What should I say about sex and pregnancy?

“How was I made?”

“Where did I come from?”

Children’s understanding of sex and childbirth changes greatly between the ages of six and nine. Six-year-olds are still egocentric thinkers with personal opinions about how things work. They may reject the facts of life in favor of their own ideas about sex. Eight- and nine-year-olds can accept others’ thoughts and are better able to understand sex and birth.

Learning about sex is gradual. It begins early, with a child’s first feelings about his body. The way his parents respond when he’s learning to use the toilet, when he touches his genitals, and when he asks questions about his body contributes to his self-image and sense of sexuality.

By the early elementary years, all children have some information about sex. They’ve heard it from their parents, their older siblings, their friends, or characters in movies and on TV. Some are just told things, others ask. One six-year-old, watching her mother changes her seven-month-old sister’s diaper, asked, “So how did you get pregnant, anyway?” Another child picked up a tampon and asked, “What’s this for?”

Parents are often startled by how much their child knows. Inevitably, kids pick up a lot by talking and joking with each other about sex. One boy giggled while watching kissing on TV and then explained what “French kissing” was. He’d heard about it from a classmate. A girl told her mother how babies were made: “The S word. You know, SEX! You get naked and have sex.” Her older sibling had told her.

Parents should ask, “What do you think?” to find out what their child knows. Once parents are aware of his ideas, they can decide where to start discussions and how much information to give. It’s necessary for parents to be sensitive when talking about sex. Many children are not ready for all the facts, and too much information at once can be overwhelming. A six- or seven-year-old may be confused and uncomfortable at the thought of adults engaged in sex. A six-year-old, after hearing about childbirth, said, “I’m never having a baby!” At these ages, some children can accept and understand only small doses of information. Parents should tell a little about intercourse, conception, pregnancy, and birth, and then wait for more questions before continuing.

Eight- and nine-year-old may also be embarrassed by talk of sex, but they understand more. If a child this age hasn’t asked much about sex yet, his parents can initiate a discussion. They can begin by asking what he already knows. Some of the information may be right but some may be distorted, and it’s important for parents to correct misconceptions.

The tone of these discussions is important. Parents should be discreet and respectful, never laughing at their child’s questions or comments. Children need to feel they can come to their parents for straight answers about sex. The trust established during the early years will be important throughout childhood and especially during adolescence. If a child feels reluctant to talk to his parents because he feels ashamed or fears ridicule, he’ll gradually stop bringing questions home.

Of course, even the most well-intentioned parents may feel uncomfortable discussing sex. Parents who—verbally or non-verbally—convey their reluctance to talk may inadvertently shut off communication with their child. Parents may want to read about human sexuality before answering their child’s questions. Parents also can mention the awkwardness they or the child may be feeling: “I know you’re a little embarrassed. I am too. But, in our house, it’s okay to talk about sex and ask questions.”

In addition to talking, you might try another approach to sex education – offering your child books on the subject. There are many available. Read several before selecting ones that seem appropriate, considering his age and maturity. Start with a simple book and, as needed, introduce ones that include more details. Yost can read the book with him, offer it to him, or simply leave it, where he’ll find it on his own. Then wait for questions or begin a discussion yourself.

When you talk about sex and pregnancy with your child, you may want him to keep the information from his younger siblings—they might not be ready to hear all the facts. Your older child may try to keep your discussions private, but chances are he’ll tell his siblings what he knows. He might want to share his new information with someone, and a sibling is handier than a friend. If this happens, talk to your younger child, correct misunderstandings, and offer explanations that seem appropriate. If he’s not interested, don’t press the issue. He’ll come to you at a later date with his own questions.

Picture Credit : Google