overwhelm them with too much information, you are going to lose them and intimidate them from coming to you in the future. The key is to be calm and open and honest. If your child sees that their questions unnerve you, they are less likely to ask questions in the future. If they see that you are willing to answer them without hesitation, they will keep the lines of communication open – at least until the teenage years. Be forewarned; in the teenage years, you will have to ask your own questions – but that reality is for another topic, another day.
I hope that this helps you with deciding on a starting point for these critical discussions with your children and gives you the boost you need to forge forward. In today’s society, sex education is a topic that we cannot responsibly ignore. The cost is far too great. Know one thing for certain – you are not alone in this responsibility of parenting. We have to deal with the varying emotions of the topic of sex, but we will all survive. The important thing is that we make sure that our children not only survive, but grow up to be healthy, happy, productive adults – in every aspect of their lives. And as difficult as it may be, sex education is one of the areas that fall under our “jurisdiction”.
[DISCLAIMER: I do not profess to be an expert in any area of child-rearing. My knowledge and my opinions originate in my own experiences as a single parent and in my own research.]