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Having “the talk” with our son.

October 21, 2013

The other day, my 7-year-old informed my husband and I that he knew what sex meant. As a mental health counselor at Teen Xpress, I talk to young people every day about sex. However, when my own son told me that he knew what “IT” was, I just about fell to the floor! We stayed calm and tried not to look worked up. My husband casually asked, “So, what is it?” My son got a little shy and said, “I can’t really remember, but it’s something a man and woman do.”

Can’t really remember? Yeah, right! If he knew it was “something a man and woman do,” then I figured he knew a whole lot more than he’s letting on. Unfortunately for us, his lips were sealed and all we really got out of him was that he found out about it at school. Well, I know that our public school system is not providing sex education to first graders, so this had to be the result of “playground talk.”

As a family, we decided (and made it sound like an ever-so-not-a-big-deal) that we needed to talk more about it. However, we just couldn’t do it that night because it was bedtime. We promised we would talk more in the days to come, and our son seemed satisfied with that. The real reason we couldn’t do it that night? My husband and I were freaking out! After we put our son to bed, we met in the kitchen for a panicky, whispered discussion on what we were going to do. Then, just like with everything in life nowadays, we proceeded to do an Internet search on how to teach your kids about sex.

Seven seemed young to me to have “the talk,” but to be honest, my son had already been asking for a year about where babies came from. We didn’t dismiss his question or make him feel bad about asking, but we did put it off, telling him at the time, “We’ll talk about it when you’re older.” Now, I wish we hadn’t done that. What we did do, was set him up to get his information from some kids at school (who said who knows what) instead of us, his loving, well meaning, informed parents.

What’s worse is that we didn’t put it off because he couldn’t handle it. It was my husband and I that couldn’t handle it. Two therapists, with a combined total of almost twenty years of working with children, and we couldn’t handle answering where babies come from. Sheesh.

However, there was no time to wallow in self-pity. My husband and I needed a game plan, and fast!  After doing some research, we found that a lot of our instincts had been taking us in the right direction, we just shouldn’t have waited as long as we did. Despite my nervousness, we all sat down and started talking. Here’s what we did:

  • Keep calm. I reminded myself that in some Scandinavian countries, like Norway, talking about sex as a family is very normal and there is an emphasis on open communication and acceptance.  Safety and responsibility are discussed. Kids and teens frequently approach their parents with questions. I reminded myself that I wanted my son to feel comfortable to talk with us. And if this is what I wanted, then I have to put in the work to make it happen.
  • Stick to the basics. My son didn’t need to know too much yet. Really, all he wanted to know was how does a baby get into the tummy. So, we started with a basic anatomy lesson, and explained the basic body parts of males and females.  From there, we gave him a very simple lesson on conception and cleared up some confusion regarding how a baby is born.
  • Don’t overdo it. We didn’t cover menstruation or sexually transmitted diseases. We didn’t get into date rape. We didn’t feel that at age seven we needed to explain everything, especially stuff that would just cause confusion or anxiety. We did, however, let him know that we would be talking more in the years to come, with new information as needed.
  • Respect! We did cover respect. Respect for oneself, for partners, and for others and their partners. We talked about acceptance and the importance of not judging, bullying, or making fun of others because of their sexuality.
  • Safety first. As counselors, both my husband and I have worked with kids that have been sexually abused.  We had already had conversations with our son about abuse. Even still, we reiterated our safety guidelines and that his “private parts” are indeed private. No one is to touch or have anything to do his body, and he is to act the same way towards others. We also reminded him to avoid situations where he was alone with people (kids and adults) that were not trustworthy, and that no matter what, he is expected to always TELL US if anything ever happened to him. This will keep him and others safe, no matter what an abuser might say to him.
All in all, it actually wasn’t so bad. In fact, I really regret not taking the time when he first asked to discuss these things. Our son had a few questions, there were some embarrassing moments (for the adults - our son seemed fine!), but we kept assuring him that these are normal things to wonder about and we were so glad he felt like he could talk to us about it.

Looking forward, I feel a mix of relief and uncertainty. I’m glad we talked, and I am happy knowing that the basics of sex have been demystified and he has learned some accurate information. I wonder if he now knows more than his peers, or if they will continue to share bits of information that will only add to the curiosity. Time will tell. I know that we’ll do our part to keep the lines of communication open, and hopefully, we will be lucky enough to have our son do the same!

Have you had “the talk” yet? How did it go?!