Last week, "The Growth Chart" featured “” as a model of straightforward, appropriate wording in response to a child’s questions about sex. If you're following this series, you know that “The Talk” refers not to "just one talk" but to ongoing conversation.
This week, to piggyback, I’m including some tips that spell out exactly what I was doing in those conversations. It might be helpful to compare these tips to .
As you put these ideas into practice with your kids, I think you’ll find positive results. When we start out well, the conversation can last years, a lifetime, even, deepening our relationship with our kids, helping them (and us) to grow.
“Do’s and Don’ts” of Responding to the Natural Curiosities of Children:
- Don’t act shocked by their questions (even if you are!)
- DO answer matter-of-factly. Lovingly set forth the expectation of open communication about sexuality by receiving your child’s questions and by responding truthfully.
- Don’t act as though your child is too young to know. If she asked, she’s not.
- DO answer clearly and concisely, with as much detail as she is cognitively and emotionally ready for. If you convey that she’s too young to know, she probably won’t ask you next time. She’ll ask a kid on the playground or on the bus ride home. Later, the sex-crazed teenager next door. Yikes!
- Don’t give too much information. (TMI!)
- DO ask questions to listen carefully to discern exactly what your child wants to know at this point. Give details for that part, then stop and wait for more questions.
- Don’t avoid the topic, change the subject or make up stories about a stork!
- DO be ready to give a response. Know what you believe (and why
you believe it). Communicate your values along with physical facts.
- Don't leave your child hanging.
- DO validate her question. If she seems like she wants/needs to know more, ask: “Did that cover it? Is there anything else you’re wondering about right now?”
- Don’t share your child’s questions with others, in a casual or humorous way in front of him.
- DO keep his confidence. If you feel you need counsel in order to help your child, be mindful of your child’s confidentiality as you seek help. Allow your child’s input in choosing a counselor or third party to help you or him. Even very young children can benefit from counseling to get through situations — even those who may not seem all that serious to us but are troubling to them.
- Don’t ignore warning signs. If you suspect something serious is affecting your child or driving his questions or hesitance (potential abuse, etc.)
- DO seek professional feedback promptly, even if you have nothing more than your “gut” telling you something might be wrong.
- Don’t think you need to provide all the answers in one day.
- DO think of as a "building project." A house isn’t built in a day, and neither is your child’s understanding of sexuality. The foundation comes first. Without it, the structure will crumble. Lay the stones carefully. Build with solid materials. Make the most of the tools at hand (there are so many great resources available!) both in parenting and in your understanding of your own sexuality.
- Don’t laugh at a question, even if it’s funny!
- DO redeem the situation if you happen to laugh. Acknowledge that though it sounded funny at first (sometimes stuff about sex is funny!) it’s something everyone wants to know about and the question is actually a very good question. You may even be able to share, in a way that makes sense to your child, WHY it struck you as funny, so he can laugh too! Maybe he’ll learn the terms “euphemism” and “play on words” in the process, as my 5-year-old did. (In a few weeks, you can read the story: “Kody and the ‘F’ Word”!)
- Don’t take “The Talk” too seriously.
- Do permit yourselves to laugh together. In my class on sexual integrity for teen girls, when I introduce the medical drawing of the male anatomy, I designate the first few minutes as “giggle time.” I don’t apologize for this. The tactic has proven infinitely more effective than saying things like, “let’s be mature. I expect no laughing.” Let’s face it: guys’ bodies just look funny to us girls at first. The truth is: I want to laugh too! (You know you’re smiling at the mere thought of it. Maybe you’re even a kid again, sitting in that middle school sex ed class stifling an outburst! It’s high time you allowed yourself to laugh!) I don’t have a penis, and no matter how many times I’ve seen one in real life, it still strikes me as a little funny. I think: of all the things I have to deal with as a woman, at least I don’t have to contend with one of those! After the girls and I get the giggles out, we can take the male anatomy more seriously. In the end, we’re seriously thankful to be women. (And we wonder if guys feel similarly at the mere mention of the “v” word.)
- Don’t pretend you have all the answers.
- DO work on the wholeness of your own sexuality. Are there unresolved issues in your life? Do you need to talk to a counselor or friend? To journal? To make steps toward breaking the spiritual bonds of past relationships that still affect you today? (We are more than just our bodies — we are mind, body and spirit — more on this next week in "Ten Tenets of The Talk.”) The more comfortable you are in your own issues of sexuality, the more comfortable you will be in responding to your children.