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The Birds and the Bees
Talking with your children about their body and sex can be uncomfortable for many parents. However, the earlier your talk with your children about human development and puberty, the more open your children may be to coming to you about questions or concerns as they get older.
Breaking down different age-appropriate topics can be helpful to maintain a consistent flow of information, as well as continue to set the foundation for future discussions. When sharing information, try to be as factual as possible, specifically keeping it simple for younger children. Some suggestions for starting the conversation, as well as tips for sharing information:
- Use day-to-day triggers to begin the conversation and ease into the discussion.
- Begin the discussion about puberty sooner rather than later. In the age of social media, kids are getting exposed to information sooner than you think.
- Puberty is a normal part of growing up so explaining it as a normal process can reduce the stigma that something is "wrong" with this stage.
- Use actual names for body parts for genitals.
Below are age-specific topics that can be used as a guide for different discussions through age groups.
Infant and Toddler Age
- It's normal for infants and toddlers to touch their genitals and explore their bodies at a young age, so acting casual about body exploration can help reduce a child's belief that this is wrong.
- Begin using correct terms for genitals – for girls – vagina and vulva and for boys – penis and testicles.
- Teach children about body safety and inappropriate touching by others.
School Age Children
- Continue to answer any puberty, sex or body questions truthfully and factually. Typically this is the age where children ask where babies come from.
- Turning to informative and age-appropriate books can be helpful in explaining information in a kid-friendly way.
- Explain boundary setting and sexual abuse and continue to teach body safety.
Children 8-12 years old
- Prepare your children for puberty by explaining the changes to the body and sexuality. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most kids already know about the topic of sex by ages 8 or 9 so trying to figure out what they already know and helping with any misconceptions they have picked up along the way.
- Discuss gender stereotypes and the depiction of gender roles in the media and on tv and separating fact from fiction.
- Experts have suggested broaching the subject of intercourse during this age (and answering any specific questions they may have), and waiting to have a more in-depth talk in the teen years can help alleviate embarrassment and alienation of future discussions.
- If your child is too embarrassed to have the decision, provide them with an age-appropriate book that he/she can read on their own time.
- Discuss the topic of pornography and how they may stumble upon inappropriate websites or images and that this is inappropriate content for kids. Also review content blocking on your electronic devices.
Teenagers and older
- Continue the discussion of sex in more detail, as well as mutual consent, sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy.
- Educate them on the risks and legal consequences of sexting and pornography.
- Be mindful of your children's relationships. If you suspect that your child may be planning on having sex because they are in a relationship, have a conversation about contraceptives and safety.
Having a conversation about the birds and the bees can be extremely uncomfortable for you and your child. However, being honest about your anxiety about the discussion can help reduce some of the tension, as well as help, provide an opportunity for your child to share some of their concerns and questions.
Below are some additional resources that may be helpful in helping you prepare discussion with your children:
"Talking to your Kids About Sex: Turning the Talk into a Conversation for Life" by Dr. Laura Berman
It's So Amazing by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley
It's Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley
Erin Swinson, LMHC
Mental Health Therapist
Dower, E. (ND). "An Age-by-Age Guide to Teaching Kids About "The Birds & The Bees." Retrieved from: https://www.familyeducation.com/life/talking-about-sex/age-age-guide-teaching-kids-about-birds-bees