How to explain birds and bees when younger kids are listening in, is a common concern from many parents, when it comes to sex education.
I am often asked by parents about whether they need to be careful about what they say ‘about sex’ in front of younger children. They are unsure about how to explain birds and bees to an older child, without giving their younger child too much information.
The answer is, yes and no, it is more of a juggling act, I guess! And doing what feels right to you!
You’ll find more information about sex education in my Sex Education 101 page.
The short answer is no, in general, you don’t need to worry too much about how to explain birds and bees when younger kids are hanging around.
The approach that we take with sex education today, is that we should be talking about sex as if it is a normal part of life. We should talk about it very matter of factually, and as naturally as if we were talking about where milk comes from.
So, if younger kids are hanging around when your eldest asks you a ‘birds and bees’ question or you see an opportunity for a teachable moment, then it is okay to just answer it. The amount of detail that you provide in your answer is up to you. You can always provide a simple answer and follow up with more details later on when you are both alone.
And if you feel that your answer isn’t age appropriate for little ones, then just let your child know that you will get back to them later on with an answer.
And remember, if a child isn’t interested in a particular subject, they will forget whatever it is that you are saying ie it will go in one ear and out the other. So don’t get too concerned about them remembering stuff.
Sometimes though, you do need to be careful about what you say in front of younger children when you explain the birds and bees.
If you have a child who is reaching puberty and they are feeling shy or embarrassed about the changes that are happening to them, it is a good idea to respect that. For example, you might want to read a puberty book together alone in their bedroom or when your younger kids are distracted doing something else. As kids get older they can become a lot more shy about the fact that their body is changing. So they may not be comfortable talking about birds and bees or their newly sprouting pubic hair at the dinner table.
You may be wanting to talk to an older child about a difficult topic, that may scare your younger child. For example, you may want to talk about ‘stranger danger’ after a recent case of sexual abuse in your neighbourhood, and you want to talk about why it isn’t safe for children to go into public toilets alone. An older child will understand your reasoning as to why they can’t, but for a younger child, telling them that sometimes people do bad things to kids in public toilets, may make them frightened about going to all public toilets, even when supervised.
If you feel uncomfortable talking about a particular topic, then don’t talk about it in front of a younger child. Sometimes it is better to prepare your answer than to jujust jumpn with an answer. Take it easy and have that conversation just with the child who it is intended for. You don’t always need the added stress of having to worry about what words to use when talking in front of younger kids.
By talking to your kids about sexuality, you are telling your kids that they can come and talk to you about ‘sex stuff’. Which means that they will hopefully come to you with their questions instead of asking their friends or searching online for the answer (answers that are usually incorrect). This is a good thing because you want to make sure that they are getting correct information. It also gives you the opportunity to let your kids know what sexual behaviours and attitudes are okay and not okay. Sharing your sexual values and beliefs are possibly even more important than the facts.
So when it comes to that time when you start to explain birds and bees to your child, and the younger ones are hanging around, don’t get too stressed about it. At the end of the day, just go with your gut instinct and do what is right for you!
I'm Cath, a sex educator living in Australia with my husband and 2 kids. I help parents to talk about sex (with less cringe and more confidence) and to empower their child to make smart sexual decisions. You can join my online parent support group here and visit my shop for helpful resources.