Ten Things to Remember When You Talk to Kids about Sexuality

Talking to your child or teen about sex and sexuality gets easier the more you practice.

The more a child knows about their own sexuality the less they will need to rely on peers or other adults who may take advantage of that child’s lack of information. Children who understand their bodies and their sexual feelings may feel more confident about this part of themselves and may be less likely to be confused or manipulated regarding inappropriate sexual touch.

When talking with a child or teen, here are 10 principles to keep in mind not only for your child, but for yourself as well

1. Children need to be taught accurate language for all of their body parts, including the ones between their shoulders and their knees. It will be easier for both the adults and children to use correct terms if you start using accurate language right from the start.

2. Don’t wait to have “the big talk”. Children need age-appropriate information throughout their lives, on an ongoing basis. Be aware that children are sexually maturing (on a biological and social level) at earlier ages, so don’t wait until their teen years to give them information.

3. Take advantage of naturally occurring events to talk about sex and sexuality even if it makes you feel a little nervous. For example, while you are changing your child’s diapers, you can name their body parts. Or, when you or someone close to your family is pregnant, you can talk about how babies are born. While watching TV, you can explain to your older child about your personal beliefs and values about when and with whom to have sex.

4. Share your own values about sex and sexuality. If your children are getting all of their information about sex and sexuality from friends, the Internet, or health class in their school, they are not getting important information from you about your values regarding sex and relationships.

5. Actions speak louder than words. Being a good role model for safe and healthy relationships is important. Children are likely to copy, practice, or experiment with the behaviors they see around them. Be aware of the kinds of behaviors and interactions your child witnesses.

6. Remember that information about sexual behavior does not equal permission to act. Sometimes adults are reluctant to share “too much” information with a child for fear that it might be misunderstood by the child as permission or encouragement to try the behavior themselves. Include information that indicates how and when certain behaviors are appropriate. Remind yourself that sharing information about the sexuality of adults, teens, and children does not suddenly spark a child's interest in human sexuality.  It will however, satisfy a basic and natural curiosity.

7. Children need guidance to understand appropriate sexuality expression. In particular, if you are concerned about a child in need of healing and/or successful management of their sexual behaviors, accurate information and tools for safe, healthy expression are crucial.

8. Teach your children about how they may touch and how they may not touch someone. When you are talking with your child about inappropriate touch by someone else, be sure to also talk with them about how it is not appropriate for them to touch someone else in a way that makes the other child uncomfortable.

9. When children ask questions, give them accurate information at a level of depth and detail they can understand. For example, when a three-year-old asks how an airplane flies, we don’t get out a diagram explain the engineering details. Use a similar approach when your three-year-old asks where babies come from. See the links below to books and websites that can help guide you towards what kids need to know when -- and how to say it.

10. Children need to know that sexual touch that is harmful or abusive doesn’t necessarily hurt or feel bad. It may be confusing to a child that a touch that has a pleasant physical sensation can also be inappropriate or harmful to them and others. This can be particularly conflicting for a child who has experienced physical pleasure while being sexually abused.