It's LET'S TALK MONTH, so, first, Let's Talk about The Talk with a guest blog by Kim Cook. Learn more about her below.
The Talk. Just the mere thought of starting the conversation with your child can send quivers of anxiety through your body. Panic sets in: What if they ask me something I don’t know? What if I tell them something wrong? Aren’t the schools teaching them what they need to know? What if they see the fear in my eyes?
Yes, indeed. What if?
How did your parents approach “the talk” with you?
Take a moment to reflect upon your experience as a youngster. Many parents share their stories about talking with their own parents about sex and relationships— or rather the lack of conversation - with amusement and frustration.
“When I was about ten, my mother quickly and awkwardly told me that one day I would release an egg and I would bleed. Then she walked away. I waited and waited for an egg the size of a chicken egg to fall out of me.” Mother of two boys.
Even though this woman laughed as she told me this story, it was a pretty frightening experience as a very young girl. It is clear from this example that one short conversation may not offer enough information. It is also clear that it is important to ask follow-up questions such as, “Do you have any questions about this?” or “Did I answer your question?”
Start talking now.
Dialogue about sexuality is an ongoing conversation. It begins at birth and continues into adulthood. No matter the age of your child, you have already started the conversation about sexuality. When our children are toddlers, conversations about sharing, asking for what they need, and washing hands before eating all set the stage for subsequent deeper discussions about respect, consent, and caring for our bodies. Parents can easily incorporate these talks into everyday life.
You are their best teacher.
Your child will learn about sex somehow, some way. Your guidance is unique in that you can pass on your values to your child. Your family values play a tremendous role in their perspective about healthy sexuality and relationships. Influencers such as media, peers, and school may - or may not - offer great information, however it is up to parents to impart wisdom to support or contradict what is learned by these other resources. Studies have repeatedly shown that kids want their parents to talk with them about sex.
They are watching you.
Your actions speak louder than words. You may talk about respect and consent with your child, however, if your actions contradict your wisdom you will only confuse children. They may pick up on the wrong messages based on your behavior. Young people are also watching and listening to other leaders, such as politicians, celebrities, teachers and coaches. Be aware of the messages other adults are sending to your kids. Be available to discuss these messages.
You’ve got this!
When you start the conversation when your kids are very young, you are laying the groundwork for a trusting and open relationship with one another. This is crucial as the conversations become complex and weighty as your child gets older.
Keep these five tips in mind when talking to your children:
- Be open, honest and non-judgmental. If you make a negative comment about someone’s identity or sexuality, your child may find it difficult to trust you with their concerns.
- Do more listening than talking. Sometimes a young person just needs someone to listen to their concerns, not solve their problems. Problem-solving is an important skill for an emerging adult and your quiet guidance is invaluable.
- If a child asks a question, restate the question to be sure you are telling them what they want to know, not what you think they want to know. Follow up with, “Did I answer your question?”
- It’s okay if you don’t know an answer to a question - no one knows all the answers. There are terrific books and online resources that you can access and learn from together. Just be sure your resource is medically-accurate and reputable. Girlology, Guyology, Amaze.org, Planned Parenthood, Advocates for Youth, and Teen World Confidential are just a few great resources available to parents. Your child’s healthcare provider is an invaluable resource to help answer confusing questions.
- Keep conversations relevant and short. For example, if you overhear someone making derogatory remarks about another person, a quick question to your child can spark a short conversation. You might ask, “What did you think about that comment?” and see where the response takes the conversation.
One more tip: Just relax. Share a few laughs with your child when talking about this stuff. Sex and relationships can be a serious topic, but if you infuse humor into the conversations, you will find they will be more receptive to further talks with you. Perhaps start your next conversation about ovulation while holding a chicken egg!
Guest blog by Kim Cook, RN, CHES, author of Teen World Confidential: Five-Minute Topics to Open Conversation about Sex and Relationships. Kim lives in the Chicago area, and has certifications as a Health Education Specialist, middle and high school health teacher, and in LGBT Studies. She is also a former elementary school nurse and serves as the President of the Illinois School Health Association. As the mother of three grown daughters, she is a survivor of the adolescent years. Check out her website.