Sexuality is part of every person's life, no matter what the age. As your child grows and develops, they may giggle with friends about "private parts," share "dirty" jokes and scan through dictionaries looking up taboo words.
Their curiosity is natural, and children of all ages have questions. When they are ready to ask you, as a parent you should be ready to answer.
Answering your child's questions about sex
First, find out what your child already knows. Let your child guide the talk with their questions. Some children may not ask for information if they think you might be uneasy with it. Others might test you by asking embarrassing questions. Talk openly, and let your child know they can ask you about anything.
When your child begins to ask questions about sex, here are some tips to help make it easier for both of you:
Don't laugh or giggle, even if the question is cute. Your child shouldn't be made to feel ashamed for their curiosity.
Keep your cool. Try not to appear overly embarrassed or serious about the matter.
Be brief. Don't go into a long explanation. Answer in simple terms. Your 4-year-old may not need to know the details of intercourse.
Be honest. If they ask you should answer with accurate information. Use proper names for all body parts.
Check if your child wants or needs to know more. Follow up your answers with, "Does that answer your question?"
Listen to your child's responses and reactions.
Be patient and prepared to repeat yourself if needed.
If you are uneasy talking about sex or answering certain questions, be honest about that, too. Consider asking a relative, close family friend or your pediatrician to help talk to your child.
Common questions children ask about sex & sexuality
The questions your child asks and the appropriate answer to give will depend on your child's age and ability to understand. Here are some of the issues your child may ask about and what they should know at each age and stage.
What they might ask:
"Where do babies come from?"
How did I get in your tummy?"
"Where was I before I got in your tummy?"
"How did I get out?"
"How come girls don't have a penis?"
What they should know:
18 months to
3 years old. At this age, children are starting to learn about their body and how it works. Teach your child the proper names for body parts. Making up names for body parts may give the idea that there is something bad or secret about those parts.
Also, teach your child which body parts are private and shouldn't be looked at or touched without their permission. This includes parts that are covered by their swim suit, for example, as well as their mouth. Likewise, teach your child that they must ask others and receive a verbal "yes" before touching them.
You can start talking about
body autonomy—that they should not be forced into physical contact with anyone, regardless of their relationship. This can be difficult, since physical touch with relatives and close friends is a part of many cultures. Recognize and support your child in situations when they may be uncomfortable with hugs and kisses. Give them alternatives such as waves or high-fives.
4 to 5 years of age. Your child may begin to show an interest in basic sexuality, both their own and that of another sex. They may ask where babies come from or why male and female bodies are different. They may touch their own genitals and may even show an interest in the genitals of other children.
It's important to know that these are not adult sexual activities, but signs of normal interest. However, your child needs to learn what is all right to do and what is not. Setting limits to exploration is important for teaching social boundaries.
Model body autonomy by asking your child if you can give them hugs or kisses. Respect their responses without making then feel shame or guilt.
What they might ask:
"How old do people have to be before they can have a baby?"
"Why do erections happen?"
"What is a period?"
"How do people have sexual intercourse?"
"Why do some men like other men?"
What they should know:
5 to 7 years of age. Your child is learning much more about how people get along with each other. They may become interested in what takes place sexually between adults.
Their questions will become more complex as they try to understand the connection between sexuality and making babies. They may come up with their own explanations about how the body works or where babies come from. They may also turn to their friends or the internet for answers.
It is important to help your child understand sexuality in a healthy way. Lessons and values they learn at this age will stay with them as an adult. It will encourage meaningful adult relationships later.
8 to 9 years of age. Your child probably already has developed a sense of right and wrong. They are able to understand that sex is something that happens between two consenting people. They may begin to become interested in how caregivers met and fell in love.
As questions about romance, love and marriage arise, they may also ask about relationships. Use this time to discuss your family's thoughts about
LGBTQ or other non-traditional relationships. Explain that liking or loving someone does not depend on the person's gender and is different from liking someone sexually.
At this age, your child will be going through many changes that will prepare them for puberty. As they become more and more aware of their sexuality, it is important that you talk to them about delaying sexual intercourse until they are older. You should also talk with them about consent for sexual activity.
This is also an appropriate age to start talking about contraception and
sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Be sure they understand how these diseases can spread and how they can protect themself from STIs and from pregnancy. Teaching your child to be sexually responsible is one of the most important lessons in their life.
Using teachable moments
Everyday events will give you plenty of chances to teach your child about topics related to sex. These are called teachable moments. For example, talking about body parts during bath time will be much more effective than talking about body parts during dinner. A pregnancy or birth in the family is a good time to discuss how babies are conceived and born. Watching television with your child may also be a good time to discuss sexuality issues.
Teachable moments can happen anywhere—while shopping, at the movies, or even at the park. Use them when they happen. You won't need to make a speech.
Talking about sex and sexuality gives you a chance to share your knowledge, values and beliefs with your child. Sometimes the topic or the questions may seem embarrassing, but your child needs to know there is always a reliable, honest source they can turn to for answers—you.