Believe it or not, 8 years old is a great age to teach children about sex. That may sound alarming to many people but truthfully kids are hearing references about it every day. In fact, one of the founders of Girlology – a program designed to help parents open the dialogue about puberty and sexual development – and one that I’m proud to be a part of as an OB/GYN at Henrico Doctors’ Hospital, has a TEDx talk titled “Eight is Great.” In it, she explains why 8 years old is a great age to tackle “the talk.”
As a Girlologist, I’m encouraging women to not only make their health a priority this Women’s Health Month but their daughter’s too. Be the first to talk to your child about something that is so important for her health and safety. It will be a lot easier than you think. At 8 years old, they are approaching the subject without embarrassment or preconceived notions, so you can present it with all the awe and respect it deserves.
Here are a few tips to help get you prepped to start the conversation.
Have “the talk” earlier than you may be ready. Tell children about the changes of puberty before the changes start. Then explain reproduction and sexual intercourse before she hears it on the bus. If you can be the first one to explain these things, you can present them with the awe, respect and “normalcy” that will give her confidence and protect her from the myths she may hear otherwise.
It is helpful to approach the subject very “matter of factly.” This is science/nature. Children are fascinated by images of eggs and sperm and embryos and animal reproduction. Using books with pictures that show the science will keep them interested. Once you’ve covered the basics of fertilization, fetal development and birth, then you can end with a brief explanation of how the sperm gets to the egg. At that point, your child will probably be ready to end the conversation!
Just like a work presentation: “be prepared.” Think about what you are going to say and have your visual aids ready. Children sense when you are nervous and will think this is something about which they should be embarrassed. If you are calm and matter-of-fact, they’ll feel more comfortable.
Create a safe environment for this conversation. Set aside a special time and place where you and your child can have some uninterrupted time. But remember, this will not be a one-time conversation but should be a dialogue that continues over years. Many parents find car rides a great time for talks like these: your child is a captive audience, yet you can keep your eyes on the road.
One of the Girlology mottos is “Don’t Freak Out.” This is not a time to scare your child. If you want her to always come to you with her questions or concerns in the future, make sure you never freak out over anything she asks or tells you. Instead, keep a calm expression and voice (even if you’re freaking out a little on the inside!). If you freak out, your child won’t come back to you with her question. Studies have repeatedly shown that conversations about sex do not make youth sexually promiscuous, but rather gives them the tools to plan ahead and make better decisions that reflect the values of their family.
Ultimately, when, where and how you have “the talk” with your daughter is entirely up to each parent. Let this serve as a resource and guide to help you through that conversation.