Educating Your Kids about Sex *

David A. Gershaw, Ph.D.

In Yuma, April 9-15 is the celebration of the Week of the Young Child, so it seems appropriate to give some hints on raising children. Many parents struggle when it comes to their children and sex education. Whether or not you are opposed to having your children get sex education, you don't really have a choice. Your only choice is whether you want to participate in the sex education that is already taking place. Some parents approach the task with great worry not knowing where to begin, uncertain as to what to say and worried about giving too much detail.

Teaching kids about sex is like teaching them about anything else. You don't need a Ph.D. to teach your child about sex. Here are some straightforward suggestions for teaching your child about sex.

  1. Help your child to feel comfortable about coming to you to ask about sex or any other topic. Don't embarrass the child by asking, "Why do you want to know?" or saying, "You're too young to understand." If your child is old enough to ask questions, s/he needs to understand it at some level.
  2. Find out your child's level of understanding by asking, "What do you know about (having a baby, menstruation, etceteras)?"
  3. If you don't know the answer, don't be afraid to say so. Look it up or call someone who might know the facts. (Your family physician or any one of several professors at Arizona Western College would be happy to provide you with the needed information or the appropriate resources.)
  4. After answering, if your child wants to know more, further questions will be asked. When questions stop in a particular discussion, this is a cue that the child's curiosity has been satisfied temporarily. At that time, no further explanation is needed. To see if your answer has been understood, you can ask your child again, "What do you understand about it now?"
  5. When you talk about sex with your child, do it in a matter-of-fact manner the way you would talk about anything else.
  6. Include more than just the biological facts. Your children need to learn about values, emotions and decision-making too. Part of the discussion of emotions could include any feelings of embarrassment you may have in covering this topic.
  7. If your child uses "four-letter words," calmly explain their meaning and why you don't want these words to be used. You could say, "Other people get upset if they hear those words," or "I don't think it is a good way of explaining how you feel." Laughing or joking about your child's four-letter words will usually encourage unwanted repeat performances.
  8. Use correct terminology for body parts rather than "do-do" for penis or "bottom" for vagina.
  9. Even preschool children need to know how to protect themselves from sexual abuse. This means you need to let them know that sometimes it is okay to say "no" to an adult. It also helps to explain the difference between "good" touching and "uncomfortable" touching and what they can do if the touching is not "good."
  10. Discuss the changes that will occur at puberty well before your child becomes a teenager. Physical changes like menstruation, breast development and wet dreams occur in some children before the age of ten.
  11. Discuss menstruation with boys as well as girls, and be sure that girls also understand things about boys, like what an erection is. Also, don't leave topics like homosexuality and prostitution out of your discussions. Children see and hear about these topics on TV and read about them in the newspaper or magazines. They will have a natural curiosity about these topics.
  12. Be direct in bringing up the topic of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including AIDS. Do this in a way that is sensitive to how the child will react. There is little sense in frightening a 6-year-old child by saying that AIDS will always kill you. On the other hand, ignoring this issue until your child is a teenager will not be doing your child a favor. School-age children need to learn what AIDS is, how it is transmitted and how it is not transmitted.

To many parents, imparting this type of information may seem overwhelming. However, help is available to you. On Saturday, April 15th 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Week of the Young Child will be celebrated on the lawn of the Yuma Library. Various agencies that deal with children will be there to answer your questions. "Hands-on" activities will be provided by area preschool, headstart and kindergarten programs. Bring your children and a picnic lunch to enjoy the day. There is no charge.

* Adapted from Masters, Johnson and Kolodny's Human Sexuality, Scott, Foresman and Company, 1985, Pages 233-234.

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