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Tips for Talking With Your Children About Sexuality

  1. It's never too late to start. Although it may be easier to talk with younger children, research has shown that older children (even yours) listen to their parents.
  2. Choose the right time and place. Discussions go better in private and when everyone involved is in a relaxed, attentive mood. If a child asks a question at a bad time, tell her/him that you'll answer it later. And make sure you do.
  3. You may have to initiate the conversation. Many children will never bring the subject up, but that doesn't mean they don't have questions or concerns. Children need information, and they pick it up from different sources. If you want your children to get information based on your values, speak up.
  4. Forget the "big talk." Sexuality is a huge topic and you can't cover it all in one sitting. And besides, perceptions change as children get older, and the explanation that worked when your child was five will no longer work when your child is twelve. 
  5. Take advantage of "teachable moments." The best way to start a discussion is to take advantage of "teachable moments," those everyday events that provide a perfect opening. If you know someone who is pregnant, talk with your children about it. If you're watching a television show or listening to music together, figure out if the contents might spark a conversation about sexuality. Avoid the direct, head-on approach--if you ask your children if they want to talk about sexuality, they'll probably say, "NO!"
  6. Let your children "overhear" adult conversations. Your children may be too embarrassed to discuss sexuality, but they may not mind hearing two adults discussing it. Choose a topic based on the day's news or a televisions show and discuss it at the dinner table with your partner or another adult.
  7. There's nothing wrong with being embarrassed, and there's nothing wrong with telling your children that you're embarrassed. Your children may develop a smug attitude about you and your embarrassment, but this is preferable to letting your embarrassment silence you. Moreover, you've made it clear that the embarrassment belongs to you and not to your child or the topic.
  8. Let a book say the embarrassing stuff. That way, you and your children are a team, confronting and reacting to all of the embarrassing things being said in the book. 
  9. You don't need to know the answer to every question. If you don't know an answer, you and your children can hunt for it together. Make use of local resources--libraries, doctors, nurses, Planned Parenthood health centers, etc.
  10. If you're thrown by a question, you have the right to answer it later. Sometimes children pose questions that we'd like to answer, but we may be so taken aback that we don't know quite how to respond. It's okay to say, "I'd like to answer that question, but I first need to think about what I want to say." Just make sure you answer the question later.
  11. You have the right to pass on personal questions. Children need to know your privacy standards so they can develop standards of their own.
  12. Simplify your responses. When answering children's questions, less is better than more. Begin with the simplest explanation and move to a more complicated one if a child continues to be interested or ask questions. You can't tell your children "too much"--what they don't understand will just go over their heads.
  13. Practice pays off. Each time you respond in a way that helps children learn concretely and positively, it will get easier. Try imagining the hardest question a child could throw your way and practice answering it.
  14. Be aware of your body language. Children notice when our words and body language are not given consistent messages. 
  15. Be patient. Expect children to ask the same questions again and again. That's the way they learn.
  16. Don't forget your sense of humor. In fact, use it to your advantage. Tell your children about all of the misconceptions you had about sex when you were their age. They'll feel much better about themselves!
  17. Ask your children for their opinion. Their self-respect begins with the consideration they receive from others. 

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