Talking To Your Kids About Sex

5 Talking Points

Posted Mar 07, 2016

It’s often incredibly awkward, even for liberal, open minded parents, to begin the process of talking about the birds and the bees with their kids. In fact, one of the single most common questions I get as a psychologist and a mom, from both clients and other parents, is “What are we supposed to tell the kids about SEX?” I recently commented on this topic for US News and World Report. It’s important to starting talking about it. You want to be sure your child is getting the facts and not getting information that isn’t appropriate or is misguided-whether from other kids or media. And if you are not talking about it, you are missing the invaluable opportunity to build a closer relationship with your child. Here are 5 talking points to keep in mind when the conversation turns to the subject of sex:

1. “You can ask me anything.” The number one best thing about your child asking you about their physical body, sex or how babies are made, is that it shows they feel comfortable enough to ask. Don’t ruin this by not answering the question or acting evasive. Start by reinforcing that they asked you by saying, “I’m glad you asked….” Or “Always know you can ask me anything.” Use their questions to build a framework demonstrating they can talk with you about anything because the questions and dilemmas they face will only become more complicated. Don’t miss the opportunity for relationship development by directing them toward or purchasing a book for kids on sex. If you do this, at least read it together and use it to start a discussion-- not to end a discussion.

2. “If I don’t know the answer, I will find it.” Answer all questions. If they are asking, they are likely ready to hear the answer. Even if they are only 5 years old, if they ask how babies are made, don’t give some made up story about a stork. Break down the science, “a sperm and egg get together.” Demonstrate your own curiosity, show your approachability and even if you don’t know the answer demonstrate you can figure it out together.

3. “These things can feel hard to talk about.” When your child asks nothing at all about the birds and the bees, start sprinkling a little bit of sex talk in here and there. You don’t want to have a “sit down” where you overwhelm them or say it so fast you miss the opportunity to relate over the topic. Remember: you are building a relationship with your child for the long term. One where they feel safe and comfortable knowing they can go to you when needed. So if you show them you can bring it up here and there and then move on, you are modeling that they can do this too.

4. “Kids your age sometimes notice/feel…” Another good entry into talking with your child is to say things like “kids your age sometimes wonder about X…” This will get the ball rolling. If at all possible you want them to have a general understanding of how babies are made and what they can expect to change for them physically, before they hit puberty. So work to pepper this stuff in here and there over the elementary school years. Once they hit puberty, they will be more self-conscious about such discussions.

5. “What do you think about that?” As your child gets older, you want them to feel they can come to you when it comes to sex and relationships. They need someone trusted to use as a sounding board for what they are observing and experiencing in the world. With this goal in mind, whenever you give them information or answer a sex or romantic related question, be sure to elicit their opinion—“What do you think about that?” or “Do you see this happen with your friends?” When they are very young, they will likely ignore and change the subject. But you are setting the stage for when they are teenagers by showing that you are interested in their opinions and that you can hear them without judgment or control. Kids who talk to their parents, or another trusted adult, about sex and relationships get the invaluable benefit of thinking things through--before risk and opportunity present.

The “sex talk” isn’t just one talk. It’s a series of talks over time that will deepen your connection with your child and help them to better think through the complicated predicaments that inevitably occur in teenage and young adult life. Your openness and warmth will help them to make healthy romantic and sexual choices for the long term.

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Jill Weber is a clinical psychologist in Washington, DC and author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy—Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships.

Copyright Jill Weber, Ph.D.