Today’s guest post is from Mary Flo Ridley. Since 1986, Mary Flo Ridley has encouraged and equipped parents of young children to be successful in the daunting task of starting a conversation with their children about sex.
Armed with humor, personal stories, and medical research, Mary Flo walks parents through very specific ways to answer their child’s early questions with confidence. They learn how to identify teachable moments, share their values along with the biology, and develop a positive natural plan for introducing this subject in the pre-school to pre-teen years.
Mary Flo has been married to her husband Dave for 31 years, and they have 3 grown children and one grandchild. (Mary Flo is also American, hence use of mommy, not mummy as us Aussies use).
Have you gotten the questions yet? You know, those heart-stopping questions…
”Mommy, how does the baby get out?” or “How did that baby get inside of you?”
Your child may be 4 or 5 or 7 and you wonder how to answer, and how much to reveal. This is a time in their life when they are naturally curious, and it’s an opportunity for you to begin conversations with your child on the subject of sex. I help parents capture these teachable moments with five simple steps:
1. Your Message
The first step does not involve your children, but it is the most important step. Only YOU can answer this question…
What is the main thing you want your children to know about sex?
Most parents would agree that the messages of TV and movies are NOT the messages they hope their children adopt for their own, as those are usually confusing, even disturbing messages. This video explains this concept further using a sponge as an analogy for the thirst for knowledge by your child. (Click through here if you are reading via email.)
So what IS the positive, healthy message you would like your children to have? I suggest you consider your values, beliefs, and your expectations for your children. This is quite personal, and consequently the messages will vary from family to family. But the important thing is that you are confident that your message reflects your values. Take some time to think about this, and then reduce those thoughts into one sentence.
Here are a few samples:
“Sex is an intimate act of love that can lead to children.”
“Considering your future and your health, we hope you postpone sex until….”
“Sex was designed by God for the purpose of loving oneness in marriage and for children”
“Sex is like that electrical plug over there…you touch it, you die!”….
I was just kidding on that last one!
You will find that developing this message will give you much more confidence to speak to your children, because you WANT them to get this message and it’s a positive healthy message that comes from the people who love them the most. YOU! You may not necessarily reveal your message to your young children just yet but your conversations will reflect this message.
In my early years of parenting, I had only one word…”Privates”. This was the generic word that I used to describe anything found in the general area of a diaper. This word would not suffice for long, and I needed to introduce the medical words. You have probably already done this, but many parents cling to the “wingy-wangy-words” that either sound silly or disrespectful. Using the medical terms for their privates is very helpful and gives them the impression that you are indeed knowledgeable on this subject. Using respectful words about our bodies cultivates respect for their bodies and other people’s bodies.
3. The story of birth
Biologically, conception comes before birth, but developmentally children typically ask “How is that baby getting out?” before they ask, “How did that baby get in?” The story of birth is a story that children LOVE, so be prepared to tell it many times. Here is a sample of what you may want to say…
Child: “Daddy, how is that baby getting out of Mommy’s tummy?”
Daddy: “I’m so glad you asked me that! I have some news for you…that baby isn’t IN mommy’s tummy. There is a place designed especially for a baby to grow inside of the mommy, and it’s near her tummy, but it’s called a uterus. Everything that the baby needs is in there, and the uterus stretches as the baby grows. A baby starts out to be very tiny, but after 40 weeks the baby has grown and is ready to come out of the uterus. What happens when the baby is ready is this…the muscles around the uterus begin to push the baby out of the uterus. The mother can feel these muscles pushing, and she knows that the baby will come out very soon.
After the baby leaves the uterus, it goes through the birth canal, then out a special opening between the mother’s legs called the vagina. When the baby comes out it is still connected to the mommy by the umbilical cord, so the doctor snips the cord, and the baby is now a new person, separate from the mommy! Sometimes a baby will turn or wiggle as it is leaving the uterus and will not be able to go through the birth canal, so the doctor will make an opening close to where the baby is, and he will lift the baby out of the mother. This is called a Cesarean section, or C-section. That is how your cousin Ella was born, and that is why her head is so pretty.”
We want your children to have all the facts.
You will dazzle them with your knowledge and understanding, and they will look to you as the expert, which is what we want them to do.
4. Design Of Reproduction
This is a simple, subtle step, but one that I think is important for young minds to understand, and it is helpful for them to know before you explain conception. Show them (in your kitchen or garden) the unique design of living things. Every living thing has seeds or eggs in order to reproduce. Be fascinated with that fact.
Instead of going straight to the garbage with those apple cores, open them up for your children to see. Help them to be a student of seeds. Most of us live in an urban setting, but grocery stores, gardens, and farmers markets are easily available, and are perfect venues for these conversations. This is the easiest step by far….but now you are ready for the most difficult…
5. Story of conception
“Mommy, how did that baby get inside of you?”
How can you answer that for a young child?
Do we really HAVE to answer, or can we wait? It’s your choice, but let me give you one reason for answering.
I’m going to introduce you to two 6 year olds.
Michael is a FIRST BORN 6-year-old. As such, he lives in a 6-year-old world, and the scope of his world does not go beyond 6. He watches age appropriate TV and movies, tells 6-year-old jokes and thinks they are hilarious, and lives within a rather predictable 6-year-old environment. Jeffery is also 6 years old; however he is the youngest of 4 children.
He has a 16-year-old brother. Jeffery therefore lives in a 16-year-old world. He has seen and heard many things, which Michael has not. He may have watched 16-year-old TV and movies, and has found interesting things under his 16-year-old bother’s bed. I like to remind parents that your family is the age of your oldest child, and everyone else just has to keep up!! As a result, when Michael goes to school or camp…he will most likely meet Jeffery.
We know what happens next.
If YOU want to be the one to tell your child instead of Jeffery, this conversation will happen sooner than you think! How do we explain conception to a rather young child? Keep it simple. The basic biology. The mechanics. You do not need to explain the dangers or the pleasures of sexual intercourse to a young child. That would not be appropriate or helpful. They cannot relate to those things anyway. That will come later.
The choice of your words for explaining conception will depend on how you answered Step #1 above. Will you describe this act as being between a man and a woman, or a husband and a wife? That depends on whether you want to frame this conversation in the context of marriage or not. Simple words like those can change the picture.
My husband Dave and I wanted to frame our message (yours maybe different) in the context of marriage, and we wanted to include God as well…so here is how we answered this question for an almost 5-year-old:
“I’m so glad you asked me this important question! By God’s design, a husband and a wife are made to fit together in a very special way. When this happens, a seed that is deep inside of Daddy meets with an egg that is deep inside of Mommy. The seed and the egg are what God uses to start the baby.”
The next logical question? “How do they fit together’?”
“Great question. It is a very amazing thing. The way that they were designed to fit together is that the husband places his penis inside of the wife’s vagina. The seed from deep inside the daddy travels through the penis, and meets with the egg which is deep inside the mother close to the uterus.”
Breathe. Keep breathing.
You did it.
With love and careful consideration you have passed along this important information, and you have started to shape your child’s sexual character, by sharing your values as well. All within a few simple sentences.
I have found that parents, who take advantage of that curiosity in a natural and healthy way before the hormones kick in, are so grateful they did, and it makes future more complicated conversations so much easier!
Through Mary Flo’s book and DVD series, Simple Truths with Mary Flo Ridley, Mary Flo shares her step-by-step strategy on talking to children about sex, with parents of young children.
To find out more about Mary Flo’s work, purchase products, download the workshop from iTunes or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter head to www.maryflo.org.
Have you discussed sex with your kids? If so how did you go about it?