What to say when your child asks about the birds and the bees?
Question: You said that parents are the primary sexuality educators for their children, and I agree. But I need to know what to say when my little child asks me questions about the "birds and the bees?" Signed: Shy and Nervous Parent.
Answer: Here is something you can do when your child asks about the "birds and the bees." Show him or her the birds and the bees. Yes, let her see the birds, dogs, and cats mating; taking care and nursing their young ones. These are wonderful first lessons on sexuality. Parents need not wait until their children ask the question. In reality, many children never ask them. When our children were young, we didnít wait until they asked whether they should look both ways before crossing the street, or whether they could touch a hot stove. This is essential knowledge the should have. The job of adults, especially parents, is to teach their children how to get along in the world. Learning about sexuality is part of it.
One day, when our children were only two and four years old, I looked outside our living room window and saw two energetic Bahamian pot cake dogs mating. I immediately called the children to the window so they could have one of their first lessons on sexuality. This was a good opportunity to help them understand what mother and father did to "create" them. I thought this would help my daughter to understand better what I told her two years earlier when her brother was born. When she asked me how did my brother get into mommyís belly? I told her that "daddy has a penis and mommy has a vagina. Daddy put some little things called sperms into mommyís vagina to join with an egg she produced. This is how you and your brother got started." Now two years later, on this bright Bahamian day, they were watching animals "do it." They also observed our reaction and realized that sex is a healthy, normal behavior between two loving people.
It is important to talk about the joy of sexuality with your child. "This might include telling her that sexuality is natural and healthy, that loving relationships and intimacy are wonderful part of life" (SIECUS, 1997). Watching animals "go at it" can add some spice when telling the story about the birds and the bees.
Parents, it is important to respond positively to your childís questions. Always be an "askable parent." (SIECUS, 1997). "It is never a good idea to tell children that they need to wait until they are older before you will answer their questions. Reward the question with, "I am glad you came to me with that question" even before you start to respond to what was asked." (Ibid) It will encourage them to come back in the future when they have more questions.
Bahamian parents make several mistakes when their inquisitive children pop the question, or when they find out their children are doing something they are uncomfortable with. 1) Some parents still tell their children that a "stalk" brought them in the house, or they came in the doctorís black bag. This is dishonest and an unhealthy way of educating children about sexuality. If parents do not know where they came from (what a surprise!) then they need to find out themselves. They need to purchase books, attend classes, or watch some good documentary on the subject. Parents must not create an aurora of suspicion or mystery about sex. 2) Many parents make do not use the proper terms for the genitals and sexual functions. From birth, the words penis and vagina should be used freely. This will develop a healthy approach and comfortable feeling in the children about themselves and the words they use. Remember, sex is not a bad word. People are bad. 3) Many parents are shocked and do not know what to do when they see their sons, and sometime daughters playing with their genitals. Parents must realize that as children get older, they will begin to physically explore not only their surroundings but their bodies as well. This includes the genitals and the discovery of the sensations they get when playing with them. Parentsí attitudes at this time is crucial in helping the child to form positive ideas about his or her sexuality.
This brings me to the topic of masturbation. What should a parent say when they find out that their sons or daughters are masturbating. The response the parent gives (verbal or non-verbal) relays a message to the child. The parent must decide on a response that gets their message across and teaches what their child should learn. Here are some messages children receive from their verbal and nonverbal responses to their childís sexual behavior: 1. "Stop that this minute!? That is disgusting." Message: Touching the sex organs is bad and is shameful or harmful. 2) "Honey, wouldnít you rather go outside and play ball?" Message: Masturbation is not good for children. Avoid it. Doing other things will keep you from developing sexual feelings prematurely. Distract yourself. (This is one message you want your child to take through life). 3) "It is normal to have desire to masturbate." Message: Touching yourself for sexual pleasure is fine. 4) "Please donít do that, our church thinks thatís wrong." Message: Religious values can play a key role in sexual decision-making. Follow the teaching of your religion. 5) Leave and say nothing. Message: Children donít learn anything. Even if you donít respond verbally, you may have conveyed a message (SIECUS, 1997). Make sure the message you give is what you really want your children to know about the subject.
Here are more topics on sexuality for parent-child discussion: abstinence, affection, celibacy, cuddling, family, fidelity, friendship, jealousy, love, marriage, nudity, menstruation, oral sex, kissing, pregnancy and childbirth, puberty, rape, reproduction, respect, abortion, sexually-transmitted diseases, sexual intercourse, sexual behaviors, vulnerability, values, touch.
Parents must seek to educate themselves on sexuality and how to talk with their children. Here are a few books I am recommending: 1. Baby Brendonís Busy Day: A Sexuality Primer, by Donna A. Jennings, PhD. A brightly illustrated book for on of the earliest sexuality talks parents will have with their children. Write to Henry Holt & Co., 115 West 18th Street, New York, NY 10011. 2. When Sex is the Subject: Attitudes and Answers for Young Children by Pamela M. Wilson, PhD. Guidelines to help parents respond accurately and comfortably are offered. Write to Network Publications, P.O. Box 1830, Santa Cruz, CA 95061-1830. 3. Getting Your Kids to Say "No" in the 90's When You Said "Yes" in the "60's by Victor Strasburger. The parenting challenges particular to the 90's are discussed, along with strategies to meet them. Write to Fireside Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10021. In addition, visit the local book stores, they are loaded with self-help books for parent and child.
May you enjoy your journey into the world of sexual knowledge in educating yourself and your child.