The Talk: how and when to get the conversation started

The Talk

The Talk…it is a dreaded part of parenting for many. We spend a LOT of time worrying about how to introduce topics about sex and how our bodies work. But in reality, it doesn’t have to be a big deal. Our kids are curious and real questions deserve real (but age appropriate) answers. Keep reading for common sense ideas on starting and keeping the conversation going.

Start early

If you start talking about the body to your kids early, it is a whole lot easier than if you wait till they are older. Use the right words when talking about their parts. Penis and vulva are NOT bad words. Although they can be embarrassing to have yelled out by a toddler in the middle of Wal-Mart.

So use real words.  After all, do we rename our fingers and toes into cutesy words or phrases? No. And how confusing would that be? Keep it simple. The hardest part of this for many is to not treat those names as secret or somehow forbidden. We don’t have to whisper the word vagina when we say it. When we use words without embarrassment or shame we empower our kids to feel comfortable in their bodies.

Only answer the question asked

It is always best to answer questions simply. “Where do babies come from?” isn’t always an invitation for the ENTIRE story of how they get there. Sometimes that IS the question. But if you keep your answers simple and basic and remain open to questions, they will be happy to ask for more information if needed.

When my eldest daughter was barely 5, she was completely perplexed about how babies got out of a mom’s tummy. She had the understanding that they grew in the stomach, but no understanding at the time that there were different areas in a mom’s stomach region. To her, the stomach was food storage and that’s about it.

Her reasonable at the time question was that if a baby grew in the stomach, did it come out of the mouth? And how would that work? She was confused. I thought a second and answered very simply..  Nope, not the mouth. When babies are ready to be born, they come out of a hole next to the mom’s bottom.

She was not amused. “MOMMY!! I do NOT think a baby would like to be covered in pee or poo!!” was her response. “Well, they don’t come out of those holes” I responded.  She seemed satisfied by this answer and we moved onto other less dramatic car-ride conversation.

Until 2 weeks later when out of the blue she had another one for me. “Mom, I’ve been thinking, and I just don’t know WHAT hole you’re talking about!!” The answer to that one required some diagrams. Luckily you can search about anything on google.  But please do not do these searches in view of your children–sometimes you can’t predict what will come up.

It’s ok to give yourself time before fully answering

When kids ask us serious questions, they deserve serious and truthful answers. Sometimes we can answer them right away. But sometimes we need a couple of days to decide how we’re going to go about it.

It is totally OK to say “Hey that’s a really good question. Let me figure out how to explain it and get back with you.” Only you do actually have to get back with them. You’ve only bought yourself time to peruse the internet and Amazon.

Find some good resources

With so much information at our fingertips, it can be really difficult to sort through it all and find resources that help us without raising more questions. When Kid #1 asked what the word sex meant in 2nd grade, I was not ready. And a Tuesday night at 8 PM was not when that talk was going down. Insert stock phrase above, tuck in kid, and pull out laptop.

A few minutes later, I had resources on the way. A few days later, they were on my doorstep. But I didn’t like all the stuff I bought. I’m not weirded out by much, but some of the stuff meant for kids was downright creepy. Some gave WAY too much information. Others inserted morality into the discussion.

I’m all for morals. But when it is time to discuss how our bodies work, I do not need that in my books. That’s MY job. When having talks on bodies and parts, I just want information. Clear and concise.

Luckily, I stumbled on some gems that I am still recommending to my patients and still use with my kids. I don’t completely agree with the age ranges, but all 3 books in this series are great and you can always use the one you feel is most appropriate for what your kid can handle.

It’s Not the Stork! A book about girls, boys, babies, bodies, families, and friends by Robie Harris

This is a great introduction. It is intended for ages 4 and up which I think is appropriate. It uses real words and the illustrations are good. You can find it below on amazon or in person at another dedicated book store.

It’s So Amazing! A book about eggs, sperm, babies, and families by Robie Harris

This one is geared for ages 7 and up. It spends a lot of time detailing how our bodies work. I consider this book a book of “mechanics.”  What is a uterus, how do the ovaries work? What is a period? They touch on sex, but it isn’t the primary theme of the book.

It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing bodies, Growing up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie Harris

This one is geared for 9 and up. Although many 9 year olds may not be quite ready yet. But it is a wonderful resource to have available for your middle school kids on up. Definitely a lot of sexual health in this one. But all presented in a matter of fact and informative way.

Find a time to talk

Once you’re ready to have conversations, make a date with your kid. Go for a walk or head to a coffee shop. Warm drinks and baked treats always help. And if all else fails, grab their ear buds and go for a drive. Sometimes it’s easier for them (and you!) to talk and ask questions when they’re not looking you in the eyes. And they can’t escape if you’re driving!

Make sure to have follow-up conversations

This is not a one time event to mark off the parental to do list. It is the start of many great conversations to come. The more conversations you have, the easier it gets. As they ask questions and are met with honesty and real answers, the more comfortable they will be asking YOU and not the abyss of the internet or inaccuracies in school.

Feel free to add your tips for having these talks with your kids! We can all learn from each other. Any resources that you love? Feel free to share.

 

Author: Dr. Jenny Seawell

Dr. Jennifer Seawell is a board certified pediatrician currently practicing in Tennessee. She is married with 2 daughters aged 7 and 13.

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