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It seems like yesterday when you were changing your child’s diapers or waving tearful goodbyes on their first day of kindergarten. Now you’re organising sleepovers and helping them finish their homework for school. Sounds like a rather cushy job, doesn’t it? But this is just the beginning. Soon you will have started answering questions about topics you didn’t think you’d have to deal with for at least a few more years.
What Happens in This Age?
Children around 6-8 years old are going to be buzzing with curiosity about sex and their bodies. This is when they also start wondering about the physical differences between themselves and their parents. And if you have an overly curious kid, then the questions they are going to ask you would make a sailor blush. Many child therapists are of the opinion that 6-8 is the perfect age to talk about sex with your inquisitive little one. Understandably, this is an uncomfortable topic for most parents to broach with their child. However, given the prevalence of oversexed and wildly exaggerated information on TV or the internet, it is best that the knowledge of sex and reproduction come from the people they trust the most: you.
How to Talk to Your Kid About Sex
Parents are often wary of answering questions about how babies are made, and you may have memories of being brushed off by your mother if you every asked one. The most common sources of information are back-bench discussions with friends in 4th grade and speculation about the process.
You might not think your child has any need to know about the birds and bees at such a young age, but if you don’t teach them at the right time they will pick up misconceptions and inaccuracies. At this age, children tend to question everything without a filter, as they lack the capacity to be embarrassed. You, however, might be flustered when a 6-year-old asks you why dad and mummy look different without clothes. What you need to do is take a page from their book and push your embarrassment out of the way. Here are some tips that will help you answer your child with crystal clear information.
- Don’t wait for them to ask
It helps to remember that not all children are expressive about their curiosity. They might also think you will scold them or punish them for asking questions about this topic. If you stay silent, it will only reinforce the notion that sex is a bad thing to discuss.
- Keep it brief
There is no need to go into too much detail. Children don’t need to know the technical descriptions of sex, menstruation, masturbation or erections. The key is to keep it brief but informative. It might help to pick up some sexual slang from the web, because children are more likely to have heard of the common words rather than scientific ones. For example, a child might have heard the word “boner”, but is unaware that it is the same thing as an erection. Use slang to make them correlate their body to the accurate terminology.
- Remain levelheaded
Nothing is going to freak your child out more than your negative reactions to their natural curiosity. If you respond with rage or shock, it will send the message that sex is shameful. Rejecting their queries will prevent them from learning the right sexual values, and trust me on this: You do not want them getting their info from the internet. Pick a quiet spot in your home where your child feels safe and can ask you anything without fear of upsetting you. Research at Harvard University shows that kids tend to pick up on tone more than the actual words, so ensure you sound pleasant and empathetic.
- Pay attention
Listen to what your child is saying. Often we misconstrue their intent and launch into a speech about sex and conception and babies until you realise that was not what they meant. This anecdote will explain the point:
Rahul comes home from school and asks his mother, “What’s sex?” who decides to explain everything to him then and there. At the end of the monologue, she asks him if he has any questions. He pulls out a school form and asks, “I get all that, but how can I put it in this tiny box”? He just didn’t know that sex meant the same thing as gender in this context. Pay attention to your child’s queries and ask follow-up questions to make sure he really wants to know about sex. If your kid looks uncomfortable or distracted, hug them and promise to explain it again later.
- Use your environment
There are so many things happening all around that you can use as a teaching moment. Observing pets nursing their babies or chickens laying eggs can be a great springboard to teach your little ones about sex. As a start, you can explain to them that little animals come from bigger animals. When the day comes that your kids ask you of their own origin story, you can use these examples as analogies to justify your arguments about reproduction.
- Don’t be judgemental
Little boys and girls learn at a very early age that they are different from each other, but are quite unsure how exactly. It is most important you stress that, while there are a few physical differences, there is no set role for either gender. Gently teach your boys that their gender does not give them special privileges, and teach your girls that they can accomplish whatever boys can. Do not forget to explain that different sexual orientations exist and that it is completely OK for your boy to like boys or your girl to like girls.
What do kids normally ask about Sex?
Kids are a treasure trove of questions. If they are not asking you why the sky is blue they are asking how their pet dog made so many small puppies. The rapid pace at which they rattle out demands to satisfy their curiosity can be overwhelming. Below you will find a list of the ten most common questions children ask regarding sex, along with the respective answers you can give them in a responsible manner.
Dad, What are You Doing to Mummy?
These are the most terrifying words any parent can hear from their child. So your child has now caught you in the middle of the act. While it is extremely awkward for you, do understand that it is a lot more confusing for your little one. What did you say when your kid caught you having sex? Say, “Listen, we know you want to come and sleep with us sometimes at night, but you have to respect dad’s and mummy’s privacy. Go to your room and we will be there in a minute.” Use this to teach your child about privacy and its importance. Kids tend to forget quickly, so unless they press for more, you can let the situation rest for a while. In time, though, you will have to answer the following questions.
Where do Babies Come From?
This question can make even the most liberal of parents stop dead in their tracks. Your child has just hit you with a double attack, “What’s sex? Where babies come from?” Children between 6-8 are likely to hear the word sex from a friend or the media. At this point, there is no need to go into all the intimate details. Simply tell them, “Sex is something adults do when they want to have children. It is just a different kind of hug.” If your kid is pressing you for more detail, you might say, “When a man’s penis gets hard, he puts it into the woman’s vagina to make a baby. Sex is often used by grown-ups to bring happiness to each other as well”. Always end your talk with follow-up questions to make sure he or she understands the gist.
Does Sex Hurt?
These questions only arise if your child has seen something PG13 on TV, or when he saw you having sex with your spouse. To a child, the act of sex might look a bit violent, so it is time to put those fears to rest. Reassure them by saying, “Sex is supposed to make you feel good; it is not painful in any way.” This is the right time to inform your child about consent, “Sex can only happen if the people involved in it have agreed to have it. It is very bad to force someone to have sex when they don’t want to.” It is a good idea to tell them about the difference between good touch and bad touch, “If someone touches your private parts or in any way that makes you feel uncomfortable, immediately tell us or any adult you can trust.”
Do I Need to Have Sex to Make a Baby?
This is the most common question they will ask after you explain sex to them. Now you can explain to them how only adults can have sex to make babies, and that they don’t need to think about that right now. Talk to them about the differences between the bodies of adults and children by saying something like, “Your body will soon change into an adult in a process known as puberty, after which you will be able to make babies.” Leave the complexities of teenage pregnancy for a later age.
What is Puberty?
When they ask you this question, they want to know how their bodies will change so much. You can illustrate the differences between child and adult bodies with references to yourself. Ask questions such as “Have you noticed that dad has a lot more hair than you? Have you seen mummy has breasts that you don’t? This is because when puberty happens, your body will start to grow taller and stronger. Boys will grow hair on their bodies and faces and get a deep voice like dad. Girls will start to grow breasts like mummy’s and begin menstruating.” If they ask you, “What does horny mean?”, tell them that horny is the word used for someone who is excited about having sex. If they ask further questions, tell them you will explain when they are a little older.
What is Menstruation?
Girls usually begin menstruating between 10-11. The time of your daughter’s first period is both terrifying and confusing. She will not understand what is going on and will come to you for support. This is where you tell her, “What you are going through is known as menstruation. When menstruation starts, girls bleed from their vaginas once a month. This is your body’s way of telling you that you are ready to have a baby.” It is time now for you to take her shopping for sanitary napkins or tampons, so she knows how to take care of her cycles by herself. Make sure she can trust you to come to her, especially when she experiences menstrual cramps. It is also your duty to ensure she does not feel ashamed about her body during her period.
Why does Rubbing My genitals Feel So Good?
This is one of the most awkward situations for a parent to face. Children as young as three discover the sensual pleasure that comes from touching their genitals. Do not open the subject with them unless they ask you point-blank. Introduce the concept of masturbation at this point. You can tell your boys, “Sometimes your penis can get stiff because you have to pee, or if you are excited, or for no reason at all. The penis is an organ which can feel a lot of pleasure, which is why it feels so good to rub it.” For girls, say, “You have a small button above your vagina known as the clitoris. It is meant to make you feel good, that is why you like rubbing it so much”. Tell them that it is perfectly natural for them to explore their bodies, but mention that they should only do it in private.
What is An Orgasm?
The awkward questions just don’t seem to stop! If your little one directly asks you what’s an orgasm, tell them, “Remember when you touched your penis/clitoris and it felt really good? If you do it for long enough, you will feel wonderful sensations in your private area. This is an orgasm.” Most kids will be happy with this answer, but for those budding scientists who want to know why an orgasm happens, you can say, “When an adult man has an orgasm, his penis releases a special liquid called semen into an adult woman’s vagina when they are having sex. The semen goes inside the woman’s body and causes a baby to grow inside it. After nine months, the baby comes out.” You can explain this in your own words, if necessary.
How Does the Baby Come Out?
When they ask this question, they are genuinely confused. They know by now that babies grow inside women, but are unsure of how babies can be taken out of a woman’s body. You can say, “Once the baby spends 9 months growing in the uterus, it is time for it to come out. When that happens, the mother’s body sends signals for her vagina to start expanding in size to allow the baby to come out safely.”
What does Gay Mean?
Children at this age are fortunately open to accepting the concept of homosexual relationships. If they ask you this question, don’t hesitate to inform them, “Sometimes men can fall in love with men, or women can fall in love with women. They have sex with the same gender, fall in love and live together. It is a completely natural thing. Many people are gay.” Make sure they understand that being gay is normal and that there is nothing wrong with it.
To reiterate what I have been saying from the start: It is much better for your child to learn the right things about their bodies and sex from you than half-baked knowledge from others. Try not to miss capitalising on teachable moments; whenever your child asks you a relevant question, instead of shying away from the topic, sit them down and explain it to them as clearly as possible. You might have to deal with a host of follow-up questions once you start explaining, but that is a good thing. You don’t have to be a 100% technically accurate either, as they will not be able to process all that information.