Answering kids' questions about sex is one of the responsibilities many parents fear most. But learning about sexuality is a normal part of child development, and answering your child's questions in an honest, age-appropriate way is the best strategy. Sex education can begin anytime. Let your child set the pace with his or her questions.
What to expect
Children are human beings and therefore sexual beings. Even infants have curiosity about their own bodies, which is healthy and normal.
As children learn to walk and talk, they also begin to learn about their bodies.
When your child asks questions about his or her body — or yours — don't giggle, laugh or get embarrassed. Offer direct, age-appropriate responses. As your child matures and asks more detailed questions, you can provide more detailed responses.
If a question arises at an inopportune moment, it's okay to give an incomplete answer, along with a promise to fill in the rest later on. In this case, it's important to come back to it later and answer any questions your child has.
Is there a best time for this talk?
Sex education isn't a single tell-all discussion. Instead, take advantage of everyday opportunities to discuss sex. If there's a pregnancy in the family, for example, tell your child that babies grow in a special place inside the mother.
Open the door to sex education by teaching your child the proper names for his or her sex organs, perhaps during bath time. If your child points to a body part, simply tell him or her what it is. This is also a good time to talk about which parts of the body are private.
Questions should be answered as they arise so that kids' natural curiosity is satisfied as they mature.
If your child doesn't ask questions about sex, don't just ignore the subject. At about age 5, you can begin to introduce books that approach sexuality on a developmentally appropriate level.
Most seen scenarios
Your child asks you "Why doesn't everyone have a penis?"
Try a simple explanation, such as, "Boys and girls bodies are made differently." Or "That's how you can tell the difference between a girl and a boy."
Your child asks you "Why do you have hair down there?"
Simplicity often works here, too. You might say, "Our bodies change as we get older." Or just say that it's natural for grown-ups to have hair in places that children don't, especially under their arms, between their legs, and, for men, on their faces.
You catch your child touching or rubbing her private parts.
Kids start to explore their bodies, including their genitals, at a very early age. They do this for comfort, not to achieve an orgasm. Many toddlers express their natural sexual curiosity through self-stimulation. Toddlers should not be scolded or made to feel ashamed of being interested in their bodies.
You might say, "I know that touching your vulva [or penis] feels good, but it's something to be done in private." Parents should only be concerned about masturbation if a child seems preoccupied with it to the exclusion of other activities.
You catch kids "playing doctor" (showing private parts to each other).
By age 3 or 4, children often realize that boys and girls have different genitals. Such exploration is harmless when only young children are involved. Often, the presence of a parent is enough to interrupt the play. You may wish to direct your child's attention to another activity. Later, explain that although you understand the interest in his or her friend's body, but that people are generally expected to keep their bodies covered in public.
This is also an appropriate age to begin to talk about good and bad touch. Tell kids that their bodies are their own and that they have the right to privacy. Tell them that if anyone ever touches them in a way that feels strange or bad, they should tell that person to stop it and then tell you about it.
Talking about sex with your child is never easy. The best approach is to keep your answers age-appropriate, and spare your child the details, which can overwhelm or confuse him. And of course, be open to discussing anything that's on your child's mind, even though it may be awkward.
Finally, storybooks can help get across the concept of sex to your child or further explain what you've already discussed. Check your local library, set aside time to sit and read together, then offer to answer any questions. Parents often have trouble finding the right words, but many excellent books are available to help.
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