How to Talk to Your Child about Sex in a Positive Way
The sex talk can really affect family wellness, so how do you do it in a healthy and positive way? We spoke to sexual health and wellness expert Debra W Haffner, author of Beyond the Big Talk: Every Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Teens From Middle School to High School and Beyond, for her tips on talking with your children about sexuality.
1. Reward Your Child’s Questions: According to Haffner, ‘It can sometimes be a little surprising when your child asks you a question about sexuality. But instead of asking, “Why are you asking?” or brushing off the subject by saying, “We’ll talk about this when you’re older”, try saying, “I’m so glad you asked me that”. Be happy that your child feels comfortable enough to talk to you about sexuality issues.’
2. Introduce the Topic: ‘Don’t wait for your child to start the conversation,’ Haffner warns. ‘Many parents put off talking to their children about sexuality, assuming that a child will ask when he wants to know something. But some children are reluctant to begin these talks, and others simply aren’t the type who ask a lot of questions. Do you wait for your child to ask about your religious faith, personal safety and other important topics before discussing them? The answer, more than likely, is no – and sexuality should be no different. It’s a parent’s responsibility to introduce the topic, little by little. Your child might never ask, but he still needs to know.’
3. Be Honest: Haffner asserts, ‘It’s OK if you don’t have an answer to your child’s question. If you don’t know the answer, say so and explain that you’ll find out and get back to her. If your child is school-age or older, you can look it up together. If you find you’ve given your child misinformation, don’t hesitate to go back and tell her you’d like to try to give her a better answer now you’ve had time to think over your discussion.’
4. Talk about Your Feelings: ‘It’s OK to feel uncomfortable,’ says Haffner. ‘Many parents feel awkward talking to their children about sexuality because their parents didn’t talk to them about these issues. There’s no reason why you can’t – or shouldn’t – explain this to your child. You can say, “I’m not used to talking about sex because Grandma didn’t talk to me about it, but I think it’s important and want us to. It will get easier as we go along”.’
5. Look for Teaching Opportunities: Haffner points out, ‘Teaching opportunities arise naturally and provide a good venue to talk about some aspects of sexuality or other important topics. They might be a scene in a TV show or movie, the actions of a character in a book you’ve both read, or your teenager getting ready for a school dance. Teaching opportunities like these give you the opportunity to provide little bits of information, and to share your own family values without having to sit your child down for an uncomfortable series of formal talks.’
6. Listen to Your Child: ‘Try hard to really hear your child’s concerns,’ Haffner advises. ‘Find out what he already knows about the topic you’re discussing. Although your fifth-grade son’s crush might seem silly to you, it’s very important to him. Your willingness to listen during the primary school years sets the stage for when your child is an adolescent and has to make decisions about dating and sexual relationships. You can read more about sexuality and wellbeing in adolescence.’
7. Explain Your Family Values: Haffner comments, ‘Facts aren’t enough. Yes, your child needs to be educated about reproduction and puberty, but she also needs to hear your family values. She can learn facts from school and books, but only you can teach her your values. Think through the messages you want to convey to your child about sexuality.’
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