Talking to your kids about sex needn’t be scary or awkward. So why is it so hard to decide when is the right time to have "The Talk"?
Just when you thought telling your kids that Santa isn’t real was the hardest thing you’d ever have to do, there’s a new awkward discussion on the table – the birds and the bees. But when exactly are you meant to have “the talk”? “The key is to treat it like everything else with children – it’s not just one chat you have and then it’s over. It’s a continual learning process over the lifetime,” says Outreach Mental Health psychologist and mum of two, Kirralee Taylor. “As with anything when it comes to kids, the talk needs to happen whenever they are ready and curious – it’s when the best learning happens, not when you have decided it’s the right time.” We asked Kirralee all the tough questions, so you’re prepared when the time comes.
Why are my kids asking about sex all of a sudden?
“I think kids generally ask questions when they are curious about something so sexuality is just another part of being human that kids are curious about. They might hear something in the playground, read something, or see something that sparks their interest.”
What’s the best way to start the conversation?
“Don’t make it organised and staged. ‘The talk’ shouldn’t be one awkward discussion that you decide needs to happen at a certain time. Sitting down to have a lecture isn’t going to work. It’s an ongoing conversation that happens when the child is interested.
“Keep it simple and stick to facts. Try not to get lost in your own emotional, spiritual, or political perspectives. Try to keep it short and sweet and monitor their cues as to when they have had enough.”
Do both parents need to be involved?
“If they are both there when the child is asking and curious then sure, why not? It might be a good idea for both parents to sit down together and discuss the importance of open and honest communication when the child is curious.
“Go through a resource like the Traffic Lights app with your partner so you both know what's normal and what's not, so you are not sending mixed messages or confusing your kids.”
What can I do to ease their embarrassment?
“The key is to be open and honest. Create a loving nurturing open relationship where they feel safe and supported by you and then it doesn’t have to be awkward. Be mindful of your own biases and attitudes towards sex, normal healthy sexual development, and how this might impact the way you react when a learning opportunity arises.”
How do I manage my own anxiety around having “the talk”?
“Educate yourself about what’s normal, healthy and natural for that age group and then what may be a bit more concerning. Once you come to terms with the fact that sexual development is a normal, healthy part of being a human being, and that there is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about, then your children won’t feel ashamed or embarrassed. They’ll be more likely go to you next time they have a question.”
Should my child’s age factor into how much I tell them?
“I think most parents will know their own child and where they’re at in terms of how to best have a discussion around healthy sexual development. It’s not really an age thing but more of a developmental issue. Meet your child wherever they are at developmentally, as opposed to planning a specific talk at a specific age.”
What are kids being taught at school about sex?
“From my own personal experience with my kids, it starts in primary school at around grade three or four. Organisations such as the Life Education Centre come out and talk about a whole range of topics that impact kids including healthy development. I also know that when my daughter was in grade six they had a more specific workshop around normal development and puberty.”
My child’s school is already teaching them about sex. Do I still need to have the chat?
“It’s important to have conversations with your kids about anything that they are curious about including sexuality, sexual development, and healthy relationships. If we keep the lines of communication open and our kids feel safe and comfortable to come and talk to us about anything, then they won’t be relying solely on what they read online or overhear in the playground.”
What are the best books and resources on the subject?
“Everyone's Got A Bottom by Tess Rowley, Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept by Jayneen Sanders, and Is This Normal? by Holly Brennan and Judy Graham. Also, the Traffic Lights app and resources from the true.org.au website are great.”