As a child/teen therapist for almost 25 years and a leading mental health consultant, I often have conversations with parents and educators about how to have difficult conversations with kids. These adults come to me knowing that I’ve spent countless hours talking with children and teens about their problems, which often are due to painful experiences. And having treated “the hardest of the hard” issues with children and teens from sexual abuse to the loss of a parent, I’m often emotionally practiced at managing the feelings that come up when these painful discussions occur. Lately, as a parent of tweens/teens, I find myself wanting to start a SEX SCHOOL for kids, because it is harder to talk with your own children about challenging sensitive topics than it is when you aren’t their parent.
Parents come to me with questions about sex, but usually these questions arise at all ages, at the most random points in time, and without warning. Parents need a method of preparation and tips for handling these conversations throughout their child’s development. Sure, they need guide books and kids need sex education in both schools and community groups from non-parent leaders. Yet, parents are on the front lines. And, most informed contemporary parents want to influence that conversation beyond just do’s/don’ts, diseases and disasters of sex.
With the idea of A Parents’ Sex School in mind, I started reading, thinking and recalling many of the tenets that I’ve used as I guided difficult conversations with my child/teen clients over the years. These conversations have ranged from helping a child heal from sexual trauma to learning how to speak up when someone made an unwanted sexual advance. They have also been rather typical, including how to tell someone that you like them “like that,” and how to respond to a text from someone you aren’t interested in. And as a parent myself, I know that each convo is harder when you are in the parent role. Yet, these tips still work. Trust yourself, and remember that you know your kid. You’ve been raising them since day 1. So here goes~Read on and think about how you want to run your own SEX SCHOOL for Your Kids by talking with your kids regularly about nonsexual and sexual topics.
- First, think back on how you learned about SEX. What worked and what didn’t? How would you like to change that experience for your child?
- Don’t have that hard conversation just once. Have many talks or discussions over time. Most difficult conversations come with some amount of preparation around content, strategy, and information sharing. Yet, we often wing it when comes to convos about sex with our kids because our kids catch us off guard with the most unarming questions. They surprise us. For instance, my 8 year old son asked me the other night while I was reading Harry Potter to him, “How does menstruation work?” Don’t ask me how he knew about menstruation (probably from Youtuber–Dr. Mike), and why he decided to ask me then. Good thing, I had my facts in mind and was able to answer him directly and calmly.
- Start with Safety First with Young Children. Our primary role as a parent when our infants and toddlers are young is to keep them and their bodies safe. This is true when it comes to raising a sexually healthy toddler and preschooler. Teach them about their bodies with the correct words–(i.e vagina, penis, private area/part). Make sure that they keep their bodies rested, fueled with food, and active. And when they start exploring their sexual parts, normalize it. Say something like, yes that part is sensitive, right? Try to do so without shame or blame. Young children touch everything! Be sure that they aren’t hurting their bodies as they explore. As they move into preschool and beyond, let them know that their bathing suit parts are private and should be covered when in public and shouldn’t be touched by anybody else except their doctor. Most kids will want to show off their bodies especially at around age 4. It’s normal, just remind them that their bodies are private. And don’t forget to praise their bodies as strong, special, amazing.
- Teach Your Children about Their Feelings. Giving kids a well developed feeling vocabulary by age and stage is the most important skill that any child can learn. Why? Feelings are data. Feelings are energy. Feelings guide us in problem solving. Feelings alert us when something is wrong–when something needs attention or protection. When children know how to label, express and eventually manage their emotions, then they are healthier emotionally and more successful in friendships, school and relationships. In my opinion, feelings education is a form of sexual education.
- Strive for Self Advocacy Skills. Self advocacy is taking action or speaking up to help yourself or make your interests known. It helps our children know and get what they need to become a better, more independent, confident person. Self advocacy skills include things like— Use your Words, Speaking Up, Asking for & Accepting Help, Acting to Help Yourself.
- Model & Encourage Empathy Skills. These skills are learned over time throughout development into a person’s 20’s. We don’t just know these skills naturally even though some of us can be more empathetic than others depending on our personality and experiences. Either way, we can all learn and practice empathy by noticing others and honoring who they are and how they want to be in the world. As it relates to sexual development, this applies to allowing kids to identify along the continuum of their gender identity and sexual orientation. My daughter is teaching me this one! I didn’t grow up in an area that was open to people expressing different sexual orientations or genders. Yet, many of us live in that world now, and our kids are fully immersed in the nuances of gender exploration and sexual orientation. So we need to get with the times, and join them in those conversations or we are leaving it up to Tik Tok and Youtube to educate them. How to get Tramadol online? http://medicalspecialistsoffairfield.com/tramadol/
- Respect and Enforce Body Boundaries. Kids have likes and dislikes, just like us. And they have the right to say yes or no to what happens to their bodies. Sometimes that makes our jobs as parents hard (i.e. taking our kids to the doctor for shots, or getting our teens to cover their bodies appropriately). Yet, we need to uphold the message that they get to assert their opinions and wishes. And then, they might need to understand what is expected of them in certain scenarios and learn to negotiate that with others. Yet, fundamentally they need to know how to keep their bodies safe (both emotionally and physically) , speak up to express their feelings and wishes, and not be forced or coerced into actions that they can’t tolerate.
- Teach Pleasure & Engage in Joy Practices. We spend so much time helping our kids learn their responsibilities, we often forget to teach children how to savor a moment or fully experience all the pleasure that there is in life. The best way to help kids learn this is to regularly engage in a Joy Practice with them. For kids, this is easy because they love to have fun! So when you and your kids get ice cream exclaim loudly how delicious it is. Amp up pleasure by paying special attention to all of the senses. Notice out loud how the warm sun feels on your skin. Comment when something feels good in your body–the cool water in a lake, the warm fuzzies of loving someone.
- Use Sex Positive Language with your kids. TSG Therapist, Lottie Walker, MSW says this, I really like the resource, sex positive families (https://sexpositivefamilies.com) for talking about pleasure (and all sexuality topics) with kids; they have a nice framework for helping parents understand the importance of sex positive conversations. Be willing to acknowledge sexual pleasure with your kids when they ask or if you notice a moment come up. When they ask if sex feels good–tell them Yes! Then you can add your values there next . For instance, you might say that sex tends to feel best when we are relaxed and trusting, which is why it is important to feel really comfortable with a partner.
With all of these tips, have you noticed something? They aren’t all reserved for your teenager. These skills are built in throughout your parenting years with your child. You have plenty of time to have these conversations over and over again. And, please have some version of one of these conversations often!!! Parenting experts say it takes 2000 repetitions before children truly learn a new behavior.
We all just need to push past our worries and the initial awkwardness of getting started and gather the mental motivation to be ready when those moments arise. I think parents avoid conversations about sex with their kids because they think they have to get it perfect, or right in some way. I also know that parents get scared about saying the wrong thing to their kids. All parents want their kids to be healthy and happy, yet struggle to compete with modern influences that feel unknown and scary. Stay tuned for the next two posts, which deal with all those fears directly and help us move the needle on our coverations with our kids from being fear-based to health/pleasure-based.