One of a parent's greatest responsibilities is to teach their child about life’s big stuff. In the very early days of parenthood parents teach their children that their needs will be met by responding to their cues and cries. As they grow, parents teach them to identify shapes, colors, letters, and numbers – the things that help them make sense of the world around them. As they mature into their teen years parents help their offspring begin to understand the gray between all the black and white and how to define the beliefs and values they want to incorporate into their lives.
Somewhere along the way they’ll also teach them about sex. While most parents are excited to see their kids acquire new knowledge as they grow, many are squeamish or apprehensive when it comes to teaching their kids about where babies come from and how bodies work. Whether it’s a desire to keep kids "innocence" intact, a discomfort on the parents' part, or a general feeling that it’s not the right time, many parents put a hold on the sex talk far longer than is in the best interest of their kids.
If you have a little one you should be thinking now about how and when you want to introduce the topic of sex to your child. Check out the six reasons below that starting the conversation with your child when they’re young is far better than starting when their older.
1 | Nothing sounds weird when you’re a kid
In many ways, kids are blank slates. In the first few years of their life they accumulate a vast well of knowledge about the world around them. When they’re very young, before formal schooling, much of this knowledge acquisition is passive – they watch you use a comb and a tooth brush each day and, by a few months past their first birthday they’re using those objects as you do. To kids, what they see, and what they hear and learn just is. It’s not weird or awkward or unbelievable. So, in the same way you explain electricity or rainbows or butterflies to your kid (which are all kind of unbelievable when you think about it) when you explain sex at a young age they typically take it at face value without any of the awkwardness that adults often place on it.
2 | It’s not just one talk
Sometimes, when parents think about the “sex talk,” they imagine it as one comprehensive conversation that covers everything from biology to gender identity to pleasure. Not only does this really up the pressure to get it right, it also makes it feel like it’s probably way too much for a preschooler to take in. In reality, talking about sex with your kids should be an ongoing conversation that starts in toddlerhood, when first questions arise, and grows with them as encounter new ideas or find themselves in new social situations.
3 | It’s actually pretty simple
While the topic of human sexuality is rich and deep, the biological basics are actually pretty simple. Many parents shy away from talking about sex with their young children because they don’t want to discuss the details. The good news is that when you’re talking to kids they don’t have a desire or need for the kinds of details that make most parents squeamish. In preschool, most kids will begin to ask questions about where babies come from – by answering the questions that kids ask, no more and no less, parents will be providing the simple answers that help their kids understand the basics.
4 | You’ll actually be the first one to give them the information they need
Many parents who wait to introduce the topic of sex with their kids do so because they want to “keep their kids young” or “preserve their innocence.” While this is problematic for a number of reasons, these parents would be disappointed to learn that their kids are not living in a bubble of innocence. The reality is that kids are talking about sex and, if you want your kids to have accurate information that resonates with your family’s values, you’ll have to introduce the topic early.
5 | It will keep them safe
In order to keep themselves safe in the world, kids need to know the basics of their body. When parents provide their kids with proper terminology and help them begin to understand the concept of consent, they’re giving them important tools that will help them stay safe.
6 | It sets the tone for a lifetime of openness
Every time you answer your child’s questions openly and honestly, you’re showing them that you’re someone whom they can trust. If you want your big kids to come to you with their big questions, make sure you’re available to answer their questions when they’re little.