How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex (Part 1 of 3)

The dreaded day has come. You know that you must start talking to your child about sex. Your memories drift back to how this topic was avoided or handled in your family, school, or church. The memories of the ways you learned about sex come to mind. Some of them bring embarrassing and anxious feelings. "Do I really have to do this now?" you ask. "Can't I wait?" Yet you know that if you wait, the world will teach the wrong messages to your child. So muster up the courage to begin this ongoing conversation. After all, he is starting school tomorrow.

By the age of 5, you should start talking to your children about sex. However, you probably have misconceptions about how this discussion should proceed. Consider the following two principles.

First, most parents put too much pressure on themselves to have the one "right" talk (and usually wait too long to have it). Talking to children about sexuality is a lifetime conversation. It is an ongoing discussion that may take place in little snippets, stories, anecdotes, and explanations. It also may take place around significant moments, such as the onset of menstruation for girls.

Second, we must broaden our definition of what sexuality is. God designed sex to be the expression of spiritual, emotional, and physical love and relatedness between a husband and wife. We cannot limit our talks to purely biological ones about the mechanics of sex. That may lead children to think sex is only a physical act. Healthy sexuality between a husband and wife depends on emotional and spiritual intimacy. One of the ways to prepare your child for healthy sexuality is to prepare him to be intimate with God and with others.

Take a look at the first three stages of a child's life and examine some issues that you will need to address as your prepare your child for healthy sexuality.

The First Stage: Ages 0-3

Parents set the stage for future sexual learning by the way they talk, hug, kiss, and play with their children.

During the first three years of life, you need to lay a healthy foundation for physical development.

Physically, infants begin to discover their bodies. Learning control of one's bowels and bladder is the one of the first physical experiences that a child learns to control. Talking to your child positively and not shamefully about these accomplishments is one way to encourage a child's positive feelings toward his own body. During this time, clearly communicate to a child that he is a boy or she is a girl. This will involve specific education about how men and women are physically different. Do not be afraid of specific names for body parts.

Healthy Touch

An important way of communicating with your child during this time is through touch. A child needs to be touched appropriately. When a baby is born and does not receive adequate touch, he can develop a failure to thrive and die.

People never lose the need to be touched. If your child does not experience adequate touching when he is young, he may confuse his need for touch with his biological drive to be sexual later in life.

Empathy & Understanding

Emotionally, a child's sense of self-esteem is foundationally developed from birth to age 3. Spend time listening to what your child says, answering his questions, affirming positive behaviors, and nurturing him for who he is. Everyone longs to be heard, affirmed, and praised. You may find that some disruptive behaviors are a child's attempt to get attention. Giving your child positive attention during normal times will help him know that he does not need disruptive behaviors to get it. Many people who have sexual problems in later life remember that one or both of their parents either did not give them enough praise and affirmation or gave them shaming messages.

Bonding

Relationally, the first three years of life are vital in forming healthy attachment to both parents. Although one parent may be the primary caregiver during the day, it is vital that both parents spend quality time with their child.

Be aware that in your role of parent, a healthy relationship means that you are there to nurture your child, not he to nurture you. If you are lonely, you may need to get help in finding healthy adult relationships. It is important for the same sex parent to have a healthy relationship with the child. The opposite sex parent's relationship to the child also is beneficial and will help the child later in life to have healthy relationships with the opposite sex.

Godly Respect

Spiritually, remember that your child is "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). There are words like "precious, a gift, dearly loved, created by God, and special" that work wonders in helping a child know that he is unique and loved by God. Remember that you are modeling to your child qualities of how much God loves him. It will be much easier for him later to know God as Father if you do a good job during these years. Later in his life, a person will look back on these times as a way of knowing how he can be a gift to his spouse.

Mark Laaser, Ph.D., is director of the Healthy Institute of Sexuality of the American Association of Christian Counselors and the author of several books.

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