When Kids Ask the Tough Questions
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Children ask a lot of questions. When they first begin to talk, most of the questions are pretty straightforward and have a single, right answer. What’s that? Who is that? Where’s mama?
As our children become more verbal and enter school, the questions get more difficult. Sometimes these harder questions can make even the most informed parents feel like we don’t know anything. Do parents have to be scientists, philosophers, historians, mathematicians, sex educators, astronomers, and all-around experts on everything? Of course not, but that doesn’t help with the feelings and attitudes that these questions raise in our minds and hearts as parents.
We cannot attempt to predict all the tough questions children will ask, but we can figure out where to find the answers that feel right for our family when they ask them.
With more and more of our children’s idols in the media, questions about anatomy and sex can be a challenge. Depending on the age of your children and your comfort level with discussing these topics, answers can be varied but should always be truthful.
Why doesn’t my sister’s/brother’s body look like mine How does she/he go pee-pee?
Most child educators and safety experts agree that it’s a good idea to use the correct terms for body parts when you explain to your child that boys and girls are different and what those differences are. If you aren’t comfortable saying “penis” and “vagina” out loud, you may want to get comfortable before talking to your child. When you can do it with a straight face, you’re ready. If not, your child will certainly sense your discomfort and may pick the most inopportune time to practice these new vocabulary words in an effort to unnerve you.
Explain what private parts are and what body privacy means. While children are young, parents should teach their children that private parts are private and that nobody else should touch them. This is also a good time to let children know that they should come to you or another trusted adult if anyone does try to touch their private parts.
Where do babies come from? How did the baby get in your belly? What are you and Daddy doing with the door closed?
In a perfect world, talking about sex with our children would be just another topic, like hygiene, math, or sports. We don’t live in a perfect world, however, so conversations about sex can cause a lot of discomfort and anxiety—mostly for the parents. Take a deep breath, and follow these simple tips:
- Ask your child “What do you think?” before answering questions to get a better sense of what he is really asking and what he’s likely to understand. Remember the story of the five-year-old who asked his mother, “Where did I come from?” After a long explanation of “Mommy and Daddy loved each other and decided to have a baby,” and then a description about baby making, the child responded candidly, “Well, my friend Stephen came from Florida.” It always helps to understand the child’s questions and current thinking before trying to educate them.
- Tell the truth. If you make up a story about storks or fairies, it will only cause confusion and mistrust later on.
- Avoid too much detail. Keep answers short and simple. If your child is not satisfied with your answers, she will ask more questions.
- Make conversations matter-of-fact. When discussing body functions and sex with children, try to treat the conversations as we would any other important topic, calmly and matter-of-factly. Children are perceptive, and they will be able to tell if we are uncomfortable with the topic of sex. If children sense that we are uncomfortable or avoid the topic of sex, they may be less likely to come to us with problems and questions later on.
- Be available. One of the best rules of parenting is to spend relaxed time together and have lots of conversations. Let your child know in words and actions that you are available to offer information and answer questions about sex or anything else, for that matter.
- Initiate “teachable moment” conversations about sex. Use everyday occurrences as opportunities to discuss sex. When our children are young, we can use diaper-changing or potty time to point out and name the genitalia and other body parts.
- Timing is everything. If a question about sex comes up in the doctor’s office or in the line at the bank, don’t be afraid to say, “What a good question! Let’s talk about that at home later.” Then, bring it up again at home so your child knows you aren’t avoiding the conversation.
- It’s So Amazing!: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families, by Robie H. Harris, illustrated by Michael Emberley (For children ages four to eight)
- Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex, but Were Afraid They’d Ask: The Secrets to Surviving Your Child’s Sexual Development from Birth to the Teens, by Justin Richardson and Mark A. Schuster
- It’s OK to Talk About Sex: A Guide for Parents of Newborns through Adolescence, by Jane Carney Schulze and Rolf Schulze
- What’s the Big Secret?: Talking about Sex with Girls and Boys, written by Laurie Krasny Brown and illustrated by Marc Brown
- Let’s Talk About S-E-X: A Guide for Kids 9 to 12 and Their Parents, by Sam Gitchel and Lorri Foster
- A Chicken’s Guide to Talking Turkey with Your Kids About Sex, by Dr. Kevin Leman and Kathy Flores Bell
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