It’s almost time for the kids to head back to school. Around this house, that means it’s time for a refresher course in sex education. I’m a person who benefits from the routine of doing things seasonally, so we’ve settled into a habit of addressing these issues each summer right before school starts along with conversations during the rest of the year as the topic comes up. My goal is to be sure we’ve covered some of the important basics they need reminding about as far as good boundaries and what kind of behavior is acceptable along with covering anything they might be learning about in school this year related to sex ed. I want them to know that Mom already knows these things and isn’t scandalized by them. My hope is that it will be easier for them to come to me with questions if they feel confident that I won’t be shocked and they won’t get in trouble for asking. This is a way to open up the door for those questions and conversations. And if you’re homeschooling your kids or sending them to private school, PLEASE don’t assume this conversation isn’t necessary.
So if you’re wanting to start that talk with your kids (or hopefully, continue that talk), here are some guidelines:
Answer the questions they’re asking. Kids become curious about these things at different rates. Some kids won’t have any interest in this conversation while others will make you blush long before you thought you were ready. Be attuned to where your kids are at. If they ask you a question that makes you concerned or uncomfortable, ask them to clarify. Answer what they are actually asking, not the adult version of what you think they may be asking. If they ask, “Where do babies come from?” the simple answer would be, “It takes a part from a man and a part from a woman to make a baby.” (*For families formed by adoption, I prefer to say “man” and “woman” rather than “dad” and “mom” because those parental terms can confuse the process when you aren’t raised by the people who made you*) For some kids, that will be satisfactory, but others are going to have follow-up questions. Let them ask the follow-up questions and see at what point they’re satisfied.
Find a resource you like that’s age-appropriate. There are lots of great books out there. Check some out from the library or borrow from friends and see what feels right for your kids before reading them to your children. Sometimes a book is an easier way to introduce these concepts if you feel a little uncomfortable about just bringing them up.
Go over appropriate vs. inappropriate. Even if your kids don’t seem the least bit curious about sex (although I think most kids are more curious than we think they are, they can just tell if we’re uncomfortable and don’t push it), this is an important conversation to have starting from the time they are very young. They should always understand what is private and that those areas are special (not dirty, gross, etc.). I’ve found that a helpful way to talk about this is to use the example of Grandma, who is somebody we all trust implicitly in our family. We talk about why Grandma might need to see a private area (if she’s helping with baths or doing a diaper change on a baby) and that under any other circumstances, she doesn’t need to. It’s not because we don’t trust her, it’s because those areas are private. There are boundaries even for Grandma. When it comes to people who aren’t your parents, aren’t providing care for you, or the doctor (with parents present) there really isn’t any reason they should see your private areas. We reinforce that if anybody asks to see or touch those areas or if they show their own private parts to our kids, they are to come to us IMMEDIATELY and we will deal with it.
Be factual.When answering the questions your kids have, use appropriate words. Don’t use euphemisms, don’t talk about the stork, don’t be confusing. As much as it makes you blush, just use the real words and describe the actual acts. The less weird about it you are, the more comfortable they will feel asking you questions instead of asking their friends. The words are only shameful if you make them that way by acting embarrassed.
Talk about tricky people. Our kids are far more likely to be taken advantage of by someone they know than by a stranger. And it’s possible some day our children will need to ask a stranger for help. So we talk to our kids about “stranger danger” a bit, but we also talk about tricky people. This post is a really great explanation of the difference. We won’t always be around to know what interactions our kids are having with other adults, so it’s important as part of teaching our kids what areas of their body are private, that we acknowledge some adults may not respect those boundaries.
Talk about safe people. It’s possible that at some point something may happen to our child that they don’t feel comfortable telling us. It could be out of shame or because someone has told them something bad will happen if they tell their parents. We hope that will never be the case, but we want to give our child options of people they could talk to if they needed counsel. We talk about pastors, teachers, family members or a family friend that we trust who would all be good options.
Remind them this is a private conversation. While we are not ashamed to discuss these things as a family in our home, we want to remind our kids that these are not public conversations. They don’t need to use words for the private parts of their body in casual conversation with the neighbors or at school. If somebody is using those words or talking about those things, we want to know who and why.
Send your kids back to school this fall armed with appropriate information, good boundaries, and the knowledge that mom and dad are ready and willing to answer their questions.