Parents want and need to talk to their kids about sex and growing up but may appreciate some guidance on what kids need to know and when. Here is a walk through of the stages and ages of what experts recommend to discuss.
Believe it or not sexuality education really begins at birth. As parents you will be the main role model for healthy relationships. Your child is learning about love, safety, and how to trust others. From 0-2 years old you'll want to positively acknowledge your child’s exploration of their body. But discuss that this is a private, not public, behavior. It's important to touch our private parts, at private times, in private places. When explaining all the body parts you'll want to use correct terms. This can be the first line of defense against sexual abuse. If you use nick names for the body parts be sure to use the "adult" words as well, like penis or vagina. This is such a fun and exciting time to be a parent.
Age 3-5 is a time of curiosity and exploring differences. As your child’s gender identity develops, encourage them to respect themselves and others. Use caution with language that sets stringent expectations of behaviors based on gender. Let them know they can talk to you or other trusted adults about anything. Name these adults in their lives. Teach them about appropriate touch and how to say no to unwanted touch. This begins with giving your child the right to decide who they allow to touch them. This includes family members. For example, instead of telling children to give someone a hug, ask them if they would like to give "so and so" a hug. Also be ready to give a simple description of where babies come from.
At age 6-8 years old be prepared to answer more mature questions about reproduction. You may get lots of questions about what certain words mean that could surprise you. Don't forget to be mindful of your tone and facial expressions when this happens. Stay cool, calm, and collected. As children become more independent, reinforce the importance of open communication in your family. Practice this by having family rules around device use and sacred times when it is family time. You could have game nights and have quality time at meals and in the car to discuss your day. You'll want to begin to explain puberty and what body changes to expect. You can begin by reading a book together or using everyday teachable moments to get the conversations started. Always remember to promote a healthy body image. This means modeling this yourself. Be mindful of the language you use on a daily basis. Your children are watching you.
Now, as your child goes through puberty, emphasize that all bodies develop differently and at their own pace. Have detailed conversations about all the body changes before your child experiences them. This will help them know what is normal and ensure they are talking to you throughout this phase of development. It is likely you'll notice mood changes at this stage. This may begin with more attitude, tears, or aggression. Be patient with your children and try to remember that hormones are kicking off all of the physical and emotional changes their bodies will go through during puberty. Reinforce that masturbation is natural and healthy but should be done privately.
Share personal experiences or use examples from popular media to discuss what healthy relationships look and feel like. TV and movies can be great conversation starters. Discuss your family’s expectations and values about dating and sexual activity as well. It is helpful to take a course together or watch videos or read a book explaining what sex is and why it is for adults.
From age 13-18 there are MANY conversations to have. Parents should talk about the benefits of delaying sexual activity. Your children will also need to develop the skills necessary in order to do so. You'll want to discuss reasons to wait, what healthy relationships look and feel like, as well as pregnancy and disease prevention for when they do decide to have sex. Experts recommend sharing where they can access sexual and reproductive health care services with or without you.
Encourage your child to evaluate their relationships. Reinforce that healthy relationships are built on trust and equal power. Ensure that they know how to say “no.” Practice role playing difficult situations such as parties, drugs, and alcohol. Explain what mutual consent means and why it is important.
Know what schools are covering in the classroom and have other adults you trust discuss the importance of being safe and having healthy relationships. Look for videos and courses that can help support you in having all the conversations that are needed at this time. It takes conversations early and often to raise a sexually healthy adolescent and adult. Always keep an eye out for moments to have important conversations in everyday life.
As a parent you are your child's primary sex educator. If you find it difficult to have these conversations on your own ask for help. We are definitely a resource for you! Remember to always keep talkin'!
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