There are many parents who admit to feeling embarrassed when they talk to kids about sex. At the same time giving an appropriate answer becomes essential so that the kid is not left confused or ignored.
Q At four, my daughter wants to know where babies come from. What sort of explanation should I give?
She in the right age when children become curious and you can capitalize on this. If you answer her questions honestly and straightforwardly, you give her the best chance of developing a healthy and matter-of-fact attitude to sex. If you don’t answer her questions, she will almost certainly pick up information (probably wrong) elsewhere.
Answer her questions simply and don’t be surprised if she loses interest in the details. Use the correct terms for parts of the body, and try to be as cheerful and unembarrassed as you would be explaining anything else. If you find it difficult, or if she is interested in the mechanics, buy a book designed for reading together (make sure you approve of its attitude). It is better to let sex education happen step-by-step along with everyday learning, than to sit down one day for a special session.
Q When will my children start having sex education at school and what form is it likely to take?
All schools must also have a written policy on sex education which parents have a right to see. The teaching should encompass moral considerations and family values, and to take account of parents’ views. Parents may withdraw children from some or all of the lessons if they wish. Ideally, children should learn the basics of sex and reproduction form their parents, but school sex education can be a valuable addition, especially if parents use the opportunity to discuss the issues again at home. There may be aspects you have missed of which children can talk about more easily among their peers. School discussions are also particularly useful for dispelling play-ground myths, which teachers may be more aware of than parents. I had an opportunity to serve a girl school as a sex councilor and was amazed at the keenness of kids to know about menstruation & reproduction.
Q How can I warn my children about horrors such as child abuse without frightening them unnecessarily and making them suspicious of all strangers?
Instruct your children that unless you specifically give your permission, they must never go anywhere with a stranger or accept presents or treats from people they do not know.
The best way to deal with the subject of sexual abuse is as part of general discussions about bodies and sex. Explain calmly that genitals are private, which is why people keep them clothed in public. Tell children that they have the right to say no to any physical contact that they don’t like, even if the person is an authority figure or a relative. Remember that although 98 per cent of abusers are male, boys and girls are equally vulnerable to abuse.
Signs that can indicate sexual abuse include anal injury or pain, vaginal discharge, disturbed or regressive behavior, disturbed sleep or an unusual awareness of sexual acts. These symptoms can all have other causes, too, so never jump to conclusions. If, after talking patiently and calmly with a child, you suspect abuse, consult a doctor, who will put you in contact with a social worker.
Q When should I talk to my daughter about periods? How should I prepare her for them?
It is best to explain about menstruation, to both boys and girls, as part of general discussions about sex and reproduction. Inform your daughter about puberty and questions about periods before the age of nine, as some girls do start this early. Explain that she will bleed for a few days and will need to wear some kind of protection, and that although her periods may be irregular and infrequent at first, they will gradually settle into a cycle. Show her what sanitary towels and tampons look like and explain how to use them. Ask your daughter what she already knows so that you can dispel any myths. Never react to menstruation as ‘a curse’ or suggest that it might prevent her from playing sport or taking part in other activities. Explain that some women have discomfort, but that there are plenty of remedies, such as simple painkillers. Most importantly, be positive about it yourself and she will be too.
Q My 15-year-old daughter has a ‘steady’ boyfriend and I’m worried they might have sex. How can I convey my feelings to her?
Try spending leisure time with your daughter and talk to her about her feeling regarding attraction to opposite sex. She may be confused or worried and a chat could be reassuring for both of you. Make sure she understands about contraception and ‘safe sex’. This will encourage a responsible attitude towards it. Many teenage girls also need reassurance about saying no to sex, so stress that she should wait until she feels ready and that a boyfriend who cares will not put pressure on her. Talk about the relationship between sex and emotions, and discuss the potential pitfalls (physical and emotional) of becoming sexually involved too early. You can remind her that it not right to have sex before the age of 16.
Teach your children about sexuality step by step, by answering each question when it is asked.