You may be nervous about having ‘the talk’ with your kids, but parenting expert Laura Erskine tells us why we should broach the subject as early as possible
WE are the most empowered and informed generation of parents when it comes to the subjects of sex, sexuality, gender identity and preferences. So why do some of us still feel awkward when having 'the talk' with our coming-of-age children? Or worse still, are some parents simply leaving it to the primary and secondary school education system to prepare their offspring?
The reality is that neither scenario is ideal; in fact, our children's sex education should start from as young as age two. From the moment they start to talk and learn the words for colours, shapes, and animals, so too should we teach our little ones the correct name for their body parts - all of them. The best place to start is in the bath where they can learn to identify, name, and take care of the different areas of their body.
Some experts argue that even the teaching of consent should start from the moment you change their first nappy. By building age-appropriate chats about our anatomical functions, sexual health, preferences, and identity into our everyday conversations, we will be more likely to raise body confident and inclusive children. The evolving questions and discussions around sex will lead to a much more informed child, who is more likely to share their thoughts and worries with their parents as they mature.
As every parent knows, there's more to a child's sex education than explaining the act itself. Markers need to be laid down as to what constitutes a healthy relationship with our body, and with someone you are intimate with. Integral to this chat is, of course, the subject of consent. Helping your child to listen to their intuition or their gut when it comes to what feels right and wrong will be an incredibly important lesson for life, too.
1. Never force a child to hug, touch or kiss someone, for any reason. With Covid, this level of close contact might seem even more unfamiliar for a young child, so even if grandma is looking for a kiss, and your child resists, offer alternatives like a high-five or blowing a kiss.
2. Encourage your children to wash their own genitals during bath time. This provides a natural teaching moment for parents, where they can explain how a part of their body is important, its function and use the correct names.
3. Bath time and toileting is also a great time for parents to model consent by asking for permission to help clean their child's body. Always honour your child's request to not be touched if they say no, and encourage them to do it for themselves.
4. Be positive when talking to your child about how their body will change gradually as they grow older. Younger children losing baby teeth can be a good talking opportunity, while seeing you naked after the shower or getting dressed can also prompt conversation.
5. Answer their questions honestly but without fuss. Your child will take their lead from you, so if you shush or dismiss them because you feel awkward, you could at a subconscious level make them feel shame or embarrassment. If the timing is not ideal, or you are not sure of how best to answer a question, give them a specific time later that day when you have had time to research or think about it.
6. Remind your child that any questions they have about their body should be answered by you, the parent, in a private conversation. It should not be a topic of conversation in the school yard.