”My child is too young to talk about that”
“I don’t know what to say”
“What if my child asks something I can’t answer?”
There are a lot of different reasons Parents hesitate to discuss puberty, relationships, and sexual health with their children. Kids trust and want to learn this information from parents. In fact, many wish their parents bring would up topics about relationships and sexual health with them more often. This is great news! Now where to start…Check out these 5 tips for tackling “The Talk”:
- Start early
“The talk” starts way before they go through puberty. Everything parents do from helping their kiddos learn the accurate names for body parts (including genitals) to letting them know it’s their choice to give or get hugs are all part of raising sexually healthy young adults. So congrats, you’re already on your way! Check out this comprehensive series by Robie Harris (all available at the Henderson County Public Library) that explore what your child will be ready for depending on their age.
- Incorporate it into everyday situations or “teachable moments”
An often forgotten part of sexuality education is helping young people develop their own guiding values. Ask them what they think about a specific song you heard together on the way to school or a movie you watched together (before you say what you think). Sometimes our well intentioned efforts of informing them of what is the “right thing” to do can fall flat. This is an ideal time to help them think about what they would do in a tough situation before they get there. If they share that their friend smokes you might ask, “What would you want to say if your friend offered you cigarettes and you didn’t want to try them?” After parents/guardians, kids rank their own values as a strong influence on the decisions they make (over peers and media).
- Practice your poker face
Once your kids decide you’re trustworthy, you may find your kiddo will ask more questions, including ones that make your jaw drop. Just because they are asking a question about oral sex (or other things you definitely don’t want them to do at a young age) doesn’t mean they’re engaging in it. One of the biggest myths still floating around is that if we talk to our kids about sex and drugs then it will encourage the behavior. What we know through research is that kids who talk with their parents/guardians about sexual decision making and pressures:
- wait longer to have sex the first time
- have fewer partners, and
- when they do have sex they’re more likely to use birth control and/or condoms.
This a great opportunity to tell them how glad you are they’re asking you. Follow up with something like, “What made you think of that”, “What do you think that means?” or something that gets to the core of why they’re asking this now. It might be they heard it on the bus, in a song, or something could be going on at school or with a friend. Our #1 goal is to maintain our relationship with our child by being approachable and setting boundaries (more on boundary setting in the class below).
- Be willing to say “I don’t know”
One of parents’ biggest fears is getting asked a question they don’t have an answer for. This is a great opportunity to tell your child, “I’m really glad you asked. You know, I’m not sure. I’m going to find out and get back with you. How does that sound?” Kids learn a few things from a scenario like this:
- Parents are human! They don’t know everything but are willing to find out. And even that it’s ok to ask questions when they’re not sure or don’t know.
- They are important to their parent(s). By the parent offering to look it up (then following through with the question) shows their questions matter and their parent will be there during tough times, potentially ones where they fear getting in trouble.
- Parents are on their team. When parents ask their kids what they think or feel, kids feel like their voice matters. This builds confidence, especially for girls who tend to have a huge drop in confidence during puberty.
- Don’t beat yourself up, you’re doing great (no, really!)
Parents and guardians are their children’s first and best teacher, especially when it comes to puberty and sexual health, but know you have a community out there to support you. Schools often include puberty in 4th or 5th grade health classes. Ask your child’s teacher when they will be talking about puberty and how you can support what they’re learning in school. 6th graders typically learn about how HIV and STIs are transmitted. One of “The Talk” graduates said it best, “Your most important concern is that your child is safe” and that’s the root of talking to your kids about sexual health and relationships. Establishing a rapport about the tough stuff early, increases the likelihood that they will keep talking to you when they face even harder pressures as a teen.
If you want to learn more and practice having these conversations we invite you to join “The Talk” here at Children & Family Resource Center. This evidence based program is for parents of 9-12 year olds on how to start and continue talking about relationships, sexual health, and other tough topics (peer pressure, alcohol and drug use) with their kids. For more info contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 698-0674.