Talking About Sex With Your Preschooler
Why do birds fly? Where does the sun go at night? What kind of bug is that?
The never-ending questions of a preschooler. They spend their days absorbing the world around them, and then they turn to you for explanations.
Some topics are easier than others, and most can be answered with a quick trip to the library. But just when you thought you had things under control, your child hears the word "sex."
Instead of shaking in your shoes, swallow hard and dive right in. That's right. Talking about sex with your preschooler doesn't have to be a nightmare, if you let experts and fellow parents help you along the way.
Where Do Babies Come From?
Children will ask about childbirth. Whether it's your pregnancy or a passing woman at the grocery store, the wheels will begin to turn. Sooner or later, your child will ask, "Where do babies come from?"
You might be tempted to mention the stork, but Dr. Anthony Wolf, psychologist and author of The Secret of Parenting, says that it is important to speak honestly because you want to avoid misinformation and maintain credibility.
How much honesty can a 4-year-old handle? "With little kids, [you] don't have to go in to a lot of detail," Wolf says. "Whatever you want to talk about, you want it to be simple."
When Denise Cagle-Becker of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. was pregnant with her second child, her 3-year-old daughter grew curious. "She did ask how the baby got into my uterus, so I explained the egg and sperm, and I said the daddy puts the sperm into [the mommy] and the sperm joins the egg [to make] a teeny tiny baby."
Cagle-Becker's daughter was satisfied with this simple answer. She never asked for specifics and that's fine with Cagle-Becker, who follows her daughter's lead in such matters. "When she is old enough to ask [for specifics], she will be old enough to hear the answers," says Cagle-Becker.
What is Sex?
Most parents of preschoolers are still whispering, if not spelling out, the word sex. It just doesn't seem right to bring the subject up in the child's presence. But somewhere along the line, they will hear the word.
When answering the question "What is sex?" Wolf sticks to the simple yet honest approach. He suggests that your answer goes like this: "Sex is something that adults do. It's a way of making babies, and it's something that they enjoy doing."
As if that's not enough to swallow, Wolf concedes that you might want to go so far as to mention the penis entering the vagina. His only steadfast rule is to use the proper names for the parts of the body.
Will you be mortified at this conversation? Perhaps. But Wolf assures you that your child won't be mortified. "The kids might find it initially very weird. Then it becomes just a matter of fact," he says.
Trina Lambert of Englewood, Colo. couldn't avoid telling the whole truth to her 4-year-old twins. Their reaction was just as Wolf said it would be. "My daughter wrinkled her nose and said, 'That's gross!' My son agreed with her, and they went back to their snack," Lambert says.
Why Are You Doing That?
Hearing the word "sex" is one thing, but witnessing the activity is another. If your child walks in on you and your partner during sex, Wolf offers this advice: "Number one, stop. Then, go off with the kid [to talk]." During your conversation, Wolf encourages the use of questions to figure out how much the child actually witnessed. "If [the child's] not actually seeing the penis in the vagina ... I might use the phrase that we were just hugging and kissing."
Peg Louden of Summit, N.J. remembers the day her 5-year-old walked into the bedroom unannounced. Fortunately for Louden, covers concealed the sexual activity from her daughter, who left the room in favor of watching cartoons.
Remember that in some cases, sex can appear violent. If your child seems fearful or worried that you were being hurt, it is important for you to explain sex in simple yet honest terms, making certain the child knows that you were not being hurt.
None of this is easy. For the majority of people, candidly talking about sex is uncomfortable. Add to this the fear of introducing your child to a life of promiscuity, and educating your preschooler about the facts of life might be one lesson you are willing to skip. But Wolf has one steadfast rule: "The more kids know the more likely they are, in their own lives, to behave in regards to sexuality in the ways we would want them to."
Think about it. Honesty really is the best policy. If you use these tips to start out small, by the time your preschooler is a teenager, you should be well on your way to a parent-child relationship that thrives on trust and open communication.