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The birds and the bees – how to talk to children about sex

Talking to your kids about ‘the birds and the bees’ is more than just teaching them about sex and reproduction. It encompasses learning about their bodies, healthy relationships, boundaries, diversity, and keeping oneself safe. We know that discussing relationships, body parts, and sex with your child can be uncomfortable and overwhelming for many parents. What age do I start? What if they ask me a question I don’t know how to answer? How much detail should I provide? Will they understand what I’m saying? Many parents today did not have conversations about their body, sex, or sexuality with their parents, so it can be challenging to know where to start, and that’s okay. 

Not all conversations or topics will be suitable depending on your child’s age. Therefore, no matter what age your child is, it is important to discuss age-appropriate topics and use age-appropriate terms. Let’s break this down a little bit by looking at different age groups, and what we could be discussing with them. 

 

0 to 3 years old 

Toddlers will begin to explore their own bodies and become aware of gender. During this stage, we encourage parents to label the anatomical names of their body parts rather than using cute nicknames or slang. Remember, young children do not have any of the same associations with those body parts that adults do, so avoid showing fear, shame, or giggling. Having a child accurately label and speak about their body parts can empower them and is the foundation for introducing your child to consent. We love lift-the-flap books about bodies for this age group, because you can talk about and label all different parts of the body which helps to normalize being comfortable talking about bodies. 

 

4 to 5 years old 

As children get older, you may notice they are beginning to ask more questions about how babies are made, or the differences between boys and girls. We can discuss these topics by using simple terms and age-appropriate words, for example, “mommy and daddy made you and you grew in my stomach.” Using story books can be easier and helpful to explain some of these topics, but this is a perfectly normal stage of curiosity that every child will go through, so use those teachable moments as they arise! 

 

6 to 7 years old

This is an age where you can take their curiosity from a couple years ago and get into more detail about the how and why of things. We can also start discussing our values and how it fits into loving relationships and sex. There are some helpful books that can explain some of these topics, for example, It’s So Amazing, by Robbie H. Harris, which uses engaging comics and accurate language to teach kids more about these topics. This is also a great age to continue talking about consent, boundaries and saying “no” when it comes to other people and their body. 

 

8 to 12 years old 

By this age, your child should have a good basic understanding of the body and the mechanics of sex. This is a time to start focusing more on the changes that come with puberty. Make sure that during this time period you are keeping conversations open and honest, so that your child feels comfortable continuing to come to you as they get older, as their relationships get more complicated, and as questions may come up that they need answers to. Another great book recommendation for this age group is It’s Perfectly Normal by Robbie Harris, as it focuses more on puberty, safe sex, and respectful relationships in tweens and teens. Discussing sex education to your child isn't a one-off talk; it's really a journey that will need to be revisited throughout the continuum of life. You are creating an atmosphere of open and honest communication, which is important at any age. The long-term goal is to support our children with understanding their bodies and sexuality, and to make healthy choices and keep themselves safe. 

 

Ashlee and Lisa are child psychologists who created KidsConnect Psychology as a place for children and families to access tools, supports and therapy. Check out our website for digital downloads, parenting tool kits, information about our parent counselling, school consultations, daycare consultations and more! kidsconnectpsychology.com. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram at KidsConnect Psychology.

 

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