Talking About Sex With Your Kids
First a disclaimer-slash-apology to my mother who will read this and instantly and loudly denounce what I am about to say as “lies, all lies!” Mom, you are a great mom, you are my BFF, and I love you. But “awkward” doesn’t begin to describe your approach to The Talk – that Big Important Conversation about bodies, puberty, and S-E-X. Honestly, Michael Cera on a naked blind first date would be less awkward.
It’s ok, I managed to figure things out thanks to a Girl Scouts filmstrip circa 1974, 6th grade health class, and a stolen library book hidden inside a Helen Keller biography.
But in the grand tradition of doing things a little better differently than our own parents, I decided to take the opposite approach with my own daughter, A. Early on I knew I’d be “super-chill” about body stuff even if I was cringing to death with embarrassment on the inside. Fortunately, years of public speaking had prepared me for projecting an air of super-chillness when inwardly I wanted to outwardly throw up.
This super-chill approach is a custom blend of matter-of-factness (you got questions, I got answers) and flat-out stupid humor. For example, I make up silly songs like “The Boobie Train Is Coming To Town! (Toot! Toot!)” and “Boobs N’ Pubes!” Both feature a parental warning to not sing these songs at school because not everyone shares our sense of humor (or coordinating dance moves.) And I had to remind her, no, you definitely cannot play The Penis Game with your friends –but it sure does make words like “vagina” and “penis” a lot less mortifying when you and your kiddo practice out-shouting each other (in the car, windows rolled up.)
Why such a carefree and casual approach? For one, I’m naturally awkward about down-there-stuff so if I didn’t force myself to lighten up, the results would be disastrous. But most importantly, I want to make sure that, no matter what, my daughter knows she can come to me with any question, concern, itch, or insecurity and know I won’t freak out, I won’t laugh (unless it’s really funny), and I’ll always be there for her with non-judge-y empathy and reasonable advice. Not that she would ever take advice from me because like Jon Snow, I know nothing.
So here are my tips for taking The Awkward out of The Talk.
- Don’t have “The Talk.” The idea of sitting down and dropping the entire puberty/sex bomb on an unsuspecting tween all at once seems terrifying, at least to me. If not, consider their attention span. You try boiling down the birds and the bees into 140 characters. Have a series of “talks” here and there at the right times so it’s not so overwhelming for them (and stressful for you.) The less precious you make the whole topic, the more comfortable you and your kids will be.
- Answer every question, no matter how shocking. Reward and encourage curiosity and communication with simple yet truthful answers. Never say, “I can’t believe you’re asking me that?!?!” or “Where did you hear that?!?!” If you make your kids feel ashamed for asking a question at 6 years old, they sure as hell won’t come to you at 16 when the cost of ignorance has a much higher price. A friend of mine told me her 7th grader came home having heard the charming phrase “spit or swallow?” and wanted to know what it meant. My friend explained how she explained it to her son in the most straightforward way possible and that it’s not appropriate for anyone to say, especially at school. The point is, she kept her super-chill and kept communication open with her kid.
- Keep it simple. Depending on their age, don’t overwhelm kids with lots of details they don’t need. Be direct, and answer the question they ask. I can’t tell you how often I’ve answered, “what’s that?” and “what are those?” in less than a few words. When A was 5 years old she asked me “What are boobs for?” I told her they were for breastfeeding babies and one day she’d have them, too. The End. As she got older, the questions became a bit more specific, such as “When…?” and “How big…?” and “Can you lay on your stomach without all the boobie milk exploding out?” (Yes, I had to explain that breasts are not like birthday balloons filled with milk all the time. And they don’t explode.)
- Teach tweens to love and respect their bodies. At this age kids start to notice differences between their bodies and their classmates’. They hear things and talk about things in a way that may not be appropriate, and may even be considered harassment. I’ve talked with A about how she gets one body in this life and its hers to take care of – with healthy eating, exercise, and a daily swipe of deodorant. On a serious note, we’ve talked about how it’s her body and no one else’s to touch or make comments about—and if someone does, to let us know. Teach your girls it’s not OK for boys to make comments about their bodies and teach your sons why it’s never OK to make those comments.
- Let them know they’re not unique. By that I mean, show them they’re not alone in this. Share your own awkward, hormonal stories and let them know how you felt growing up. Show them the whole world goes through the same exact thing. When the topic of periods popped up, I told A every woman she knows gets her period (I didn’t get into technicalities like menopause or those lucky B’s for whom the IUD actually works). We even named women we know to reassure her that, yup, they’ve all gone through it, too.
- Let them be grossed out. Nine times out of ten when I describe some bodily function or biological process to A she screams “EW!” I ignore it because nine times out of ten, ew is right. The point is, I don’t waste my breath trying to convince her to appreciate The Wondrous Miracle of any of it. Don’t confuse maturing for maturity. Right now, I just want to make sure A has the facts straight, no matter how icky they are.
- Buy a book. A book should never take the place of conversations with your kids, but it gives them the option to read and learn privately, too. Which is cool. One series I loooove for girls is The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Younger Girls (perfect for tweens) and The Care and Keeping of You 2: The Body Book for Older Girls (10 & up.)
The most important thing to remember is to keep lines of communication open with your child, even if it’s excruciatingly awkward at first. Keep it fun, keep it positive, and keep talking. Ultimately, you are your child’s best teacher on this topic … unless you’re my mother in which case, I’ve got a stolen book from the Norwood Public Library you should borrow.
About Nicole: Nicole Green-Naviglia has been writing since she was four. Her first story was about her adventures in a Blue House filled with talking animals.Today, she writes from a brownish-khaki-ish house filled with her husband, daughter, two very lazy canine assistants and a varying number of fish. Nicole is the owner of shake, and provides super-smart copy and content, consumer research, strategic insights, and bossy-pants business advice to brands and creative agencies. Connect with Nicole on LinkedIn or better yet, sent her an email.
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