Bethany Sanders: Forget about the stork: My kids want real answers.
"Mama, how do babies get in a mommy's belly?" I swear to you, my husband is never around for these questions. He's either conveniently at work, or his inner Spidey sense (which tells him an uncomfortable conversation is imminent) sets off its alarm just in time, so that he's out raking the lawn or at the store picking up milk when these questions come up.
Other blush-worthy questions include, "Do I have a baby in my belly already?" (spoken loudly in a restaurant while my husband was, of course, in the restroom) and, "How can you stop yourself from getting pregnant if you don't want a baby?" (asked in front of our pediatrician).
Gone are the days when kids believed a stork dropped babies onto porches like little wailing gifts from heaven. Kids today are savvier than that, and waiting until they're "old enough" for the Big Talk can mean they get the (mis)information from their peers instead.
Though I'm happy to let my daughters believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy for a few more years, I think that they deserve honest and straightforward answers from me -- and their dad, if he ever gets back from the store -- about their bodies and where they came from. That's why we started discussing these types of tough topics as early as we could.
"Kids are capable of understanding far more than we give them credit for," says sexuality educator Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., author of "Third Base Ain't What It Used to Be." "You don't have to share everything at once. Find out what they want to know, listen to them and take it from there." I've learned that the simple question, "Well, what do you think?" helps my kids expand on their question so I can hear exactly what they're thinking. It can also give me time to gather my thoughts.
It's my hope that, by making discussions about sex and development a normal part of our everyday conversations, my kids will feel comfortable talking to me when more complicated conversations come up in the future. "There's nothing wrong with being honest with your children," Levkoff says. "Sex and sexuality are wonderful and important parts of life. It is far better that we set the stage for them, rather than letting the TV teach them."
When your kids are ready to start talking about where babies come from -- or rather, when you're ready to start discussing it with them -- consider these tips:
- Don't lieUse correct names for body parts and give honest, age-appropriate answers to their questions.
- Give them a little bit of information at a time. Think of your child's sex education like circling a mountain: You'll return to the same questions again and again as they get older, giving a little more detail each time.
- Use context as a jumping-off point. Say that someone said something weird at school, or that your kids saw something on TV they didn't understand. These are great teachable moments where you can give solid information to your kids.
- Uncomfortable? Grab a book and share it together. We just finished "It's Not the Stork!" by Robie H. Harris, and it was pitch-perfect for my little ones. But my older child is ready for Harris' next book, "It's So Amazing!"
- Be available. Create an environment that makes it easy for kids to come to you with questions.
A friend of mine raising a 12-year-old boy says that car rides are the perfect place to discuss uncomfortable questions with older kids, because the kids can't go anywhere! You've got a rapt audience, and you can both keep your eyes on the road. (No awkward eye contact necessary.)
Have your kids started asking these kinds of questions? How do you handle it?