Is there any conversation that ranks higher on the awkward-o-meter than the sex talk with your kids?
What about when you have to ask grandma to please stop kissing your baby’s hands because of the germ factor?
Nope, not as awkward.
Well, then, maybe it’s the sit-down you have to have with your kid to talk about why they have to start wearing deodorant?
Cringeworthy, but still not as awkward.
No parent feels confident talking to their kids about sex. Sex is such an important subject and we want to have the conversation in the right way, but most of us didn’t have this conversation modeled well by our own parents. As a result, we don’t feel equipped or comfortable leading the conversation about sex because, well, it’s sex we’re talking about, and with our kids. Most of us wish there was a formula to this dialogue, but we know that wouldn’t work—every kid is different, so every approach to this conversation needs to be different too.
While it may be easy to shy away from this conversation and put it off until later, research shows there’s no better time to have this conversation with your kids than right now. A lot of parents default to tackling the sex talk when their kids enter high school, but it’s important to begin guiding “the big talk” as early as preschool. It turns out, the more positive, value-centered sex education kids receive at home, the less promiscuous they’ll be.
“Kids learn best when they talk, not when you talk,” says Dr. Jim Burns, a writer and speaker on topics about marriage, family, kids, and leadership. “Dialogue is never going to happen if you stay silent. Your kids will just get the information from somewhere else, or if it’s too rigid, they’ll rebel.”
Here’s how to start talking to your kids about sex based on the phase they’re in:
Preschoolers ask a lot of questions because they’re curious about the way things work. Because of that, you can anticipate some questions that have the potential to lead to awkward dialogue. And that’s okay.
Lean into the whys and talk to your kids about their bodies and how and why each body part works the way it does. Use the proper names for body parts when discussing them and get comfortable with using them in everyday life. Talk with your preschooler about privacy and give them the space to use their voices to share what makes their bodies feel good and what makes them feel uncomfortable. This conversation may seem simple, but it lays a great foundation for a successful sex talk throughout all the phases.
When your kid is in kindergarten through fourth grade, they’re still into asking lots of questions, but now, they’ve got a lot more prior knowledge to make the questions even more in-depth and harder to answer. During this phase, have an open discussion about respect and how to act around those of the opposite sex. Reinforce the idea that a person is just that—a human being and not an object. This is a great time to be intentional about teaching your kids to say no when something feels uncomfortable and ensuring your kid has a safe place to voice any concerns.
Something to be mindful of in this phase is to keep things age-appropriate without diving too deeply into the conversation in a way they can’t comprehend. Feel free to use the phrase, “You know what? That’s a great question. We’ll talk about that when you’re a little older.”
During the middle school years, your kid is changing a lot—from the way they think to the way their bodies look and feel. This is a very important phase because not only are they going through puberty, but research shows most kids see pornography by age 11.
This is a great time to start talking to your kids about the changes happening in their bodies, emotions, and relationships. During middle school, kids’ emotional involvement often exceeds their level of maturity, sometimes leading them to make poor choices. Introduce the concepts of boundaries and sexual integrity. Emphasize how your kids can honor their bodies, how to handle situations they may find themselves in with the opposite sex, and guarding their hearts.
Many parents use the high school phase to start talking about sex. If you fall into this category, don’t worry—it’s never too late to start having the talk. During the high school phase, you’re your kids’ coach. Guide them to make wise decisions by holding them accountable to themselves and their boundaries. Be a safe place for your kids—make sure there’s no doubt your kids know you’re open to talking to them even though you may disagree on their views. Project acceptance and try to limit lecturing—this phase is defined by the desire for independence.
Extra positive influence never hurts, so make sure you’ve got other caring adults in place to step in to be a sounding board for your kids. Sometimes, your kids won’t feel comfortable coming to you. Expect that and learn to get comfortable with asking for help, even if you’re accustomed to tackling challenges like this on your own.
There are many things in life that come naturally, but conversations about sex rarely fall into that category. Even though kids are bound to make unwise choices when it comes to sex, the odds are better for your kids to make wise ones when there is openness about the topic in your home.
And here is something else that Dr. Burns says that’s important to remember: “Listening is the language of love.”