by Jane Jackson, LPC-Intern
WHAT: age-appropriate dialogue about sex with your kids
WHEN: sooner than you think— on an ongoing basis
HOW: with plenty of preparation, patience and prayer
WHY: to point to the amazing work of our Creator, and for your kids’ protection!
The name “sex talk” is misleading— it’s not a talk, nor is it a one-time event. Did your parents initiate a series of progressive conversations with you from pre-puberty to young adulthood on the wonders and mysteries of sex? Neither did mine. (Blessed are you if your parents were thorough and purposeful in respect to your sex ed!) So where did you get your sex education? Where do you want your kids to find their sex education? That’s right, it’s up to you — the parents — to build this vital part of a child’s education instead of ignoring it and sheltering them from the truth. And the time to start these conversations is when they’re young, and what you say is still absolute truth, (remember, “My dad can [fill in the blank] better than your dad.”) Starting young can prevent the awkwardness of trying to start this when they’re already adolescents with their sex radars up.
If you don’t provide the how and why on sex for your kids, then you’re leaving them vulnerable to distorted truths and twisted falsehoods from their peers, magazines, or the internet to shape their sexual character. Don’t let this happen.
Around age three to five is when children start to notice differences between themselves and others in their world. First among siblings and family members, and as their circle of influence expands, friends and classmates. It’s right for them to notice, be curious about and ask questions about personal the differences they observe, and always with the simple innocence of a child. These are good conversations to have, which will often lead to questions about differences between boys and girls; men and women.
Fortunately for parents, there are wonderful resources that can open the door to healthy responses and invite candid conversations about our bodies, where we came from, differences and similarities like skin color, gender, height, eye color etc.., and learning God’s purpose as to why He made male and female the way He did.
Like learning any new skill for the first time, these dialogues for parents will be uncomfortable or awkward at first, but that’s okay! Better to broach the subject awkwardly than to avoid it and stay in your comfort zone. By not opening the door to these truth-sharing opportunities with our kids, we increase their susceptibility to the traps of predators in this fallen world in which we live. These orchestrated conversations do get easier the more they happen, and think of the powerful message that a child receives when they learn early on that their bodies are nothing to be ashamed of. Just like discussing media boundaries, like what’s ok to watch on TV or what music is acceptable to listen to, there are body boundaries to be discussed as well.
God made our bodies for sharing, like giving hugs or appropriate kisses, or holding hands as we walk. Other parts are private and not for sharing. A good rule of thumb is that anything that underwear or a swimsuit covers is off limits (excepting at the doctor’s office when mom or dad are present). While on the topic, appropriate touch should be discussed, as well as how to respond when touch makes us uncomfortable, like if a friend is hugging too tightly. It’s MY Body is a short book for younger children that shows how to respond when touch is inappropriate or makes us feel funny. Another good book for young ones is God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies. It’s critical to educate kids about physical boundaries with others so that they can better protect themselves from sexual abuse or exploitation.
If a child is not asking questions, that doesn’t mean they’re not wondering or don’t need to know. It’s good to plan when to share a book like one of those mentioned earlier when a child is around 4 years old. Put it on the calendar months ahead of time, so you can prepare. Age appropriate means keeping the discussion short, not answering more than they’re asking, just simple, honest, and appropriate responses. Just like lessons on money and finances, it’s easier to understand the older they get, so progressive conversations are the key. It’s also ok to respond with, “We can talk more about this next time.” Leave that door open. It’s good for children to learn from an early age that they can freely talk with you about this stuff.
Talking to Your Kids About Sex by Mark Laaser, Ph.D., is another great handbook for parents. Laaser spells out the developmental milestones for early childhood. Children are curious and will investigate and explore. It’s natural and normal for them to play doctor, or to say, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” Remember that situations like these that children will often engage in, should not be areas of concern, but rather an opportunity to review safe boundaries and private parts of the body (Laaser, p.91). It’s our reaction and response to these situations that communicates whether this subject is safe or not safe to talk about. Consider for a moment the message you send to child when you do not teach them on the subject of sex, but talk and teach freely about other important parts of life like how to be a friend, or why it’s important to eat healthy food and brush your teeth.
Another excellent resource that every home should have for reference is a 4-book series called God’s Design for Sex by Stan and Brenna Jones. This award-winning set that gives clear, how-to-use-this book instructions for parents. Books are separated for ages 3-5, 5-8, 8-11 and 11-14. There’s even a resource manual for parents, How and When to Tell Your Kids About Sex: A Lifelong Approach to Shaping Your Child’s Sexual Character, to help parents lead instructive conversations with their families. This resource beautifully shows how to lay a spiritual foundation for sex and prepares believers to defend the Christian view of sexual morality to our culture. Foundational are the ideas that God is the Creator of all good things and that the gifts He’s given us to enjoy with our bodies are good. This series helps to “put the words in your mouths and put the issues out on the table.”
One great online resource, Sex Ed Rescue, suggests some reasons why you should start the conversation while your kids are young and keep it going:
- Kids will feel more positive about their bodies if the conversation about physical differences, not only gender, but skin color, hair texture and other characteristics– begins at home, where you can set the tone.
- If you can make this topic comfortable in your home, then kids will feel freer to discuss other tough subjects like bullying, partying, and loneliness, as well as sex.
- What if your kids were prepared for the changes that come with puberty because they’ve been anticipated and discussed, rather than waiting until they happen? They would feel less out of control, less bewildered, and more willing to talk with you about related troubles and concerns they may have.
We have to protect our kids by equipping them with a healthy understanding of their bodies, sexuality, and our openness to talking about these things with them as their parents. This will help keep them safe from sexual predators. For information on the grooming processes often used by such predators, please go to www.MinistrySafe.com.
Resources Mentioned in This Article
- It’s MY Body: A Book to Teach Young Children How to Resist Uncomfortable Touch by Lori Freeman
- God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies by Justin S. and Lindsey A. Holcomb
- Talking to Your Kids About Sex: How to Have a Lifetime of Age-Appropriate Conversations with Your Children About Healthy Sexuality by Mark Laaser, Ph.D.
- God’s Design for Sex Series by Stan and Brenna Jones
- How and When to Tell Your Kids About Sex: A Lifelong Approach to Shaping Your Child’s Sexual Character by Stan and Brenna Jones
- Sex Ed Rescue: Helping Parents Do Sex Education
- MinistrySafe: Protecting Children and Those Who Serve Them