For a lot of parents, the prospect of talking to their children about sex is among the most dreaded conversations. Plus, the timing of this conversation and what to say can be tricky.
When it comes to having “the talk,” there isn’t any “right time,” just as there’s no perfect script as to what to say. But there are some tips to help guide you through it.
Try to Answer Honestly
While you won’t want to introduce your child to something that’s outside the realm of what he or she can understand too early, if they’re asking questions, it might be the time to answer as simply and honestly as you can – while trying to avoid euphemism. Keep in mind your child’s age and exactly what they are asking. If they hear someone on television say “birth control” and they ask you what that means, chances are you won’t have to go into the anatomy of sex quite yet, but it might be a good idea to tell them that birth control is something that keeps women from having babies until they’re ready. If the conversation heads into more specific territory, take those questions as they come. Remember, you know your child better than anyone else, and you know their maturity level. And hey – they’re asking you, which is good because it means they’re not asking someone else.
Keep Your Composure
A lot of times, questions about sex seem to come from left field, which can make it all the more difficult to respond because you’re not prepared. If your child is asking you a point-blank question about sex, or they make a statement about sex that is incorrect, keep your composure and talk to them. If they see you’re embarrassed, uncomfortable or making the conversation seem like a “big thing,” they may not be as likely to come to you in the future with other questions, which means they could go to friends or older siblings who may not share correct information. You want to avoid this. I think most people would agree the best source for something as serious as sex education is parents.
Learning Takes Time
You can take comfort in knowing you don’t have to have a single conversation about sex with your 10-year-old all in one shot. Let them ask a question. Once your answer satisfies them and you feel they have received enough education from the conversation, you can move on to something else and wait for the next time a question arises. This can help them see that talking about sex with you isn’t taboo and they’ll feel comfortable coming to you in the future. Giving them information a little bit at a time also helps to not bombard them with things they may not be ready for. If they’re getting older and you feel as though it may be time to educate them, regardless of whether they bring it up, start with a question or statement to gauge their knowledge or curiosity. For example, you might try something like, “When I was your age, I was unsure about how to go about talking about sex with my parents, so I want you to know that it’s totally OK and I don’t mind answering your questions.”
Once you’ve shared information, allow time for it to sink in. Give them time, and remember, you’re the expert on your own kids. They’ll give you cues to help you know when they’re ready for a discussion like this.
Lastly, look to your child’s doctor for support. They can help to reinforce your efforts when they see your child and help draw out unasked questions.
Dr. Jennifer Lai is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center. She’s accepting appointments for kids of all ages. Her clinical interests include general Pediatrics, newborns, autism, and obesity.