8 things to tell your kids about sex (Don't wait for them to ask)
I am a child of the 'LIE TO THEM!' era when it came to teaching kids about sex
I had a book flung at me when it came to The Talk About Periods, and I can't actually repeat what my mother told me about male masturbation, in case someone books her in for a mental evaluation.
Determined as we are in 2016 to instill positive attitudes in our children about sex, body image, self respect and respect for others, I do keep wondering when might be a good time to start.
Well, as early as possible, say some.
There are definitely some areas that we can set an early solid foundation for and given that my four-year-old just flashed me yesterday whilst declaring 'Mammy! Meet my willy!', I guess now is as good a time as any.
So how can we reinforce positive attitudes towards sex and sexuality from a young age?
Here are 8 things that you as a parent can do:
1. Let your kids know how special their bodies are
My four-year-old boy is really curious about his body. His interest mainly lies in the biology; why does he have a brain, why does he need bones, what does his blood do. These are all great opportunities to let him know that his body actually belongs to him and he can make all his decisions about it. This is, of course, not based in sexual terms whatsoever, but the basic principle (which is so important) should stick with him as he grows up.
2. Don't make them kiss people hello or goodbye
We all love seeing granny and grandad's face light up when they steal one of those precious kisses from the little ones, but if the kids really and truly don't want to kiss, then don't force the issue. High fives are just fine as a greeting and you are letting your child know that they shouldn't feel obliged to have physical contact with someone if they don't feel like it.
3. Normalise everything
My children have a lot of friends and family who are same-sex couples and some of those couples have kids. We're lucky because when Jacob asks 'Why does Georgie have two mammies?', I just smile and say that some kids do, some have two daddies and some have a mammy and a daddy etc.. It's really quite normal for us. But if it isn't normal for your family and the topic comes up out of the blue, my advice would be; just smile and say that some kids do, some have two daddies.. You get the drift. Kids genuinely won't find the concept of same-sex couple confusing at all so there's no need to make a big deal out of it.
4. Remind them that everyone makes their own choices
If my son doesn't like the way that his younger cousin is playing with a particular toy and starts to dictate to him, I intervene. 'Sam is different to you', I'll tell him. 'He can play with it his own way'. (I then spend ten minutes encouraging my son to find something else to do, which isn't always easy when he's fixated on something and think that he knows best). Letting your child know early on that he/she are entitled to make their own choices, as are everyone else, will help them to learn the important positive message of 'To Each Their Own'.
5. Teach them about body positivity
I am constantly telling my kids how great they are - that they're funny, so strong because they ate all their dinner, smart because they won at I Spy and so, so gorgeous. (I also give out yards when I need to too, so don't worry!) I'm not trying to build conceited children, I'm trying to reinforce their feeling that they are good and that they are beautiful. I do want them to grow up and believe that. Equally, I'm conscious that we as parents need to also communicate that we love our bodies and tend to keep the conversations about getting to the gym etc away from curious little ears.
6. Use the correct anatomical terms
I admit we haven't gotten here yet. It is still 'willy' with my son and I don't know when we'll change it. I am thinking about my daughter growing up behind him and I really don't think I'm going to start with anything other than 'vagina'. I mean, what else is there that doesn't sound kind of ridiculous? We don't call arms or elbows by anything other than 'arm' or 'elbow' so why do we tell our kid's that their genitals need cute 'codenames'. It sends a negative message, as though there is something to hide, so let's agree to stop doing it, shall we?
7. Let them know how much you love them
Positive personal attitudes towards sex is virtually impossible without a strong sense of self-love and self-respect. Letting your kids know how great they are and how much you love them on a daily basis is the groundwork that they need and is a no-brainer for all the great parents out there.
8. Listen with an open ear and an open mind
No matter what question your child asks you, it is so important to take it seriously so that they feel validated. When your kids are small, the questions are probably along the lines of 'Where does my poo go when it goes out of the toilet?' and will probably progress to 'What does masturbation mean?' when they are older (see above). So take a deep breath, parents, and make sure your kids know that they can ask you anything without judgement or ridicule. It will go a long way when the really important questions about sex and sexuality come.