Advice for parents

I had to laugh at my daughter a few weeks ago: she was standing in front of our toilet bowl, sticking out her bare belly-button, waiting for something to happen. She was trying to go pee the same way she saw her brother do it many times before. Although Jenavieve was obviously going about it the wrong way, her naivety brought to mind my own confusion about sex–which lasted throughout my teens, and was finally dispelled in my Psychology 100 class in university. You’d be amazed at how many adults do not have correct knowledge about sex. In my case, sex education was just coming out of the closet when I attended grade school, and my parents never brought it up.

How do you handle your children’s questions about sex? (a) breeze through a vague discussion about birds and bees; (b) launch into a mini course on obstetrics; or (c) respond with factual answers relating only to your children’s questions? If you said “c,” you’re right. The biggest problem parents have with sex discussions is being frank. Some parents give their child too much information, more than they can piece together, while others beat around the bush, giving explanations like “Santa planted a seed in mommy’s tummy,” or “God made you, God made everyone.” Explanations like these confuse your children, and leave them open for answers they either concoct in their heads or hear from their friends.

At what age should you talk to your child about sex? There isn’t a magical number like six or 13 when children all of a sudden become curious about their bodies and want to know how babies are born. When I grew up parents said very little to their children about sex. They depended on teachers to handle the delicate topic. I was in grade seven before I saw my first movie. The whole series of events seemed almost unbelievable to me. After the movie my girlfriend explained intercourse to me five or six times before it finally sank in. I wished my parents were as frank with me as Susan’s were with her. The right time is whenever your child starts asking questions. For some, three years-of-age.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when your children get curious:

o Keep your discussion factual. If you’re talking about a penis, say “penis,” not “peepee.” Use proper names and accurately explain how the organs in your child’s body work. Also tell them how boys and girls are different and the same. Talk about mommy and daddy and him or her, not about plants and animals.

o On the other hand, don’t go overboard and give them a full account of sexual intercourse. Most children are satisfied with an explanation like this: “When mom and dad want to have a baby, a cell from daddy’s body joins a cell in mommy’s body, and a baby starts to grow. When the baby is big enough, it comes out through mommy’s vagina.”

If your children probe further and want to know how daddy’s cell gets into mommy’s body, say “Semen comes out from daddy’s penis. It fits into mommy’s vagina. Semen is not the same thing as urine. Only semen has the special cells that can make a baby.”

If your child asks you why only mommy’s can have babies, you can say, “Mommy’s bodies have a special place called the uterus in which a baby can grow. Daddies don’t have the same special place.

o What do you do when your children masturbate in public. Let’s face it, it’s embarrassing. Your brain is telling you, “Hey, it’s okay, just a stage in normal sexual development.” You’re emotions however are saying, “Let’s get out of here before someone sees us.” The truth is, it is okay, but there’s a time and a place. If your children seem preoccupied with masturbation you may need to put up some resistance, not because it’s wrong, but because it isolates your children and stops them from playing with other children. You can help your children control their self-indulgent tendencies by involving them more with you and their outside world. They need to find out that satisfaction can be derived from many sources, not just their body parts.

o You stumble across your daughter playing doctor with the boy next door. You’re happy Carla chose to be the doctor, but you’re not sure what to do about Ted–he isn’t wearing a stitch of clothing. Before you say anything, remember children are naturally curious about their body parts, especially what the other one’s look like. Take a non-blaming attitude and say, “I’m glad you two are playing so well together. It’s fun to play doctor isn’t it. I see you remembered that sometimes when we go to the doctor we take our clothes off. Our doctor can examine us then, and see if we have something wrong. Right now you two are pretend playing doctor, so you don’t need to take your clothes off. You only need to take your clothes off with your real doctor.”