Sexuality educator provides tips for having 'the talk' with your child
Stressing out about having that one big "sex talk" with your young person? That one where you impart all there is to know about sexuality, gender, puberty, reproductive systems, sexual health, consent and relationships? Well, good news, there isn't just one talk.
"Young people are always observing, listening, learning from you and from their world. There are many little ways that you connect and impart messages about identities, bodies and relationships," said Dawn Ravine, sexuality education program coordinator, The Potocsnak Family Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Lurie Children's Hospital.
Here Ravine shares six tips to help get the conversation started:
• Short and sweet. Clarify and normalize any question being asked. Answer that specific question as simply and accurately as you can. Check for understanding and move on. No big speeches. If you don't know say, "I don't know, I'll find out."
• Model. At all ages, our kids watch what we do. When you talk about bodily functions and body parts, use the formal word without hesitation (penis, testicles, vulva). Model positive body positivity and refrain from speaking negatively about your body or other bodies around children. Remind children that bodies can look and function differently but that all people deserve respect and kindness. Model privacy, consent communication, and privacy around daily activities like getting dressed, personal hygiene and hugs.
• Don't miss the moment. Take advantage of a topic that comes up on TV, while reading a story, or that comes up in their community. Ask what they think.
• Keep learning so that you feel prepared for those moments. There are so many wonderful resources to expand your knowledge. Visit Amaze.org, a fun video series to watch on your own or with your child and add books to your home library. Here's a reading list: sexpositivefamilies.com/sex-positive-families-reading-list.
• Leverage your relationship. Even the best sexuality education curriculum at school doesn't replace you. Your children need and want to hear from you. Share context specific to your family and culture. Share about your experience with sex ed. Tell your child what was missing. Tell them what you hope they learn. You know your child best, and every child is unique. Some children respond best to heart-to-heart conversations. Some children love to read about the science and biology and ask questions. Some children are anxious about puberty and just need assurance that it happens slowly over many years and that you'll be here when they are ready to talk more.
• Keep the door open. Make sure your children know you are available in any circumstance. That they won't be in trouble for being curious or asking questions. If they share something surprising, say, "I'm glad you came to me." Your response will impact their willingness to come to you in the future. Believe them when they tell you how they feel. Don't assume sexual orientation. The subtle messages in these assumptions can shut down important future conversations. Ensure they know that however they express their gender, whomever they have crushes on, whatever decisions they make that you support them and will advocate for their health and safety.
To see real-life examples of families having quick meaningful sexuality education conversations, watch Lurie Children's "Never Fear Talks" video series at luriechildrens.org/neverfeartalks. For more on sexuality education programing, including parent workshops, from The Potocsnak Division of Adolescent & Young Adult Medicine, visit luriechildrens.org/sexedprogram.
• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.