Have your children asked you where they came from yet? Arlene Harris looks at the best and most age appropriate ways to talk to your child about sex.
It might be the oldest story in the book, but the tale of the Birds and the Bees still gets parents in a flap as they try to work out what is the best age to enlighten children about their existence and how they should tackle such a potentially delicate subject without appearing embarrassed or flustered.
How to talk to your child about sex
Jeanette McMahon has three children. She remembers hearing the ‘facts of life’ from a friend in school and the idea seemed so preposterous that she accused her classmate of lying – much to the amusement of older and wiser children. So she vowed to ensure her own youngsters wouldn’t suffer the same fate and decided early on that she would tell them whatever they wanted to know about the circle of life and deliver it in a factual, no-nonsense manner – despite the awkwardness of the subject.
“My parents told me nothing about the Birds and the Bees,” says the 42-year-old. “They have always considered themselves very ‘with-it’ as parents, but they really left us to our own devices and that included anything to do with sex or our bodies. “Consequently, I made a complete fool of myself when I was in about 5th or 6th class as I was appalled when a friend told me how babies were made.
Looking back, I wonder if it wasn’t the ‘done thing’ for parents to talk about stuff like that to their children, but I know I could have benefited from a few words to the wise.
Answer all questions
“So I have always made sure to answer any questions my kids asked and have tried to make it as casual as possible – despite the fact that I was actually quite embarrassed.”
There is a lot of talk about when is the best age to broach the subject of reproduction, but the Limerick woman felt that if her children asked the question, she would answer in a manner, which was both factual and age-appropriate.
And while her sons were fairly young when they had ‘the talk’, she feels it has benefited them because the subject is no longer taboo. “I was cooking dinner one evening last year when Matt asked me a question about where babies come from,” says Jeanette, who is married to Patrick.
“Michael was with him at the time but wasn’t really paying attention so I casually told both of them the names for all the reproductive organs and explained that the male seed needed to fertilise the female egg. “
They were quite curious and went off to look in a book they had about animals and thankfully I didn’t have to delve into exactly how the seed managed to find its way to the egg – I knew that question would come but for the moment, I had answered the question I had been asked.
“About a month later, Matt came back and asked me how exactly the egg was fertilised. My initial response was total mortification but I reminded myself who was the grown up and I explained in the simplest way possible. He seemed quite perplexed to start with but then as the penny dropped, he seemed happy with the answer – although he did let me know how awful he thought the process was.”
Having imparted the facts to her eldest son, the mother-of-three says she isn’t at all fazed about telling her other children and feels it is actually better when they are younger as they don’t have the crippling embarrassment, which often afflicts older children.
“I think it’s a case of the ‘anticipation being worse than the execution’ with giving kids the facts of life,” she says. “I had worried about it, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought and I think children are a lot more mature than we give them credit for.
“It was fine telling Matt and I’m glad I did it then rather than when he was 12 and much more embarrassed. And now that I’ve done it once, I am will have no problem talking to Michael and Caoimhe about it when the time comes. “I think I’ve done the right thing but as with everything with children, only time will tell.”
Keep it simple and age appropriate
Dr David Carey is a consultant child psychologist. He agrees with Jeanette and says that the most appropriate way to educate children on this topic is to answer questions as and when the child asks.
“There is no optimum age for telling children the facts of life,” he says. “Young children become curious about how babies are born and where they come from at an early age, usually around three or four. And children of this age can just be told that mummy is having a baby and that the baby grows from an egg and comes out of her vagina – yes, it is appropriate to properly name the body parts to young children.
“Most children of this age will accept that answer. Of course you can go further if you want; explaining that when a man and a woman love one another they get close and the man’s sperm finds the mummy’s egg and creates a new baby. All of this depends on the age and development of the child.”
The Dublin based psychologist says parents will know when their child is ready for information of this kind but should ensure not to divulge too much too soon.
”You will know if your child is ready for the facts of life simply by answering their questions when they arise – it is not helpful to force the issues on a child,” he says. “Simply answering the questions in an age-appropriate way is the best. There is no magic formula.
“However, it is important not to tell too much. Listen carefully to the questions your child has asked and answer them succinctly. Do not over explain. Young children do not need to know about the act of love making. The age of the “big talk” is a thing of the past. There is no reason to sit a child down and outline the act of love making. Children need only learn what they need to learn, based on what they ask, at a certain age.
“On that note, remember that parenting your child is your responsibility alone. Do not be worried what other parents think or say. But if your child starts talking about these things to other children tell him or her that these are private matters and things we don’t discuss to others. “Also it is good to note that in our primary schools a certain part of the curriculum will address these matters.”
What’s the big Secret? Talking about Sex with Girls and Boys by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown
It’s Perfectly Normal Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie H Harris and Michael Emberley
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