How to Prepare Young Kids For Talks About Sex

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Talking to kids about sex may not be your topic of choice, but it's definitely an important one. And, it's never too early (or too late) to start a dialogue. In fact, research shows that kids and teens who have regular conversations with their parents about sex, consent, and healthy relationships are less likely to take sexual risks and more likely to make good choices.

Knowing When to Start a Dialogue

Too many parents believe that waiting until their kids are teens or start to date is the best time to have "the talk."

But actually, it is best to start laying the groundwork for talks about sex as soon as your kids become verbal. The key is to keep the conversation age-appropriate and limit details where necessary.

It's also a good idea to be sure you know what your child is really asking before answering. For instance, if your child asks "Where did I come from?" find out what they really want to know. They may not be asking about where babies come from but instead what city they were born in. So before you get too stressed over the question and start wracking your brain for answer, clarify what it is your child is asking you.

Don't stress out if your child is in middle school or high school and you haven't started talking to them about this kind of stuff yet. It's never too late to get a conversation going. However, you may not want to try to catch them up all in one sitting. Space out your conversations over time until you have covered all the important issues.

Overall, the most important thing you can do is to make sure your kids know that they can ask you anything and you will give them an honest answer. And, if you don't know the answer right off the top of your head, you will do your research and find the correct answer.

Decide What to Say

The best way to prepare your kids for more involved conversations about sex is to begin at an early age and to talk often. This will help your child get used to the idea of sharing information and opinions with you.

Be prepared for questions while keeping in mind that the things they ask will give you some insight into what they already know and how much they understand. Then, strive to answer their questions openly and honestly. And, if you don't know the answer, tell them you will find out.

Here is an age-by-age guide to help you determine which topics you should be discussing when. But, keep in mind you know your child better than anyone else.

Age Appropriate Conversation Topics

Some kids will be ready for more information at an earlier age and others will not be ready. Use your best judgment to determine what you will share with your kids and when.

Birth to Age Two

When it comes to this age group, you probably want to start having simple conversations about the correct names of body parts as well as be prepared to answer any questions your kids might have. Here are some tips:

  • Incorporate the proper names for their genitals into everyday activities like bathtime and during diaper changes. Kids need to know what a vagina and a penis are.
  • Treat the labeling of their body parts just like you would when you point out their elbow, ankle, knee, or foot. If you don't make a big deal out of it, they won't either.
  • Keep in mind that teaching kids the correct names of their body parts empowers them to let others know what hurts or if someone touched something inappropriately.

From Two to Five Years Old

At this age, kids are beginning to understand what touch is. So, you can begin the first steps of teaching them about respect, boundaries, and consent. They also will start to become curious about where babies come from. Here are some tips for those conversations:

  • Talk to them about how to treat other children with kindness and respect.
  • Stress that your kids learn to ask their friends for permission first before they hug or kiss them—even holding hands requires them to ask first. These conversations help them begin to understand consent.
  • Allow your kids the opportunity to say no to touch as well. Give them the freedom to refuse hugs and tickles from you and their siblings. You also should allow them to say "No, thank you" to Grandma or Grandpa if they don't want a hug or kiss. This freedom demonstrates that their body belongs to them and they get to decide what affection they want, if any.
  • Answer questions about where babies come from with honesty. Just be sure to use age-appropriate language and truthful. It's also fine to tell your child that some details—like how a sperm and egg meet—will be discussed when they are older.
  • Consider using the book What Makes a Baby as a resource.

From Six to Eight Years Old

At this age, kids are in the beginning years of elementary school. As a result, they may hear things on the bus or from their friends that cause them to ask a lot more questions. They also may be using the internet for schoolwork or games.

Consequently, it is important to start having some more detailed conversations about safety, digital etiquette, and consent. Here are some ideas on what you should discuss at this age.

  • Discuss safety rules and tips while they are in digital spaces. Even if they are still not using the internet, it is important to talk about safety and digital literacy so that they are prepared when they do start using technology alone.
  • Establish rules about talking to strangers online and discourage sharing photos with people they don't know.
  • Talk about the fact that they may accidentally come across a website that has disturbing pictures or content that makes them uncomfortable. Show them how to click out of a site immediately and encourage them to come tell you what they saw.
  • Revisit the concept of consent and remind them that their body belongs to them and that no one has the right to touch their private areas.
  • Talk about the difference between "secrets" and "surprises." No one should be asking them to keep a secret. If they do, that is a sign that what they are doing is wrong and they should tell right away. By contrast, tell them that a surprise is not the same as a secret because eventually, you get to tell the person. A birthday present or a surprise party are examples of surprises.
  • Begin with the basics of puberty (closer to age 8). Discuss the fact that soon their body will go through changes and that this is a normal part of life. If they seem bothered by this, go through old photos and show them pictures of them as a baby. Point out how much they have changed since then. Doing so should help ease their minds.

From Nine to Twelve Years Old

During the tween years, your kids will start going through a number of changes including everything from growth spurts and early signs of puberty to cell phones and crushes on their peers. Because there is so much happening, you may find that you are having little talks more and more frequently. Here is an overview of the things you need to be sure to discuss.

  • Expand on your puberty discussions, describing in more detail what your kids will experience. For girls, this may mean initial conversations about menstruation and budding breasts.
  • Check-in with your kids on a regular basis to see what they might be wondering about or to see if they have any questions. Keep in mind, this is the timeframe when body image issues might crop up, especially when tweens develop earlier (or much later) than their peers.
  • Emphasize on a regular basis that the changes they are experiencing are normal.
  • Revisit the concept of consent.
  • Discuss and expand on the topic of internet safety emphasizing the risks and consequences of sexting.
  • Begin talking in more detail about sex including your family's beliefs.

Teen Years

At this age, your teens have most likely started puberty, and maybe even completed the cycle depending on if your child is a late bloomer. Additionally, your child may start to express interest in dating and should have a solid understanding of what sex is and how it happens. Here are some tips on how to keep the conversations going at this age.

  • Minimize the lectures and instead ask how things are going in their life and if they have any questions.
  • Be honest about birth control, abstinence, sexually-transmitted diseases, pregnancy, and sexual assault. While these conversations are not easy, they are important to have.
  • Stress the importance of making wise choices including making sure that consent and respect are always at the forefront of any decision they make with a partner.
  • Discuss how to handle peer pressure and sexual bullying.
  • Revisit the concept of consent and discuss how to guard against situations that may put them in over their head.
  • Talk about what healthy dating relationships look like and the risks of teen dating violence. Make sure they know the warning signs and can recognize the risks.
  • Empower them to make good choices by helping them recognize "gut instincts" and learning to trust their feelings in any given situation.
  • Revisit sexting and talk in more detail about the risks.

A Word From Verywell

Talking with your kids about sex, consent, dating, and healthy relationships is a lifelong conversation. As they are growing up, you will want to have little conversations along the way. Doing so takes the pressure off of you rather than waiting to have "the talk" when they are 12 or 13.

What's more, it helps your kids process your family's values and beliefs over time. It also communicates that these topics are not only important but also a normal part of life.

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