It recently occurred to me that I’m still referring to Gavin as a toddler when, in fact, he is no longer one. He has had his third birthday and is now in his fourth year of life. Based on the age classification, he is no longer a toddler. How time flies. It also reminded me about the three big questions that invariably crop up in a child’s life that all parents dread having to tackle – death, the birds and the bees, and religion. We brushed the topic of death about a month back and I had been ill-prepared to handle it. I made a mental note to make sure I was prepared for the other two questions that will inevitably arise. It’s been a month and I still haven’t done anything to prepare myself…
How do you talk to a child about the facts of life? Although I would be quite happy to leave this topic indefinitely, there is a more important reason why I would want to address it sooner rather than later. Besides, I wouldn’t want their first experience talking about sex to be with their friends, or during sex education at school. I believe that subjects like these have to begin at home. It is also important to start early because I want my children to be aware that it is not appropriate for strangers to touch their private parts. I want them to grow up feeling comfortable talking to us about their bodies and the topic of sex with me or their father. For this reason when I first taught Gavin the terms for his private parts, I made sure I used the correct anatomical names.
According to most books I’ve read, this is a good start. Another good example to use is to tell your children that the parts of their bodies that are covered by their swimming suits are private. Beyond that, what else should you tell them? At what age should you start introducing the topic about babies? Should you wait until your child asks or should you initiate the topic?
Being from an Asian background, this isn’t exactly a topic I have much experience to draw on from my childhood. My parents never talked to me much about it except for making very vague statements that were more confusing than helpful. For instance, I remember my mother saying something to me about not letting a boy touch me. I was in standard one (grade 1) when she told me this and my interpretation of what she said was that I wasn’t allowed to let a boy touch any part of me – not even my hand.
My next exposure to the facts of life came from a book titled “Where Did I Come From?” by Peter Mayle and Arthur Robins. My aunt had borrowed the book from the library for my cousins to read. While I was visiting, my cousin passed it to me to read. I guessing that I must have been about 10 when I read that book. It was a pretty simple book with cartoon illustrations, explaining in children’s terms about sexual intimacy and pregnancy. To be honest, I don’t remember much from it except for the cartoon pictures. I didn’t even remember the title of the book but I’d recognise those pictures anywhere.
When I was a little older, before I had my period, my older cousin taught me about menstruation. I don’t really remember much from that conversation at all. And after that was sex education in high school. I was really uncomfortable with the topic until I entered University and studied Dentistry. After that I was completely desensitised.
I still don’t know how to talk to my children about the birds and the bees, but I do know that they have to know more than I did at their age. I also feel that the subject of sex should begin at home – before they get the wrong messages from misguided friends. Most importantly, they should be aware that they have full autonomy over their bodies and that it isn’t okay for others to touch them if they don’t like it.
But… where do we begin? How do we begin? The book “Where Did I Come From?” is a helpful book for an older child but I feel the subject should begin earlier than that – not just about babies, where they come from and sex. Additionally, although “Where Did I Come From?” is a good book for explaining about pregnancy and sex, it doesn’t effectively address the moral issues and responsibilities of sex and other related issues.
There is one other book that I’ve found that looks promising: “How to Talk to Your Child About Sex: It’s Best to Start Early, but It’s Never Too Late — A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents” by Linda and Richard Eyre. It covers all the issues I have highlighted and they offer suggested dialogues you can use with your children – great for parents who find themselves stuck for words.
How would you talk to your child about sex? When would you start? What books do you recommend?