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Tackling 'the talk': Practical advice when telling your children about sex

POSTED: August 5, 2014 1:00 p.m.
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Let's talk about sex.

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On my wedding day, I wore white. I was as sweet and innocent as starched lace. I sat with my mother in a room waiting to be called in for the ceremony when my mother began to cry. She turned to me, sobbing, and said, "I guess I should tell you about sex."

"No!" I exclaimed, "Please Mom don't! Besides, I heard all about it in the locker room at school."

"Oh thank heavens," she said, relieved.

My mother and I have looked back on this day and laughed. What we both realized was that this conversation was definitely late, and this was not the way to talk to a teen or a young woman about sex.

Having had such a rough beginning I decided to do something different with my little family. So, I approached my decision like I did every decision. I researched it. I called a local child therapist. I read, and I even took a few special classes during my education in the area of child development. Here is what I learned.

Tips for talking to your child about sex.
Preparation.
Before you talk to your children, make sure you are comfortable talking about the subject. Stand in the bathroom and repeat the names of private body parts in the mirror or to your spouse without laughing, blushing or making a face. Do it until you are completely comfortable saying the words you are going to need to have the conversation out loud.

Do not attempt talking to your children until you can comfortably talk to your reflection in the mirror, a friend or family member.

Know what you are talking about.
I never assume that because you have had a baby, you are an expert. If you are a mother and you are going to be helping a son through puberty, you may want to study a little. If you are a father and you are going to be talking to your daughter, you may not have all the answers. Go to a reputable resource for your answers. Child development textbooks and other library books can be excellent resources.

Use correct names for body parts.
If, heaven forbid, anything should happen to your child, you do not want to be trying to interpret what they are saying to a doctor or to a police officer. Use the real names and correct words.

Curiosity is normal, don't panic.
I remember when my naked 2-year old twin son and daughter stood by the tub looking at each other. My son asked my daughter, "Where is yours?" Pointing to where he thought her penis should be. She replied, "Don't worry, it will grow." When your kids are curious, don't panic. Answer any questions, and then redirect them to more interesting things like playing with bubbles in the tub. If your child seems overly preoccupied with sex or touching, talk to your pediatrician or schedule an appointment with a counselor for professional advice.

Age and information.
It is never too early to begin talking honestly and openly about where baby kittens come from. There are many ways to explain how life works to children at a level at which they are ready. As your children age, their desire to know more will increase. Answer questions honestly as they come up, and give accurate and age appropriate information. Kids are naturally curious, but you can give them too much information too fast and overwhelm them.

When my twins were 2, all they needed to know is boys have a penis, girls do not. Your sister is a girl. Enough said. When children ask questions, give them a small amount of information. Let them ask for more if they need it. Don't offer more than what they are ready. Watch their face for cues. Let them lead the conversation.
Sex and spirituality.
In our home, we taught our children our beliefs about physical intimacy. We taught that the ability to create life and love each other is a sacred gift from God and should be treated with the respect and reverence it deserves. You may believe something entirely different. Each religion has its belief about creation and sexuality. Decide in advance what your beliefs are and what you will teach your children. This way, parents present unified information and kids do not get mixed messages.

Sexuality and consequences.
Sometimes, as parents, we are really great at scaring our children. It is important to remind them that there are diseases in the world that can hurt them and consequences to their choices, like pregnancy. One way to point this out is by talking about what is happening to other people, or in general. Choose a moment that isn't emotionally charged and share a news story or educational article. Talk about it. This invites "give and take." It allows for a conversation that isn't confrontational or threatening. Don't wait until they are leaving on their first date and already nervous or wound up. Create opportunities to talk that are casual and comfortable. They never need to know they're staged.

Sex is a normal part of life. Sex is a normal part of adult lives. It is how we were all made. It is not shameful or embarrassing. When we, as parents, truly believe this, sex will find its rightful place in our home.

Recently, my last child got married. I had the pleasure of listening to her older sisters check in with her and talk to her about sex and relationships. They were open, honest and loving. I was proud that, as a family, it was a conversation we could comfortably have long before her wedding day.

ARTICLE ENDNOTE: Shannon Symonds worked 14 years as an Advocate for families experiencing Domestic or Sexual abuse while raising 6 children in Seaside Oregon. She loves to laugh, write, run, paint and most of all play with her family and friends.

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