Almost exactly four years ago, before The Chat existed, I was at the 7thbirthday party of one of my daughter’s best friends. As the party was winding up, a few of us moms stood around chatting. During the conversations one of the ladies startled us with the question: “Have you spoken to your daughter about sex?”
I, like all the other moms, was caught off guard by a question we thought we would only need to tackle in a few years’ time. Apparently not. This mom had heard the phrase “Eight is too late” and so had brought up the topic to get our opinions.
At the time I thought this was an exaggeration but as I have grown in knowledge and experience I have realized that, for most children, it is spot on: If we have not spoken to our children about sex by the time they are eight years old, they will have heard a version of it from someone else. They may not know the explicit details of intercourse, but sexual language, phrases, jokes and stories are thrown around on the playground of primary schools more regularly than we think. Coupled with that, our children’s access to the internet puts them at risk of being exposed to sexually explicit content.
So when should we start talking to our children about sex? You may want to sit down for this….
My recommendation is age two to three.
Before you log off and tell everyone I am a crazy person, Let me qualify that statement.
Research shows that the best possible way to give our children a healthy understanding of sexuality is not through one big, scary conversation on the couch, but through many, many relaxed, loving chats throughout their childhood and teen years. I don’t have time in this blog to give a detailed age guide (come join us for one of our talks for that!) but by starting young we create an open, safe environment for these vital conversations.
So what is our starting point? It is simply talking to our toddlers openly about their body parts (using the correct names – no flowers or sausages!) and about privacy. This is the beginning of The Chat.
Through a series of conversations – on the kitchen counter, in the car, at bedtime, in the bath – we are in the perfect position to drip-feed age appropriate information about sex to our kids, answering their questions with candor, love and truth. It is also our responsibility to broach topics if they don’t ask – silence can send our children the unspoken message that sex is taboo and shameful to talk about.
I am sure you are still wondering when is the right time to have The Chat – you know the one I mean! Talking to our children about sexual intercourse is best done between the ages of seven and nine. At this age they are mentally and emotionally ready to process this information. Most kids this age are pretty unphased by it in fact. The may think it a little gross that their parents did it and they may have a few questions (this is a good thing – answer honestly) but usually The Chat is well-received in this age group, and relatively painless for the parents. And if you have had lots of chats leading up to the one, it honestly isn’t that scary.
If you wait until your kids click over into the tween phase (10-13) it can be a whole lot harder. Generally at this age, your children will not want to have this conversation with you and will think it is gross that you want to talk about it. Tweens are highly self-aware so having The Chat with them will be hard work. But it is possible – better late than never!
The key is this: it is your mission as a parent to establish yourself in your child’s life as the trusted expert in sexual things. And trust comes with time and integrity. So don’t wait, start chatting early and create in your home an environment of openness, vulnerability and unconditional love.
(For information about upcoming talks, please see the Talks & Workshop page on our website)