“It’s been around 2 years since I took the Parenting Safe Children workshop in Stapleton, Colorado. A lot of the information still sticks with me and my family and I have conversations around these topics. It was frequent at first, but then these conversations became more routine around our house. I wanted to share with you a conversation my daughter and I had around Christmas 2019 and the experience that followed.
While in the car, my 5 year old asked me a question around the subject of love, marriage and kids. I wasn’t quite ready to answer directly and deflected the question. Lucky for me, she kept pressing and I took a deep breath, gave it my best, and answered the question.
She then quickly said that she didn’t understand and I took the opportunity to tell her that I would get back to her and that I wanted her to know, and it was important that mommy and daddy be the ones to explain it to her. The conversation is below:
Kid: ‘Mommy, why do you have kids when you get married?’
Me: ‘Well that isn’t why people get married. They get married because they love each other and have decided to spend the rest of their lives together.’ (Deflecting answer.)
Kid: ‘No mommy. That’s not what I’m asking. How do you get babies then?’ (Pressing through.)
Me: ‘When two grown up people love each other very much and decide they want kids, they have a special love called sex.’ (First meager attempt. Husband glaring at me in the rearview mirror and shaking his head.)
Kid: ‘I don’t understand!’
Me: ‘I know, honey. You know what, I really want to explain this to you but it’s complicated. Can I take a little time to figure out how to explain this to a 5 year old? Is that ok? Know that daddy and I want to be the one to explain this to you.’
Kid: ‘Sure, mommy.’
From here, we checked a few books out at the library, several of which are on the Parenting Safe Children resource list. So later that week she and I plopped down at bedtime to read as usual and we went through these books. She had questions and we went over them on a surface layer at first to see how she was handling the information. Then once we started the book, It’s Not the Stork, the questions became more specific and so did my answers.
I found the conversation a bit uncomfortable because I wasn’t sure what she was going to do with the information. Was she going to talk about it at school? Was she going to go try to ‘hug’ or get naked with other kids? But I pressed through my worry and found it getting easier. I did tell her that this is not something all families talk about and not to bring it up at school. I still don’t know if it was a good idea to say that or if it’s a topic that would do better out in the open. (See Feather’s comment below.) In the past, for example, when she learned about body parts, she was thrilled to share the names at her preschool.
Anyway, she handled it in stride. And when we got to the grand finale of the book where it describes exactly how sex works (I should have read the book first myself to be prepared for the questions) she was barely even impressed. She wanted to flip back to the pages of what parts girls have and make sure hers matched. I can see where her mind was focused. Over several nights, we went back over the important parts of the books to make sure she didn’t have any questions.
Our two year old even got some brief education. One of the books has a sperm on the front (What Makes a Baby ) and she kept asking to read the book with the ‘funny guy.’ So we did! A couple weeks passed and we returned the books. I’m sure we will go back over things in the future, but I’m so glad we took the opportunity to cover this topic and that it was us explaining it to her and not the kids at school or another adult. She got the correct information and from a safe place! The books were helpful for sure!
Thanks again for giving us the insight to talk openly about this topic and to teach our kids what’s safe and loving, and what is not. You have given our family a priceless gift.”
From Feather: It’s so important to proactively educate children about sexual development and answer their questions from a very young age. I even recommend providing information before they ask because some people who sexually abuse children target kids who are naïve, have misinformation, or whose caregivers are just too uncomfortable to educate their children about sexual development. Moreover, it’s important to be proactive because some children just don’t ask about sex. Children who have accurate information about sexual development may be less vulnerable to sexual assault.
I often ask PSC moms & dads: Who do you want to educate your child about sex and sexual development? As nervous as she felt, this mama answered “me!” If you aren’t ready to answer your children’s questions about sex, unfortunately someone else will—another kid, the Internet, or perhaps someone unsafe.
Just like this mom, parents worry that their children will talk about sex and sexual development at school – and guess what? They do because that’s what kids do! Sex is fascinating and it makes sense from their perspective to talk to their friends. You don’t want to request secrets from your children so a re-frame might be, “most parents want to be the ones who teach their kids about sex and babies, so let your friends parents tell their kids.” And then leave it at that. Kids may still talk to their friends, so you can be proactive and let their teacher know that you are educating your child with books and accurate information. Other parents might be upset but to be blunt, that’s not your problem. If parents want to be the ones to teach their children about sex, then they need to do so. We can’t rely on kids not talking about sex with each other. Developmentally, they do!
Parents also wonder if children will try to hug or get naked with other kids after learning about sex. Probably not. Typically when kids are taught about sex with accurate and age-appropriate information, they do not go out and try it with their friends.
Feather Berkower, MSW, is Founder of Parenting Safe Children and a Child Sexual Assault Prevention Educator & Author