Talking about the “birds and the bees” with our children is tricky, uncomfortable and, in many ways, a parent’s nightmare. But it’s a part of life. We have to do it. My oldest daughter Paige was 8 when we sat down to talk. The girls at school were talking about boys and who liked which ones. I started by asking her what she knew about sex. I let her ask questions and kept it simple.
I attempted to talk to her sister, Grace, at about the same age. But she covered her ears and ran away. Even when school sent home notes that they were going to discuss the topic and informed me they had given out health booklets talking about sex and bodies I could never find them. Grace would not tell me what happened to them. She wanted nothing to do with any of it. So I turned to my pediatrician for help.
I asked her to talk to her during a doctor’s visit, and I kept asking her to do so throughout the years just so I knew Grace was getting the message. She trusted and liked her doctor very much and so did I. I knew once that door closed and if I was not in the room she would listen to Dr. Alicia Morgan-Cooper. She would have no choice behind that closed door.
I tell all of my friends with young children to make sure they are talking to their kids about sex because if they don’t someone else will. Dr. Morgan-Cooper owns Village Pediatrics and has been a pediatrician for 20 years. She is also the mother of three boys. She agrees earlier is better. “Media, especially social media, plays a much more important role in children’s lives than ever before. It is important to talk to your kids and be open for them to talk and ask questions. If you don’t do it, someone else will, whether it be a peer, a TV show or a post on social media. So make sure your child is given the proper information so they will hopefully make the right decisions later in adolescence and young adulthood.” For me, it was also about my daughters understanding sex so that they could protect themselves from predators and others with poor intentions.
Experts say you should talk to your kids about sex as early as possible in an age-appropriate manner. Body exploration is very common for small children. Dr. Morgan-Cooper says this is a good time to discuss their body parts in normal situations like bath time and when they are getting dressed. She says, “At this age it is important to be very concrete and brief about the topic using the proper names for their body parts. This will let them know that nothing is wrong with their body.
It is also helpful to talk to them about “good touch, bad touch” and making sure they understand that their bodies are private. Make sure to let your child know who is allowed to touch them, for example, which trusted adults are allowed to help them go to the bathroom or get dressed.” The doctor adds that if your child has not asked questions by the age of 5 or 6, it is important to start a conversation before starting school.
So how much do we offer in these conversations? I think it depends on the questions. For example, when I was pregnant with Grace, Paige wanted to know how she got into my stomach. I don’t remember my exact words but I did not let her think the stork was bringing her. I think I said something about mommy having an egg and daddy being able to fertilize or feed that egg because we love another. I was brief. She listened and then, with her short attention span at age 6, moved on.
The discussion is a work in progress over the years. Girls have to be prepared for menstruation and that talk comes along around age 9. In middle school, there are more serious things to discuss with boys and girls—STDs, birth control, protection from STDs, violence, sexual orientation, rape and the list goes on. There are so many opportunities these days for teachable moments and parents should use them.
The talking starts early and continues for years. It’s a topic open for discussion with my grown daughters. Of course, I might be the one running away this time. BC
Lisa Robinson is a news anchor for WBAL-TV.