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Parents sometimes think that they can wait for the “Big Talk” about puberty and sex until their children are 12 or older. Experts say that’s not the healthy choice.  Children learn the information better, and ultimately make healthier choices when their parents start early talking about these topics, and do so many, many times.  Your best goal is to create the kind of relationship with your child where you can talk about this just as you can talk about anything.  So look for ways to have lots of little conversations about puberty—and use these tips to help make the most of your conversations.

5 TIPS FOR TALKING WITH YOUR KIDS ABOUT PUBERTY

  1. Make sure you are relatively up to date on the facts. Did you know the average age for girls to start the pubertal process is 10.5?  Boys, on average, start at 11.5. The first changes happen in the brain (hormones,) but do you know the first physical signs? There are many good resources for information, here is one online source: http://tinyurl.com/8ff64av
  2. Remind yourself that puberty is normal, natural, and good.  Try very hard to convey that attitude to your child while talking about this topic.  No shame, no grossness, no embarrassment—it’s a natural part of life that everyone goes through.
  3. Practice saying some of these sticky things ahead of time.  Stand alone in front of the mirror and say things like “penis, vulva, menstrual fluid, blood, breasts, ejaculation.”  If it makes you uncomfortable just to read those words, trust me it will be much harder to say them to your child—but you really need to be able to! Practice until you can do so fairly naturally.
  4. Purchase a book for your child to keep in their room, so that they can access the information privately whenever they want to.  Here is a book I like a lot, for both boys and girls: http://tinyurl.com/8s4jbxj
  5. Look for talkable/teachable moments.  Sometimes life hands you a golden invitation to talk—take advantage!  Perhaps a scene in a TV show has sexual content—press pause or ask a question during the commercial.  Start a conversation about what you both just saw.  Or, perhaps another kid during carpool says something that makes your ears perk up.  Take advantage of your great opportunity to listen and collect data, and then circle back later to follow up with your child privately.

But most importantly, remember that the most important thing is to focus on the parent-child relationship.  Make talking about bodies, puberty, and sex just one more healthy part of your nurturing, connected, consistent, and communicative relationship.

Talk to your spouse, first.

Talking with your spouse about the values and lessons you want to teach your kids about sex is an incredibly important thing to do, but few people do it, because it can be uncomfortable.  But don’t let that stop you, it’s too important to avoid.  It’s also a great step towards being an askable parent, because every time you practice saying these words and thinking about these topics, you get a little more comfortable.  Being relaxed and comfortable (or at least, not being totally freaked out by the topic!) is critical to creating the kind of relationship with your kids where they come to you with questions about sex or any other important but potentially awkward topic.

Here are 4 simple questions to get the conversations started:

  1.  What anatomical terms do we want to use with our kids?  (ie, nicknames or correct terms)
  2. Do you believe that sexuality is a healthy and normal part of life?  (This is kind of a trick question, by the way.  Sexuality definitely is a healthy and normal part of life!)
  3. Talk about your family’s values. What do we want our child to value in a relationship? What family beliefs in regards to spirituality do we want to share? How do we want to inform our child about intimacy, love, and the feelings involved in a relationship? By explaining that sexuality is more than just a physical connection, we can teach our child how to be responsible.
  4. How much privacy are we willing to give our kids?  How much privacy do we expect them to give us?

Parents make the best teachers when it comes to learning about sex, but where to start?  An important and helpful first step is to start by talking with your spouse about the values and priorities you share and want to teach your children.