How to Talk about Sexuality with your Child

Every parent needs to have the talk about sexuality with their kid - Parenting by ZenParent

Indian parents shy away from discussing sexuality and puberty with their children. Our traditional values make us squeamish to discuss what children will confront in their lives from other reliable/ unreliable sources. Lack of correct information and ignorance may lead to errant behavior as a result of misconceptions. Sexuality is defined by Enfold Health Trust, Bangalore, as “how people experience and express themselves as sexual beings –how they experience and express their desires, sexual orientation and gender identity personally socially and culturally”.  Awareness begins in the preteens and must be channeled appropriately.

There is no doubt that this topic has to be addressed by parents in a world that is flooded with (mis)information on sex thanks to easy internet access. What you might wonder about it is how, when and where to start and of course, who should initiate the conversation.

WHEN? This is quite straightforward. Answer questions that the child brings up in a factual age appropriate manner. If the questions have not come up then the logical time to start is when you start noticing changes in your little one. Under normal circumstances, it might be around the age nine. Due to medical advancement and better pre and post natal care, children are attaining puberty quicker.  While urban girls generally get their periods around the ages of 11-13, instances of this happening at the ages of 9 and 10 are on the increase. Since one cannot be sure when such changes will happen, the child should be prepared. Children need to understand why these changes occur and that they are part of the normal process of growing, otherwise they could be traumatized.

To make this process comfortable to both parents and children alike, the foundation must be laid in childhood when the child starts to learn body parts. Most parents are very proud when children point out their eyes, ears, nose etc. and display this little genius when friends or relatives visit. But the moment they mention the “unmentionable” , parents turn red with embarrassment and hush the child up.  In a way we are sending out signals that these parts are different. Are they? They are just another body part with a function and its best to treat them as such. Names must be mentioned and children can be advised that we do not talk of these parts in front of others (since our society prohibits it) During very early childhood one can use simpler terms as is language appropriate for such body parts.

HOW? The million dollar question! Most Indian adults as are not comfortable with the process of explaining physical and emotional changes to their children and why they happen, the human procreation process, plausibly because they did not go through this education themselves. Some vague discussion of “sex education” did happen in a few schools with the earlier generation. However more and more schools are recognizing the need of what is euphemistically termed “gender sensitization”. Nevertheless the first person who should introduce the topic is the parent. Coming from their main care giver, the information is not as scary. You may get a reaction like “I don’t want to know. It freaks me out!” (mostly with girls). The discussion should be stopped there with the assurance that “this is a normal process and you may ask me questions anytime.”

WHO? There are many books that introduce the topic in a non-threatening way. A good example is “Just for Girls” by Sarah Delmege.  There is a “Just for Boys” too. These books are illustrated and are excellent for starting the conversation. Several other books and videos which are age appropriate are available too.  School counselors are other options. However parental involvement must be there in the form of discussions to answer questions or even just to assess understanding of the pre-teen. This responsibility cannot be delegated. Sometimes children will come home with queries like “When will I develop a moustache?’ Or how tall will I grow? Girls might get to know of a classmate who got “it” or “A has a crush on B”. Rather than brushing them off, we can ask the child what they want to know and shape the conversation accordingly.

WHERE? Just as there is not “appointed ‘time there is no specific place. As a parent you will observe changes in your little one and realize that puberty is around the corner. Watch out for an opening and seize the opportunity – in the bathroom, while watching television, during a bedtime chat, or the even on a stroll. What is important is that the topic slips very naturally into the conversation and the child looks at it as knowledge rather than impending doom.