Learning About How to Talk to Your Young Child About Sex

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Why is it important?

Kids are curious about everything—including their bodies and where they came from. If you're not sure how to address the complex world of sex, love, and relationships, don't worry. You don't have to put all the answers into one "big talk." In fact, it's best to have smaller, casual conversations over time.

Research shows that talking about sex early doesn't lead to early sexual activity. In fact, it does the opposite. Talking about sex early helps kids make healthy, responsible choices.

How can you start the conversation?

Like it or not, your child hears things at school and absorbs things in the media related to sex. But you are the best person to answer your child's questions and clear up mistaken ideas they may have.

The most important things to remember? Keep it simple. Keep it honest. Make it normal.

Here are some tips to get started.

  • Understand what's behind your child's questions.

    Your child may be trying to check a fact, make sure they're "normal," or explore values. One way to find out why they're asking something is to say, "That's a good question. What do you already know about that?"

  • Start with the simplest explanation.

    Kids can be satisfied with a short, direct response. Extra details can be confusing.

    • Q: Where do babies come from?
    • A: A baby grows in the belly. And when it's ready, it comes out of the vagina or belly.

    That may be enough. If they ask a follow-up question, you can provide the next level of simple information.

    • Q: How did the baby get in the belly?
    • A: The baby is made by the parents. One parent has tiny eggs in their body, and the other has tiny seeds called sperm. If an egg and a sperm meet, they can grow into a baby.
  • Look for teachable moments.

    To teach about anatomy:

    • Q: Why doesn't everyone have a penis?
    • A: All bodies are mostly the same. But some people have a penis, and others have a vagina.

    To teach about consent:

    • Q: Why does Quinn always want to hold my hand?
    • A: They might want to do this because they like you. But your body belongs only to you. You get to decide who to share it with. Anytime you don't want to be touched, it's okay to tell someone that.

    To teach about sexual activity your child might see in the media or out in public:

    • Q: Why are those people kissing and hugging like that?
    • A: That kind of kissing, hugging, and touching is what grown-ups can do to feel close to one another. Children are too young to do this kind of loving.
  • Normalize self-touch.

    It's okay for children to touch themselves. If your child is doing this, you can use it as an opportunity to teach about private behaviors. You can say, "I know it feels good to touch your private parts, and that's okay. But it needs to be done in private, just like going to the bathroom or taking a bath or shower."

  • Get help.

    Ask the school counselor or your child's doctor to recommend books, videos, or classes. And check out the website healthychildren.org for more helpful content.

Congratulations! You're on your way. Starting an open dialogue when your child is young paves the way for years to come.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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