Q: When should I discuss the “facts of life” with my children? How detailed should I get?
A: Most parents are concerned about when and how to have “the talk” with their children. Actually, sexual learning is not a one-time talk, but a series of conversations with your children from the early years through later adolescence. Children will also learn by observing interactions between people and, of course, through the media.
Young children are concrete thinkers and are most concerned about where babies come from, how they are made and where they were before they were born. Parents are often afraid that giving too much information will lead to a loss of innocence or might encourage sexual experimentation. Relax. There is plenty of research to show that good sex education does not encourage irresponsible behavior and in fact the exact opposite is true! Besides, if you don’t provide the basic facts when they ask, they will have to look further.
You are your child’s first educator and all of their learning should start at home—including sex education. Who else would you want your child to turn to for such important issues? When the conversations ensue, let your child know that even though you may seem a little nervous, it is such an important subject and you are so glad they want to talk to you about it. Be the “askable” parent. Remind your child that it’s okay to ask you about anything, anytime. Be ready and practice your responses to questions like “What is sex?”, “Do you and Daddy have sex?”, “How are babies made?”, etc.
Begin your response by asking questions to see what your child already knows or believes about the subject, then start at his level of understanding and go just a little beyond. When they have been given too much information or if it goes too far beyond his level of understanding, a child will let you know by changing the subject or start ignoring what you are saying. Keep it simple, keep it short and keep in tune to your child’s non-verbal cues of information overload.
Here are a few books about communicating with children about sexuality and reproduction.
Sex & Babies: First Facts by Jane Annuziata and Marc Nemiroff
When Sex Is the Subject: Attitudes and Answers for Young Children by Pamela M. Wilson
Questions Children Ask & How to Answer Them by Dr. Miriam Stoppard
From Diapers to Dating by Debra Haffner
Q: My five year old is getting very frustrated that she is unable to do all the things that her big brother can do (ride a two-wheeler, read and write, draw really great dinosaurs, etc). I’ve been telling her “in due time” but it’s not working. Help!
A: One of the typical dynamics of sibling relationships is the younger child who seems born playing “catch up” to the older, often admired brother or sister. It’s understandable that your daughter would feel frustrated as she struggles to try to match her brother’s abilities. Keep encouraging her to be patient, and offer her empathy and encouragement: “It’s really frustrating when you fall off your bike, you’re trying so hard! Did you notice you stayed on a little longer that time?” Pointing out her progress and praising her effort will encourage persistence. You might also remind her that you remember her brother trying many times before he was able accomplish a certain task.
Sometimes older children are annoyed by the efforts of younger siblings to intrude on their world. You can mitigate resentment by allowing the older child some of his own space, friendships, and possessions that don’t need to be shared all the time. Also, encourage your son to teach your daughter some skills (“Could you help your sister work on tying her shoes? She really listens to you.”), if they’re both willing. This kind of coaching and cooperation can strengthen sibling bonds.
At five, your daughter has probably developed some interests all her own. Without discouraging common interests, it may be helpful to encourage some things that are different from her brother, eliminating comparison. If he likes to draw dinosaurs, she could paint big rainbows with water colors. She may like something totally different—karate or music.
Reality is, though, that your children are and always will be at different developmental levels. Encourage both children to develop their individual, varying interests and express appreciation for the things they are both good at and enjoy.