Preschoolers’ natural curiosity creates the perfect opportunity to start conversations and build a trusting relationship. There’s no better resource than a supportive parent who’s willing to talk openly.
What should I keep in mind?
Keep it simple and concrete. For kids this young, keep your answers basic. Don’t stress too much about explaining all the details of sperm, eggs, and penis-in-vagina sex — the conversation probably won’t get that far at this age. They may not be interested in that, and they may not really even understand this stuff at such a young age. Let them guide the conversation with their questions. You know better than anyone what your kid can understand, and you’ll know when they’re bored or overwhelmed.
These are the first of many conversations — and they’re not too young to start learning. Some parents put off answering their kids’ questions because they think that their kids are too young to learn about pregnancy and reproduction. But the very fact that kids are asking questions shows that they want and need this info. And avoiding these conversations won’t make your child’s natural curiosity go away. Instead it can teach kids that they can’t rely on you for information and support.
Having lots of small conversations as your kids grow helps them better understand the information, makes your relationship with them stronger, and will help them make healthy decisions when they’re teens and adults. So don’t worry about having the perfect answers — the most important messages to get across are that their curiosity is OK, and that they can always come to you with questions or concerns without fear. And remember that you’ll have plenty of opportunities to talk more (and in more detail) as they grow.
Think ahead of time about what you’ll say. Being prepared can help you feel more confident and less anxious. Think about what you’re going to say when your child starts asking about where they came from or how people make babies. Talk it over with any co-parents in your life so you’re on the same page. You can even ask other parents or family members for suggestions.
Another way to be prepared is to get some age-appropriate books about bodies and where babies come from. You can read them with your child when you’re not sure how to explain something, or to help start the conversation if your child hasn’t started asking questions yet. It’s NOT the Stork! by Robie Harris is a great place to start.
Keep in mind that there are many ways families are made, and think about how you’ll address this with your kid. Some people have sex to make babies, some people adopt, some people use IVF or surrogacy. So it’s good to let your preschooler know that there’s no one way for people to become parents. Your child will probably come across families that look different than yours (especially once they get to a school setting), so it’s a good idea to be prepared to talk about it.
How do I talk about where babies come from with my preschooler?
It’s common for young children to be curious about where they came from. Most likely they’ll start the conversation on their own by asking questions. They might see someone who’s pregnant or maybe the family dog has puppies. There might not be an obvious reason why they’re asking. Do your best to address your kid’s questions honestly in a matter-of-fact way. Avoiding the subject, answering dishonestly (“The stork sent you”), or saying, “You’re too young to know that” sends the message that their curiosity is bad and that they can’t trust you with their questions in the future.
Inevitably young kids will ask you some variation of, “Where do babies come from?” Remember: simple is better at this age. A basic answer like, “Babies grow in a mom’s belly, and then come out of her vagina,” might be enough information for them.
If they have more questions about how the baby gets in there, 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?” — but kids this age are usually satisfied with simpler explanations.
They might also ask questions about genitals or nipples or breasts, like pointing and asking, “What’s that?” If you feel comfortable, it’s best to use real names for body parts (like penis, testicles, breasts, or vulva/vagina). This normalizes body parts just like elbows and toes so that they don’t feel shame or fear to talk about bodies, how they should be treated, and what they’re capable of.
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 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 if someone says they don’t want to talk about it, you need to stop talking about it with them.” 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 have babies?
Of course your child is a long way off from deciding whether or not to having a baby, but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about those decisions. It’s good for kids to understand that people get to choose if and when they have babies. Some people have babies 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 be happy.