That awkward moment…

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You’re probably dreading the “where do babies come from?” chat, but it’s a responsibility you absolutely cannot shirk. Even though it can be awkward, it is an important subject and should be explained to children from an early age. 

Natalee Holmes, a parenting coach from Johannesburg, shares some tips on how to talk to kids about sex and reproduction at different ages.   

When is the right time?
When children begin to ask questions, you need to start answering them. Of course, a four-year-old who asks where babies come from does not need a full biology lesson! But, he does need an answer that is truthful and easy to understand. 

The best way to gauge where to pitch your answer is to ask him, “What do you think?”  This immediately gives you an idea of where he is headed with the question and how much of an answer you need to give him. 

If the answer, “from eggs in Mommy’s tummy,” satisfies him, then you know you have answered enough. If he continues to ask questions, he is obviously aware of more and you may need to elaborate a bit more. 

For children two to five years
A two to five-year-old cannot grasp the concept of sex or reproduction. They are simply curious about how babies get into the world. 

You can say something like, “They come from inside Mommy” or: “From a special growing process that happens when Mommy is pregnant.” 

It is not necessary to explain the ins and outs of sex. It is too complicated and difficult to process at that age. 

For children six to nine years
At this age, your child can grasp a more complicated answer, and it would be wise to ask what they know or think so far. Some kids will have already heard about sex. Others won’t have a clue yet and it could be disturbing for them.

Remember, at this stage, a penis and a vagina are simply used to pee. This is why kids often think that babies are peed or pooped out. To go into detail about what else the genitals are used for can be mind-boggling for a young child.  

If you have pets that have had babies, use them as an example to explain that it is similar with people. They can begin to grasp how it happens without having to know too much. This is the beginning of explaining reproduction. 

For children 10 to 12 years
At this age, most schools will be teaching human reproduction, so there is no need to be coy. You can explain reproduction and give a less detailed overview of what it entails. You don’t have to go into graphic detail – it can be recreational, it is not always done to produce a baby, lots of people are doing it etc. As time goes on, your child will come to realise that sex is far more than reproduction.  

The danger with this age group is that it becomes uncomfortable and something to joke about and make lewd comments around. They now realise that their parents actually did this weird thing, and that it involved some strange movements. Your child will be able to understand the mechanics, but may lack the emotional maturity to actually deal with the information. 

Teenagers
Teens should be told as much as possible. By this age they will be well aware of the mechanics of reproduction and sex. They understand sexual innuendos and they are themselves becoming sexual beings. They feel attraction and arousal, and their bodies are overrun with hormones that make them very aware of everything around sex. 

Because of their raging hormones, it is more a sexual time for them than a time for reproduction, so this is an essential time to discuss all the emotional issues around sexual responsibility. 

They should be told about safe sex, and STDs and the different perceptions about sex. Some teens are under the illusion that oral sex and anal sex are not considered as sex. These perceptions need to be corrected and discussed. 

Be as honest about sex as possible as they will be having their first sexual experiences in these years. 

Sex talk tips

  • Never be embarrassed. Be frank and open so that your child is comfortable and feels safe and free to always come to you to discuss anything he needs to know.
  • Always be honest, but in an age-appropriate way. To tell your child that babies come from heaven or the stork is just confusing. It will feel like a Father Christmas story, and he may feel deceived or silly when he finds out the truth. The more honest you are, the easier it will be to discuss anything with him.  
  • Never make sex a taboo subject. You will just create curiosity and embarrassment, which will cause your child to shy away from honest conversations. He will also turn to his friends for answers, and may end up with the incorrect information.
  • Never defer the questions to someone else. This creates an uncomfortable atmosphere and may lead your child to think that there’s something to be ashamed of about the topic.

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