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How to talk to kids about sex (the strategies)

Inside: What does sex education in the home look like? How do you naturally talk to kids about sex, with less cringe and more confidence?

The times have changed, and how we do sex education in the home, is very different to what our parents did with us, when we were kids.

Back then, sex education was usually one awkward talk that happened at the start of puberty.

Today though, we know that kids learn best from small conversations that are repeated many times.

The difficulty for us though as parents, is in what does this actually look like.

How do you make sex education a part of your everyday life?

What are the things that you do to make it a part of your daily conversation. So that it becomes a comfortable sharing of knowledge, with no  shame or negative messages?

This blogpost will show you the many different ways we can naturally talk about sex with our kids.

You’ll find more information about sex education in my Sex Education 101 page.

The many different strategies

Just like there are many different ways to parent, there are many different ways  to talk to kids about sex.

Which means that you need to talk to your child in a way that feels comfortable for you. 

For example, I love reading books with my kids, and will often pick books that have a lesson to be learnt in them. So for me, books are often a first choice when I look at bringing up a new topic, like puberty.

Below you'll find a range of different ideas on how to talk to your child about love, sex, relationships and growing up.

Answer questions

Answering kid's questions in a straightforward 'everyday' way.

Some kids ask questions and some kids don't.

If your child asks you a question about sex, it's pretty important that you try to answer it.

Why? Because they're curious about the topic, so if you don't give them an answer that makes sense to them, they may google it (and find porn) or ask their friends (and get the wrong information).

Plus when you take the time to answer their questions, your kids will start to see you as their number one source for information.

Now this is a good thing, as it means that you know they are getting accurate information that they understand, plus it gives you some idea of what sort of stuff their friends are talking about (before it becomes a problem).

Plus, kids work out pretty quickly that if you are okay for talking about sex, then they can come and talk to you about other stuff that might be worrying them, like bullying.

So talking to them about sex actually strengthens your relationship with your child and means that they'll turn to you for support, guidance and information as they grow up.

So an important part of sex education in the home, is answering your child's questions about sex. If you are unsure about how to answer your child's questions, then my book, The Sex Education Answer Book, gives you by the age responses to questions about sex for kids from the ages of 3 to 14. 

family laughing

Don't forget that it's okay to giggle when talking about this stuff!

Reading books

Reading age-appropriate books on a wide range of different topics.

When it comes to sex education, there are a lot of possible topics that you can cover. You can find an overview in this article of the many possible topics you could talk about. And believe it or not, but there is a children's book on every single topic that you might want to talk about.

You can use books in a number of different ways. You might just grab a book and discretely slip it into the pile of other books that you plan to read at bedtime that night, and see where the conversation goes. Or you might say to them one day, 'Hey, I have a new book that I thought we could read together. Let's sit down and read it now' and then you might talk about it.

Or you might buy a book for your tween, and hand it to them saying 'I bought you a book to read about puberty. How about you have a look at it and if you have any questions, please do come and ask me'. And a week or so later, you might ask them if their was anything in that puberty book about periods or pimples.

So an important part of sex education in the home, is reading age-appropriate books  about relevant topics eg where do babies come from, puberty, body parts, etc.

You'll find some tips in this article, on how to make reading sex education books less stressful. 

Watch tv together

Sitting down and watching tv with them, and talking about what just happened and what it might mean.

I don't think there is a kid on this earth, who would say no to the opportunity to sit down and watch a tv show or a movie with their parents. There are so many opportunities for potential conversations to be found in tv shows and movies.

Here's an example. My daughter is 12 and wanted to go see that Amy Schumacher film, 'I Feel Pretty'. It was rated M, and there was a sex scene in it but we still went. And from that movie we have had many conversations about what happened in that movie. We talked about the fact that she had sex pretty quickly with a guy who she had only just met. We talked about the fact that she felt 'being pretty' was the most important thing in the world. We talked about how she changed when she believed she was pretty. And we are still talking about it, several months later.

So an important part of sex education in the home, is in sitting down and watching the tv or even going to the movies  with them. And if you aren't sure about that particular show or movie, I often look it up on Common Sense Media first, to see what they have to say, before I will agree.

Teachable moments

Looking for everyday situations that you can turn into an opportunity to teach them something important.

Teachable moments are when you find opportunities to teach your child something important, in everyday situations. Once you start looking out for them, they are really easy to find. And they are a great way to start a casual (but relevant) conversation with your child in an everyday sort of way.

Here's an example. When my kids were younger, we never listened to commercial radio in the car. Why? Because they talk about sex all the time! It was starting conversations that I just didn't want to have with a 4 year old! But now, we listen to commercial radio all the time, because it gives me opportunities to start conversations with my son. Now, my son is a kid who's sex education is a little neglected because he never asks me questions. His older sister could talk underwater (like me), and asks me questions all the time. But my son, is very different. So I find that I am always on the lookout for opportunities to talk to him about sex. And listening to commercial radio is the easiest way to find them. So some days we might talk about what we are hearing, whilst others days, I might quickly change the channel before he starts asking questions. It depends on the mood that I'm in!

So an important part of sex education in the home, is in looking out for teachable moments. In this article, you'll find over 30 different examples of everyday opportunities you can turn into a teachable moment about sex. 

confused baby

'Do you seriously expect me to believe that?'

Share your values

Providing kids with a 'moral compass' ie telling them what attitudes and behaviours are okay (and not okay) in your family.

By a 'moral compass', I am talking about how sharing your family values and beliefs can guide your child when making decisions about love, sex and relationships. Values are something that we all work out for ourselves, but as a parent, you can help to shape your child's personal values by sharing what yours are. You can't tell your child what values to have, but you can help them to work out which values to choose, when you share and explain yours to them.

So an important part of sex education in the home, is in sharing your sexual values and beliefs with your kids. You can learn more in this article about how best to share your personal values and beliefs with your child.

Start conversations

Remembering to start conversations that are meaningful and age-appropriate, especially when you have a child who doesn't ask questions.

Kids don't always ask questions, which means that it is up to us to remember to start a conversation.

So it is important to take the initiative and to start a conversation, especially when it is about something that they need to know about.  

My favourite way to start these conversations with my own kids, is to refer to something that I may have heard or seen about. So I might start a conversation with 'Hey, I heard something on the radio (or Tommy's mum told me OR I read something in a book) that I thought we should talk about....'

So an important part of sex education in the home, is in starting conversations about topics that are important, like keeping safe, what to do if someone shows them porn or touches their private parts.

Know where to find information

Being okay with the fact that you can't know everything but knowing where to go when you need information yourself.

No parent can know everything.

And if you think you do, well you are only fooling yourself.  

As parents, sure it is nice to know a lot about sex things, but usually we have more important things to remember, like turning up for parent-teacher interviews (I just missed two in a row! OUCH!)

What's more important than knowing everything though, is in knowing where to find the information, when you need it. So be kind to yourself and be okay about the fact that you won't know the answers to all of your child's questions. Because you now know where to get the answers that you need.

You can find everything you need to know about sex education in this website!

So an important part of sex education in the home, is in knowing where to go for information when you need it.

Share stories

Sharing your own stories about growing up because kids love to hear them and it's a great way to teach them important stuff.

Sharing stories with your kids is a great way to teach them. It let's them know that you have some personal experience, plus it helps to strengthen that bond between you both.

Here's an example. My kids like to crawl into bed with me, early in the morning. The other morning, my husband had slept in, which meant that by the time he crawled out of bed, he had an audience, watching him as he got dressed. So I  started to tell my kids a story about how I never saw my parents naked as a child. Which then led to a great conversation about privacy and when is it okay to be naked (or not).

So an important part of sex education in the home, is in sharing those stories from your own childhood, and using them as a springboard for a conversational lesson!

Accept discomfort

Accepting that its okay to feel uncomfortable at times because it happens to us all.

Feeling uncomfortable, or embarrassed, is something that happens to us all. It might be general discomfort when talking about sex or it might be related to certain topics (like how many partners you may have had in the past).

The good thing about sex education, is that the more you talk about sex, the easier it gets. It is a bit like riding a bike. You may be a bit wobbly at the start, but with more practice, you eventually get less wobbly and start to feel a lot more confident.

So an important part of sex education in the home, is in accepting that we all get embarrassed, and that it will get easier, the more you talk! My book, The Sex Education Answer Book, includes activities that can help you to get more comfortabel with talking.

Repeat yourself

Having lots of little chats that you keep on repeating because one big talk just isn't enough.

The days of 'the talk' ie one big talk at the time of puberty, are over.

We now know that it is impossible for kids to learn everything they need to know about love, sex and relationships in the one conversation.

Today it is about many small conversations, that you keep on having. Slowly adding in more details as your child becomes more curious or it becomes more relevant.

A great example of this is contraception. Your 7 year old might ask you a question like this, "Do you make a baby every time you have sex?'. And you might say 'No, a woman can take special medicine that can stop her from making a baby'. Now, at the age of 7, you aren't going to give them lots of details about contraception, because they aren't really all that interested. You will leave the details until they are more curious or when it is more relevant ie closer to the time that they might be thinking about having sex.

So an important part of sex education in the home, is in remembering that it is a lifetime of conversations that you will have to keep on repeating. Eventually what you are saying will sink in and make sense to them!

family smiling

Open and honest conversations without shame.

Keep it super simple (KISS)

Keeping it super simple, so don't even try to cover it all in one conversation as you'll have many more opportunities to talk.

Parents will often share with me that they are worried that they will forget to include some really important detail, when talking with their kids about something. 

And I tell them that yes, they probably will forget things but it doesn't matter as they can talk about it next time (or the time after).

 That is the joy of having the sort of relationship with your kids where you talk about sex in an everyday way. Because you can always talk about it later on, because you know the conversation will happen again.

And if it doesn't you can just start a conversation about it yourself!

So an important part of sex education in the home, is in keeping it simple as you have plenty of opportunities to talk again!

Everyday voice

Talking in an everyday voice as if you're talking about what's for dinner.

When talking to kids about sex, try to talk about it as if it is an everyday thing. So in the same way, that you might talk about what they are having for dinner tonight. This way your kids will grow up knowing that it is okay to talk about sex, and that it isn't something shameful.

So an important part of sex education in the home, is in talking about sex in the same way that you talk about everything else!

What really matters

It isn't so much what you say that matters. 

What matters is that you are actually talking which means that your child knows that they can talk to you about anything no matter what...

That is what sex education is really about. It is about the fact that your child knows that if you are okay with talking about sex, then you are also okay with talking about other things. They know that they can ask you questions, and you'll give them an honest answer. And you end up with a closer relationship with your child, where you know that they can turn to you for the support, guidance and information that they will need as they grow up.

Sex education in the home, happens in a number of different ways, but at the end of the day, what matters is the fact that you are talking about it!

Resources

My mission is to create resources that will help you to naturally talk to your kids about sex, all while respecting your personal values.

Which means that inside this website, you'll find lots of resources to help you with talking to your child about love, sex, relationships and growing up.

My Sex Education 101 page includes all of the information on sex education. You'll find lots of different blogposts to help with getting started, on a wide range of different topics.

You'll find videos about sex ed in my Sex Education Videos resource page that you can watch with your child or to learn more about sex education yourself.

You’ll also find an extensive range of sex education books for children, for kids of all ages. There's even some books in there for parents!

If you're looking for some ideas on how to talk to your child about bodies, Let's Talk About Bodies, will help you to start naming the private body parts and to have shame-free conversations with them about bodies. It is filled with lots of different ideas on how to have natural converasations with your child about their body. 

You'll also find some child friendly anatomically-correct cartoon illustrations of the genitals and internal reproductive organs that are appropriate for children from the age of 3 and up. Let's Look at Different Body Parts is a printable that will help take the awkward out of talking to your child about their body, so they grow up feeling educated, confident, and comfortable in their own skin.

If you need some help with explaining sexual intercourse to your child, then Let's Talk About Sex, will help you explain sex to your child in a way they will understand. It breaks it down into simple steps that  take the stress out of explaining!

If you're unsure about how to answer your child's questions about sex, then The Sex Education Answer Book will give you age-specific answers to the most common questions kid's ask parents about sex.  Which means you don't need to worry about finding a child-friendly explanation that your child understands. 

About the Author Cath Hakanson

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 empower their child to make smart sexual decisions. To find a better way to talk about sex, you can join my community of parents and visit my shop for helpful resources.

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