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If you are like most parents I talk to, you are crazy nervous about talking to your kids about sex. Whether they are 5 or 15, talking to your kids about sex doesn’t have to be this big, overwhelming ordeal. In fact, having many conversations in bite-sized chunks will have the most lasting impact over time. These strategies are effective regardless of the child’s age.
Here are a few guidelines you can follow to make while talking to your kids about sex a little easier to handle:
Stay Calm and Carry On.
- Pay attention to your body language and tone when responding to questions your child asks. Many times, these non-verbal clues communicate more strongly than the words we say. Whatever you do, don’t freeze up.
Keep it short and sweet…
- Keep your answers simple. Use basic language and avoid the “word vomit” (where you just keep talking and talking, and the more you talk, the more confusing things become).
Kids (like cats) are naturally curious.
- Kids are curious about everything and just because they are asking about sex does not necessarily mean they are interested in having sex. When you start talking to your kids about sex, they are going to become more curious about everything that it involves, don't worry, it's normal.
Say Thank You.
- This might seem odd to be on this list, but make sure you thank your child for asking you questions. This strategy will encourage them to keep approaching you for answers (rather than searching to the internet) and keep the conversation going.
Don’t forget to respond to the question.
- Your child will inevitably ask you a question when you aren’t ready or at the least opportune time. If that’s the case, it’s OK to validate their question and come back to it at a time that works better for you. Just make sure you do get back to it and aren’t just avoiding the question.
No one expects you to be the sex expert.
- Showing your child you don’t know something and then helping them find the right answer is going to be really powerful. There are a ton of age-appropriate resources out there. When you tell a child, “I don’t know,” you demonstrate that even as an adult, you don’t know everything there is to know about sex. By finding the answer and getting back to them, you are showing your child you are committed to them having correct and factual information.
Casual conversations, big impact.
- Taking advantage of everyday situations to help start or continue a conversation about sex are known as “teachable moments.” For example, if you and your child are watching a TV show that gets a little steamy, ask your child what they thought of that scene. You are going to learn a lot about what your child’s values are and what their base level of knowledge is regarding sex. Teachable moments help you assess what your child knows, give you space to instill some good nuggets of information, and position yourself as an “ask-able adult.”
It’s not about you.
- Kids often ask their parent's sensitive questions about sex. A common question is, “When did you have sex the first time?” or “Do you and daddy/mommy have sex?” These types of questions are totally normal. A child asking these types of questions aren’t trying to know the details of your private life (and you don’t need to share!). They are trying to understand what sex is, and what the role of sex is in relationships and their life.
Using these guidelines will help you open the lines of communication and ensure you are a trusted resource for your kiddo.
Just remember, the more you have these conversations, the easier they become.
You’ve got this!
is the author of Making Sense of It: A Guide to Sex for Teens (And Parents too!), and has been with the Responsible Sex Education Institute at the Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) for over 14 years. Starting as an in-class educator and Program Manager, Alison is now Vice President of Education and Innovation and is responsible for the leadership of PPRM’s Education work across its four-states. Alison is an award-winning, nationally recognized leader in the field of comprehensive sex education and holds a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Denver. She is a mother of two who lives in Colorado and enjoys exploring the outdoors, traveling and reading.