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The Sex Talks: 10 Tips to Help Parents Talk to Kids about Sex

I know. This is not easy. The very idea of having to talk to your child about sex is making you squeamish, squirmish and squirrelly. But we can do this. And I have to tell you– it’s not as bad as you think.

Here are some key tips for parents who know that it is time to talk to kids about sex:

(1)   Talk early and often: It’s never “THE talk” or “one talk” but a series of big and little ones that you have over time starting when they are very little. The first talks are about their body parts, caring for their body parts and loving each body part! And yes, you’ll build on these foundational talks- don’t avoid it and don’t make it weird! There’s nothing to be embarrassed about!

(2)   Use the actual words: Just like we call an “arm” and “arm” and not a “Little llama,” refer to a penis as a penis and a vagina as a vagina. There is nothing wrong with these words and we don’t want to send the message that there is! Plus, it will make it much easier to discuss the mechanics of sex later- you don’t want to be talking about intercourse like “the peepee goes into the women’s lady bits” because that will cause confusion and it frankly doesn’t sound right at all. (We talk about this in more depth in the interview with Dina Alexander and with Bonnie J. Rough)

(3)   Be the trusted source: Seriously, who do you want talking to your child about sex- you, or that kid, Barnabee, in the back of the bus who overheard something in some movie? Kids are hearing about sex in elementary school. By age 11, most kids have been exposed to porn. Make sure you talk early and often so you get to educate your kid with your values and the right information or you might have to unravel the wrong information! And DON’T tell your child s/he’s too young to know- they’ll just find out from somebody else (or the internet- you definitely don’t want that).

(4)   Be ready! This conversation doesn’t happen when you schedule it (what conversation does?). So you might be putting your daughter to bed and a question about nipples becomes a full-fledged segway into intercourse. A report on something your child heard on the school bus about how babies really came to be might come up over “pass the potatoes.” And family movies, seeing a pregnant woman, witnessing breast-feeding, a school video on puberty- are all springboards for discussion around “how babies are made.” If they’re asking; be ready to tell. Ask them what they already know (to dispel myths or build upon knowledge). Be ready to put on your big boy and big boy pants, take a deep breath and say things like; “the man’s penis goes into the vagina,” “erection,” “lubrication,” “ejaculation,” “testicles,” “clitoris,” if the child is asking about exactly how baby-making works.

(5)   Don’t shame body exploration: Totally normal, folks! The body is amazing! Our kids need to know their bodies. Get your daughter a mirror so she can look at her amazing vagina! According to sex therapist, Dae Sheridan, interviewed on How to Talk to Kids about Anything, most girls don’t even know they have 3 holes down there. Let your boys and girls touch themselves- and simply give guidance that body exploration is private and not something you do in public. As your children get older, you don’t want them to have any shame around masturbation, contrary to how you might have grown up, it is not a shameful thing to do—and is a totally normal part of sexuality.

(6)   Be age-appropriate and follow the child’s lead: A young child may only want to know about the sperm and the egg while an older child may want to know more about how to egg and the sperm get together. Oversharing when a child isn’t ready doesn’t feel good for anyone so don’t answer more than what they are asking. Undersharing doesn’t feel good either so make sure you are answering the question and not changing the subject to “what’s for dinner?” Leave the door open to answer any others whenever s/he is ready. They’ll let you know. (And you WANT your child to ask YOU questions—about this and about ANYTHING).

(7)   Discuss consent: This, again, can start early. We each get to say whether we want to be touched and how we want to be touched. We get to say if we want to be hugged or kissed and if we’d rather have some alone time. And we need to listen to the wishes and boundaries of others as well. (See my interview with Richard Weissbourd and Peggy Orenstein).

(8)   Tell them that sex is more than just mechanics and for procreation: Because it is. Sex is a way to connect. It’s an adult way to show love, passion, playfulness, generosity, warmth and affection. You can explain to your children that; “When you find the right person who truly loves and respects you for who you are and who you truly care about and love for who they are, sex can be beautiful and amazing.” (The opposite is true too- the wrong person who could care less about you- sex is no bueno.)

(9)   Nervous? Practice! Say it to yourself in front of a mirror, say it to your spouse, the wall or a willing friend or bookclubber! When you practice talking about sex, it’s much easier to actually talk about it when you need to have the conversations.

(10) There are larger conversations to have: Your children may ask about other ways babies come into our lives- and you can get into discussions about IVF, adoption, surrogacy and more. And, especially if your child identifies with being in the LGBTQ community- you don’t get a pass if you are straight and your child is gay, by the way- you must talk about sex with same-sex partners. If you don’t know the answers, ask someone who does. If you don’t have this conversation with your child who identifies with being in the LGBTQ community, they will get their information elsewhere (likely not a trusted source) and they will likely feel alone and confused.

Need resources? Listen to these podcast episodes we’ve done on the topic of talking to kids about sex:

How to Talk to Kids about Sex with Dina Alexander

How to talk to Kids about Sex, Love & Equality with Bonnie J. Rough

How to Talk to Kids about Healthy, Caring, Romantic Relationships with Richard Weissbourd

How to Talk to Boys about Sex with Peggy Orenstein

How to Talk to Kids about Porn with Gail Dines

How to Talk to Kids about Sexual Assault with Dae Sheridan

To come: How to Talk to Boys about Puberty, Sex, Body Image & Growing Up with Cara Natterson

 

Thinking of you, my friend! You can do it!

Warm regards,

Dr. Robyn

How to Be a Happier Parent When Happier Moms and Dads Mean Happier Kids

HAPPIER PARENTS= HAPPIER KIDS!

Do you want to be a happier parent? Most might say yes. Would it surprise you to know that for many years, research has shown that non-parents are happier than parents on an everyday basis? It’s true.

In today’s world where many parents are often shuttling kids from one destination to another, coping with high anxiety around school, sports, college, their children’s friends, their children’s interests, screen time, keeping their children safe and perhaps also trying to keep up with the Jones too- there seems to be a “happiness gap” between childless adults and those who have children. This is NOT what we had imagined when we pictured family life, is it?

So the question is- is it possible to change our families and our family lives so that they are full of the joy that we always hoped for?

Turns out- yes we can be happier parents! We need to turn our attention to the habits and concessions we’ve made and make some important changes. And don’t worry about feeling guilty. Parents who are happier have kids who are happier!

What makes you happy?

  • Laughing with a friend over coffee?
  • Performing on stage?
  • Dancing?
  • Biking?
  • Exercising?
  • Yoga?
  • Playing an instrument?
  • Reading a good book?
  • Going out to dinner with your main squeeze?

NOW– Want to know exactly what to do? I interviewed New York Times contributing editor and columnist (remember Motherlode?), KJ Dell’Antonia about her forthcoming book, How to Be a Happier Parent, and we discussed some things we have to stop doing and some things we need to start doing to ensure our happiness. She says some controversial things like “don’t put your children first unless they are bleeding” which may make you dig your heals in and question how what she is saying applies to you- but it’s kind of like the whole airplane directive (put your own mask on first before assisting others).

Take a listen. It’s right on my #talktokids podcast over here.

Here’s to you and wishing you a lifetime of happiness (starting…now!)

Xoxo,

Confidence Building in Parenting: How to Let Go So Your Children Can Soar

Hello Sweet friend,

I hope you are doing well on this last day of January! It’s amazing how time flies by—we are already 1/12 of the way through the year!

So the other day, I took my family roller-skating at the same roller rink I used to go to as a kid. Other than being full of nostalgia as the same disco ball hung from the middle of the ceiling and remnants of the light up board that used to direct us to “all skate” or “couples only,” I was also a little bit anxious. This was my son’s first time roller skating and he can sometimes have an ugly tape inside his head telling him he can’t do something even before he starts. Do you have anyone in your life that gets that?

He asked me to go out on the floor with him so he could hold my hand. As a parent, this can get a bit dicey. You want your child to feel comfortable but not reliant. We don’t want to feed the “I can’t” monster or the “only if you help me” monster. We went out onto the floor together, and we held hands. I held his and he held mine. As he got his bearings, we went very slow so I was sure he was moving his own feet and I wasn’t pulling him along. After a few times around, I let him hold my hand but I wasn’t actively holding his. Then we progressed to him only holding my finger, using his own balance and momentum to take the lead and pull me along a little. So when the moment came when my daughter said; “You’re doing great Noah, now all you have to do is let go!” He did. And off he went. Shaky at times but completely on his own.

It can be hard to let go. But even before that, it can be hard to slowly transition from taking the lead to allowing your child to do so. And yet, this is one of the key ways that they gain confidence. Self-reliance and taking healthy risks allow a child to learn to trust him or herself. To get up when they fall. And they will. And though it’s hard, we will grin and bear it as they gain the grit to bear it themselves.

I love exploring how to gain confidence and when I keynote on this topic, talk about the many barriers that get in our way and how we can push through. We want every child to lead their life knowing; “I am capable, I can do it and I will do it.” Don’t you agree?

For more on this topic, I have three recommendations.

1. My newest podcast episode on How to Talk to Kids about Anything is with Sue Atkins where we talk about how to raise confident, happy, resilient children. Sue has such a warm and welcoming way about herself- and lots of hands-on tips.
2. One of my most popular podcasts is on “The Gift of Failure” with Jessica Lahey. She talks at length about how we step back and allow our child to take the lead even though s/he may falter. After all, this is how they learn to succeed.
3. For those raising girls or working with girls, a recent podcast with Katie Hurley, author of the just-released No More Mean Girls (wonderful reviews and tools- recommended!), details how we can raise strong, confident, compassionate girls that defy the mean culture we hear about so often.

Can we raise children who are confident and resilient? I think we can. But as Sue Atkins says on yesterday’s podcast; “Confidence is an inside job.” Our children need to develop confidence from what they do rather than what we do for them.

Looking forward to hearing what you think! Come up on Facebook or I’m now on Instagram–> Let’s chat!

Wishing you a great week, sweet friend.

Warmest regards,
Dr. Robyn

How to Talk to Kids about the Las Vegas Shooting

After the terrible shooting on Sunday, October 2nd, that took place in Las Vegas killing 59 and injuring more that 500 people, parents are left wondering what to say to their children about the Las Vegas shooting. Let’s acknowledge that it’s becoming less rare to wake up to bad news lately- hurricanes, earthquakes and this senseless shooting makes us wonder when the loss of life and destruction is going to end. I get that. Our children are starting to get hear bits and pieces about these tragedies and those who haven’t will likely hear about them in time. So what do we do or say when tragedy strikes?

Resources:

  • I was interviewed for Morning Dose TV on this topic yesterday- right here.
  • Since I wrote something that is fitting when the Barcelona shooting happened– giving both tips and scripts, I’d like to give that to you now, again.
  • On my podcast, Joe Primo and I discussed How to Talk to Kids about Death & Dying if answers around grieving and death are in need.

And just a few quick words on talking to kids when tragedy strikes:

  • Be the first source– let them hear it from you. News sources are abrupt and made for adult audiences- you know best how to talk to your kids. Tell them; “I am here to answer your questions, there is nothing you can’t ask me. I may not know all the answers but I will find out what I don’t know so I can put your fears to rest.” As children get older you can ask, what do you know about this? How do you feel about this? To open up the conversation.
  • Let them know about the helpers who are working to keep everyone safe and assure them that the man responsible for the deadly act is unable to hurt anyone anymore because he is dead. Tell them; “those in law enforcement and the medical community are doing everything they can to keep us safe and take care of anyone who was hurt. Do you know how Aunt Karen takes care of people in the hospital since she’s a nurse? That’s what the people out there are doing too. Lots of people are helping.”
  • Allow them to be the helpers too– ask, how can we help someone who is suffering today? How might we help the kids who are dealing with these strategies. Something therapeutic for anyone of any age is drawing pictures and writing letters to those in Las Vegas who are suffering. They can write thank you notes to law enforcement and medical staff or raise money for a charity. As an adult, you can give blood and talk to your children about why you are doing it.

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