When should you start talking to your kid about sex?

by Anna Hayek for Mad Hatter Wellness

If you are a parent, other adult family member or caregiver, it is likely that a child in your life has asked you a question you weren’t prepared to answer. It could be a question related to how things work, the universe, math, our bodies…or just what’s for dinner. Sometimes that’s a hard one to answer!

Even if you have younger kids, you may already be getting body- and sex-related questions. You may ask yourself, is it too early to talk to the kids in my life about sex? And the answer is…no! You can talk to kids in an age-appropriate way throughout their lives.

When our younger kids ask us questions about their bodies, where babies come from, or even romantic relationships, it can feel overwhelming. For many of us, we never had comprehensive, non-judgemental spaces as kids to learn about these things. For some of us, there is trauma related to our bodies and our sexuality. But as parents, we want to show up for our kids in a body-positive and open way. 

Take a deep breath with me, and let’s consider some helpful tips when navigating sexual health and your kids.

  • Start when the child is a baby. This can be a time that you get used to talking about bodies, relationships and consent. Talk about body parts. You can help your little one learn the parts of your body. You can tell them that they are in charge of their bodies and that they need to respect other people’s bodies.
  • As they grow, continue to talk about respect – for their body and for other people’s bodies. You can model this respect by giving them options when it comes to their clothing and their bodies. As your kids grow and interact with their peers, family and others, ample opportunities will arise for teachable moments about giving people space, asking for permission to touch and so on. You can also model that all bodies are valid by refraining from speaking negatively about others. We have a rule in our house: you don’t need to comment about other people’s bodies.
  • Empower and encourage. Don’t shame. Your kids may not remember everything you say and every answer to every question. They will feel the environment you create. If you are positive about bodies and how amazing they are, that will impact your kids’ experiences.
  • Answer the question they asked. If the child asks a question about sex, bodies and relationships, don’t feel you need to go on and on and cover everything. You can simply answer the question at hand. It can also be really helpful to affirm them by saying something like, “That’s a great question. I’m so glad you asked that!” You can ask them follow up questions like, “What do you mean by that?” to get more information about what they are actually asking. If you don’t know the answer, it is totally ok to say you need to do some research and get back to them.

Other resources to check out:

Sex Positive Families provides the education and resources that help families raise sexually healthy children.

Planet Puberty is a digital resource that aims to provide parents and carers of children with intellectual disability and/or autism spectrum disorder with the latest information, strategies and resources for supporting their child through puberty.

Every Body Curious is a fun web series for young people and their parents/caregivers that explores the birds and the bees. 

Comprehensive Consent is a resource for consent education to give young people the critical thinking, decision-making, and social-emotional skills that they need to have healthy and respectful relationships with others and with themselves.

Additional resources from Mad Hatter Wellness:

Open Conversations Coloring Book

This coloring book is designed to teach kids of all abilities about bodies, boundaries, consent, safety and healthy relationships.

Boundaries Flip Books for Kids

These flip books create sentences for kids to have discussions about healthy and unhealthy behaviors and touch. This activity helps children explore personal boundaries and appropriate behavior.

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