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Column: Having ‘the’ chat with your children… how to talk about sex and puberty

Parents are often unsure about how much to say to their children about sex – and at what age – but a little preparation goes a long way, writes Martina Newe.

Martina Newe

HERE IT COMES, the ‘dreaded’ chat with your children about sex. Your child may ask you to tell them about how babies are made, they may hint that they have heard something about sex or you may just decide that it is time to talk to them and teach them some of the facts of life.

The first question that parents often ask is ‘what age should my child be when I broach the subject of sex?’. There is no one age that you should do this. You should have the chat when your son or daughter show signs of wanting information. Also, they may ask questions when they are younger – possibly at the age of five or six.

The question, “Where do babies come from” is a typical one. As a parent, keep the response age appropriate. For example, you want sit a six-year-old down and tell them the full facts, but you may say that when a man and a woman love each other very much, a special seed from the man can go to a special egg in the woman and then a baby can grow. You can talk about the development of the baby in the womb and how they grow from a tiny egg to have arms, hands, fingers etc. Remember, answer questions simply and directly. Not providing some kind of answer for a child can result in them using their imagination to fill in the gaps, so it is better if you avoid that!

Older children are more complex

For older children, talking about sex is so much more than just the act of sex itself. There are so many subjects around approaching puberty to be discussed including:

For boys:

  • Body changes – pubic hair, changes in body shape, growth spurts and the changes in their voice box,
  • Erections – how and when they occur and dealing with any feelings of embarrassment,
  • Sperm, semen and wet dreams,
  • Personal hygiene and the importance of regular showers, deodorant and possibly shaving.

For girls:

  • Body changes – pubic hair, breasts, changes in body shape and growth spurts,
  • Understanding the menstrual cycle and what periods are,
  • How to deal with their periods from tampons, pads, disposal of these and period pain,
  • Personal hygiene and the importance of regular shower (particularly during their period), deodorant and so forth.

For both:

  • The kind of feelings and mood swings they may have and how to deal with these.
  • The changes that may occur in the skin and hair.
  • Acne and skin problems and how to deal with them.
  • Other possible changes such as oily skin, greasy hair, perspiration
  • The importance of a healthy diet and regular exercise
  • The great time they will enjoy during this phase of their lives!

The facts about sex and changes in both boys’ and girls’ bodies needs to discussed to ensure that your son or daughter know the facts and are confident that they can ask you questions when they want to. Your son or daughter needs to know about all aspects of puberty so that they are confident and re-assured that the body or emotional changes they are experiencing are normal.

Books are your friend

So how do you have that chat with your child and how can you go about teaching them the facts. Firstly, check out bookshops. They offer a range of books to teach children about sex and cater for all age groups. Find a book that you feel is the most appropriate for your child and read it yourself first. If you don’t want to purchase a book and would prefer to chat using your own knowledge it is important you prepare yourself. Map out (on paper if necessary) the areas that you want to discuss with your child making sure that you cover everything.

Using either method, you will have thought about what you will be discussing and given yourself an opportunity to prepare for the discussion. Some parents, if they buy a book, prefer to give the book to their child and encourage them to read it at their own pace. It is important however, that you tell you son or daughter that they can them come to you to chat about any aspect of the information that they want you to chat about or help them to understand. If your child doesn’t approach you with questions, set aside time to chat to them about the book and invite questions if they have them.

You may prefer to read the book with them – if so, pick a time that you have plenty of space and time to read the book with them. It may also be helpful to let them take the book and re-read it themselves, that helps if they have any feelings of embarrassment while reading it with you and also gives them the chance to go over any areas that they need to understand better.

Remember – there’s more than just puberty and mechanics to discuss

If you have decided to have the chat with your child yourself, then be prepared for the conversation by ensuring that you know the facts and have a plan on what you need to cover. Sometimes it is easier to talk to your child if you use theproper names for sexual organs etc. Make sure you can talk to your child about how a girl’s menstrual cycle works, the fallopian tubes, the womb, ovulation and so forth. Ensure that you also inform your child about boys and what an erection is, why it occurs, the penis, testicles, sperm, semen, wet dreams and ejaculation. Explain how pregnancy occurs and pregnancy and the wonderful development of a baby in the womb.

Invite your child to ask questions, be available for chats and invite your child to chat about the subject if they want to.

There are so many more parts of growing up beyond puberty and sexual development. You should also talk to them about how they may change in terms of their interests, feelings towards the opposite sex, falling in love and dealing with feelings of embarrassment and awkwardness.

Reassure them that this is part of growing up and that most teenagers will experience these feelings from time to time. It is important that they know they can talk to you about any issues. Remember what it was like for you growing up and offer plenty of support and tender loving care when it is needed! You should also do all you can to help to build your teenager’s self esteem.

Martina Newe is director of www.HelpMe2Parent.ie who provide parenting courses and support for every step of parenting.  Classes range from Antenatal & Newborn Care, Parenting all age groups, Parenting After Separation or Divorce, Self Development For Teenagers and in-school and community services.  Help Me To Parent use the award winning Parents Plus Programmes for courses.  Martina also offers private coaching and is a fully trained Family Mediator.

Parenting classes are currently being scheduled for 2014 – register for the newsletter to receive details of classes and dates here.

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About the author:

Martina Newe

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