How do I talk with my elementary school aged child about pregnancy and reproduction?
As kids get older, they can start to better understand how pregnancy happens. Preparing for these conversations can help make them easier. But the most important thing is being open and available when they want to talk.
What should I keep in mind?
It’s not too early to start talking. It’s normal for children to be curious about pregnancy and reproduction. At this age, kids should understand that reproduction is a natural part of life, and that all living things reproduce. It’s also important for them to see you as a safe resource for learning about this stuff.
It’s okay if you don’t immediately know how to answer your child’s question, or if you want to wait until you’re in a more private or comfortable setting to talk about these things. You can buy yourself some time to collect your thoughts and figure out how you’re going to answer by saying things like, “That’s a great question, but it’s kind of hard to explain — can we talk about it at home?”
And if you say you’re going to talk later, make sure you keep your promise. Ignoring the topic won’t make your kid’s curiosity go away. Instead, it sends the message that they can’t come to you with questions about this stuff.
It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Young kids don’t automatically know that talking about this stuff can be awkward for adults. They don’t necessarily think of pregnancy and reproduction as “sexual” or different than any other subject. So how you talk about these topics communicates just as much as the information itself. It’s normal to feel a little embarrassed, but try to stay calm and not act shocked or upset if your kid asks a question that makes you blush.
Thinking about answers to their questions ahead of time and reminding yourself that you can have lots of small conversations as they grow may help take some of the pressure off.
Keep it simple and direct at first — the older they grow, the more detail you can provide. One thing that can make these conversations easier is remembering that you don’t have to provide every detail about reproduction in one conversation — in fact, simple is better at younger ages. Start by asking them where the question is coming from — did they hear something at school? See a pregnant person? Read something in a book? Getting context for their question will help you know where to focus your answer. It also buys you a little time to think about how you want to answer.
Keep your answers short, and define any words your kid doesn’t know. This helps keep kids from feeling overwhelmed with info. Afterwards, check their understanding and encourage more discussion by asking, “Does that answer your question?” or, “Is there anything else you want to know?”
How do I talk about where babies come from with my kids?
The younger the child, the less detail they need. Of course you want to answer honestly, but often the simplest explanation is sufficient — if they want more information, they’ll let you know. And remember that you’ll have many of these talks, so don’t feel pressure to teach them everything in one long speech. You can start by teaching them the names of body parts related to reproduction (focus on the ones they can see — like the penis and vagina).
If a 5 year old asks, “Where do babies come from?” you can say, “A baby grows in a mother’s belly and comes out of her vagina.” That may be all it takes to satisfy their curiosity.
If they ask, “How does the baby get in the mother’s belly?” you can answer while still being age-appropriate — you don’t necessarily need to describe all the details of penis-in-vagina sex. For example, you can say “Most women have tiny eggs in a special part of their belly. Most men have very tiny seeds, called sperm. Sometimes, when two grownups have sex together, one grownup’s penis goes into the other’s vagina. They can make a baby if a seed and egg meet. Do you have any other questions about that?”
As children get older, you can fold in more detail: “Sometimes during sex between 2 grownups, sperm comes out of the penis, swims up through the vagina and into the uterus, looking for an egg. If the sperm and egg meet up, it can start to grow into a baby. The baby grows in the uterus for 9 months, and then comes out through the vagina or a small cut in the stomach.”
It’s really up to you to decide how much detail you want to provide, based on the conversations you’ve already had, and what you think your child is ready to understand.
Many people want to know how to talk about reproduction in an inclusive way that doesn’t leave out gay parents, trans or gender non-conforming parents, and families who came together through adoption, surrogacy, or reproductive assistance.
Being trans or gender non-conforming inclusive can be as simple as saying things like, “Some people have sperm” or, “Not all men have sperm, but most do,” instead of just, “Men have sperm.” Or, you can explain that “sometimes eggs and sperm need a little help from a doctor to meet up and make a baby.” You don’t need to get into a detailed discussion about gender identity or IVF with your young child, but these conversations provide a great opportunity to talk about how everyone’s body is a little bit different, and how there are many ways to make a family. It’s Not The Stork (ages 4+) or It’s So Amazing (ages 7+) by Robie Harris and What Makes A Baby by Cory Silverberg are great books to read with your kids.
It’s normal for younger kids to be pretty wowed by the new information they learned and want to talk about it a lot. So while it’s important to help your child feel comfortable talking about these topics, it’s also a good idea to teach them about respecting people’s boundaries and your community's expectations around these conversations.
You can say, “These topics can feel really private for some grownups. I’m happy to answer any question that you have, but I don’t want you talking to other people about their bodies or where their babies came from, unless they’ve told you it’s okay to ask them about that stuff.” You can then help them identify other safe and trustworthy adults in their life, like a co-parent, grandparents, or other family members.
How do I talk about the decision to become a parent?
Of course your child is a long way off from deciding whether to become a parent, but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about those decisions. It’s good for kids to understand that some people become parents and some don’t — that it’s a personal choice. And what’s right for one person isn’t always right for another. You can talk with your kids about how and why you decided to become a parent, and also talk about other people in their lives who are child-free.
These talks aren’t about convincing your kids to follow a certain life path, but rather showing them that there are many ways for grownups to live their lives, make choices, and be fulfilled. They can also lay the groundwork for future discussions about birth control and family planning, and help your child develop life goals for themselves.
It’s good for kids to understand that being a parent is a BIG responsibility, and that you should only become a parent if and when you want to. It’s also a good idea to have honest conversations about birth control and abortion, especially as your kids grow older or if they ask questions about this stuff.
As always, simple is key: for birth control you can say things like, “There are medicines people can take if they don’t want to have a baby right now,” or “There are things people can use that stop sperm from getting to an egg, so a baby can’t happen.” As they get older, you can be more specific about how birth control works to avoid pregnancy (and sometimes STDs) from sex.
For abortion, you can say something like, “IIf someone is pregnant and doesn’t want to be, they can take medicines or have a doctor or nurse end the pregnancy.”
Some parents avoid talking about this stuff because they worry that admitting sex has other benefits, like pleasure, will encourage their kid to become sexually active too young. But research shows that this isn’t true — open and factual discussions about safer sex and preventing pregnancy don’t encourage kids to have sex any earlier. In fact, they instead increase the chance that your kids will make the best decisions for them when they do eventually have sex. And it shows them that they can ask you for help when the time comes. Check out more tips on talking with your kids about sex and sexuality.