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Release Date: 7/24/2014

How to talk to your kids about the s-word

Dr. Anita Schnapp, obstetrician/gynecologist

Dr. Anita Schnapp, obstetrician/gynecologist


It’s a three letter word that makes parents break into a sweat when their kids start asking about it. A simple question like “Where do babies come from?” from a four-year old can turn even the most polished public speaker or crisis communications specialist into a mush-brained, bumbling mess.

When the time comes that your kids start asking questions about sex, I advise you to take a deep breath, look them straight in the eye, and remember the following:

Be honest: Always be honest. Don’t tell kids that babies come from the stork, or any other “stories” no matter what their age. Inaccurate information can cause confusion and trust issues between you and your children.

Consider their age: If a four-year old asks the question “Where do babies come from?” your answer should be different than if your nine-year old asks the same question.

Only answer their question: Listen carefully to what they are asking and answer only what they ask. If your child asks “How does a baby come out?” there’s no need to have an extensive conversation about the female reproductive system.

There’s no such thing as “The Talk”: As your children grow and mature, they will continue to have many questions about their bodies. Every question they will have cannot be answered adequately in one conversation. Talking about puberty and reproduction in the context of your family’s value system should be a dialogue that continues into and beyond puberty.

Watch your child’s reaction. When you children look away, seem disinterested, or ask questions unrelated to what you are talking about, like “Can I go play?” or “What’s for dinner?” that’s your sign that the conversation should end.

Ask why they are asking: Often, children are hearing things from their friends. Asking what they heard and where they heard it will help you correct any misinformation and might give you some insight into who their friends are. But remember, it is more important to give them correct information than to figure out the source.

Sex education class isn’t enough: Many schools teach sex education in the classroom, and the teachers may provide some excellent information about puberty or the mechanics of reproduction. However, classes won’t provide the context through which you would like your child to learn and think about sex. It’s important your child understands your family’s value system and sex fits into that framework.

 Don’t let them see you sweat: Even if you are embarrassed by talking about this to your child, make them feel comfortable. If kids sense you are nervous, they might feel that way, too, and may not come back to you again when they have more questions.

Both parents should be prepared to answer questions, regardless of the gender of the child who asks. The more comfortable you feel answering, the more comfortable your children will feel asking you.

It is also very appropriate for you to initiate the conversation.  If you know that they are discussing these topics in school, ask how it went and if they have questions.  If you see any behavior, overhear conversations among friends, or find any texting, internet searching or other clues that this conversation should take place, then find an appropriate time and bring up the topic. This lets your children see that it really is an acceptable topic.

Dr. Anita Schnapp is a obstetrician/gynecologist at St. Anthony’s.

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