How to talk to your kids about the birds and the bees

My 6-year-old looks like my clone, but she thanks me daily for adopting her from the hospital’s nursery. I’m to blame; I had told her that when you want a baby, you go to Prentice and choose, just like we selected our dog and cats from the animal shelter. Plenty of parents have created their own stories to avoid the big talks—but is this the right method? We dove into some of the awkward questions and got them answered once and for all by the experts.

Anatomy

“I was changing my son’s diaper, and my 3-year-old daughter pointed and said, ‘I don’t have that thing. I lost it.” – Gina Noel, Albany Park

It’s important to always use correct anatomical names for your children’s body parts, including the penis and vagina, and to answer any questions they may have, says Elizabeth Jeglic, clinical psychologist and sexual violence prevention researcher at John Jay College.

Puberty

“My 3-year-old daughter is obsessed with my period, and asked me today why she isn’t bleeding like Mommy.” – Abby Zelinski, Berwyn

“I’m staunchly against hiding evidence,” says Quandra Chaffers, a sex educator and trauma specialist. “I have worked with people who started puberty very early and had no concept of why they were bleeding or cramping. They thought they were dying.”

So if they find a tampon, explain that it’s a tampon. When girls get older, every month that they don’t get pregnant, they shed the lining of the uterine wall, and this soaks it up, like a diaper soaks up pee. No biggie.

The birds and the bees

When my daughter was around 3 or 4, she asked me if she got into my stomach because I ate her. – Zakiyyah Williams, Orland Park

Children are naturally curious, and while you should always be honest with them, it doesn’t mean they need the sex talk at age 2, says Alex Chinks, licensed clinical psychologist and clinical sexologist. But you can start talking about the topic as soon as the questions start. For example, preschool children can learn that babies grow in a woman’s uterus, Chinks says.

As your child gets older, they will continue to ask questions, and you should continue to answer questions honestly. By the time they’re around 8 to 10, kids should have a basic idea of the word “sex” and what it means in terms of reproduction.

“The best sex talk that you can give is a slowly unfolding one that spans many years, many questions and offers many moments for trust and connection between you and your child,” Chinks says.

Kelley Kitley, owner of Serendipitous Psychotherapy in Chicago, says that it’s important to talk to kids as young as 5 in a general sense about sex because that’s the age when they’re exposed to other children at school. “I always want my kids hearing the truth from me versus something false from a peer,” she says.

So if a child asks how babies are made, she suggests responding by telling them that mommies and daddies have sex, which is when the penis goes into the vagina. “We gave our oldest child a very different version of this before he went to middle school at age 11, using open communication, psychoeducation and slang terms he may have heard,” Kitley says. “We allowed him to ask us any question.” 

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