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With so many different things happening in the culture today that effect how sex, gender, and sexuality is viewed, is there a “best” age to have a talk with your kids about this sensitive topic? And, how can patents make it less sensitive, for not only themselves, but also for the kids?
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I have little kids, but they were definitely very curious when we just had our daughter. Asking a lot of questions about how she got in my belly, how she got out, etc. I'm pretty transparent with them but do tread lightly because they are younger.
I agree that telling more is probably better than less, and it should be an accumulation of conversations and not one big topic. It should become organic conversation and something that your kids are encouraged and feel safe to ask questions about. I'm not interested in teaching my kids that talking about their body and sex is weird, not allowed, and something to be ashamed of.
At 5 and 7, we have started with personal boundaries, different types of relationships, and the right terminology for body parts. We'll go from there!
A discussion about our bodies, sex, and sexuality should not take place as a single (possibly rushed and awkward) conversation. Instead we should be sharing age appropriate information with our kids and answering their questions in a no-nonsense, factual, and age-appropriate way right from early childhood.
Very young children (under 4 years of age) are naturally unembarrassed by their bodies and are curious about bodily functions. This is a good time to start conversations about the fact that their body belongs to them. Kids of this age may not think twice about being naked and so talking about privacy and what is socially acceptable is also important. Remember to use the correct terms and names when discussing body parts.
Between ages 4 and 6, kids become more aware of the physical differences between boys and girls and they may mimic adult behavior (hugging and kissing) and even playing games (like playing "doctor") to satisfy their curiosity. By this age, some kids already have some awareness if their biological sex and their gender identity are different. Conversations around body differences, consent, and the social rules that govern sexual behavior and language are important. Children may ask questions about pregnancy or notice the differences in family make up eg. same sex couples or single parent households. These questions can be answered simply, providing only as much information as necessary. There are also some great books explaining the basics of human reproduction for younger kids.
Between the ages of 7 and 12, children become more aware of themselves as sexual human beings - especially as their bodies begin changing and they enter puberty. When you begin to notice body changes or mood changes, it is a good time to start discussing puberty and what to expect. Normalising reproductive functions such as menstruation is important for children of all gender identities, as shame, embarrassment, and ignorance all result when there is inadequate understanding of this natural bodily function. By the time girls start their first period, they should be armed with enough information to take care of menstrual hygiene, be comfortable to ask questions if they are concerned, and be aware that if they engage in sexual intercourse there is a possibility that they can get pregnant or contract a sexually transmitted infection. As boys may develop later, they also need to learn to be respectful of girls experiencing body changes.
As a parent, I think having conversations about topics such as masturbation and sexual pleasure are probably the most awkward or uncomfortable, but these conversations at the right time are also a necessary part of sexual health and awareness. Regardless of the sex, gender, or sexual identity of your child, a progressive and ongoing conversation about these topics will help your child to become confident and secure in their own body.
It’s such a prevalent talking point these days and I think that telling kids too little about these issues is likely to be more harmful than telling them too much.
There’s lots of ways to start this discussion and if we are talking views about sex and gender, even kids as young as 2 can be taught to start thinking about safe body boundaries. As kids get older you can expand on safe boundaries to body parts and expand to others’ views from there.
As long as we as adults feel confident speaking about it, kids won’t feel shamed or awkward to discuss it either.
I think it depends where your kids are at developmentally as to how you would navigate where to start the conversation and in how much detail.