“Mummy, where do babies come from?”
It’s the question, invariably sprung in the middle of a crowded café or the queue at the supermarket checkout, which gets every parent cringing.
You know the old chestnut about the stork won’t cut it – but how do you explain the birds and the bees to young children in an appropriate way?
The dilemma is central to this year’s Sexual Health Week, which runs from September 12-18.
Spearheaded by the Family Planning Association (FPA), it aims to raise awareness of the importance of having “the talk” with kids of all ages.
According to an FPA survey, as many as 44 per cent of parents said they had given very little or no information to their children about sex and relationships.
FPA parenting manager David Kesterton says: “Talking to your children about sex and relationships can be a challenge [but] we know parents find that once they can discuss sex and relationships confidently, communication within the family about other difficult subjects becomes much easier.”
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Indeed, experts say it is best not to stave off discussing the facts of life until teendom but to address those tricky questions as soon as they arise. That way, ‘the talk’ becomes not a one-off big deal but an ongoing conversation throughout childhood.
And the questions can begin as young as three or four, when children begin noticing basic differences between boys and girls. Meanwhile, puberty can start as early as eight for girls and boys may have wet dreams or erections when they are very young, so it is important that children are prepared.
Instead of becoming panic-stricken and answering blunt questions with a ‘You don’t need to know’, simple, short and truthful is the best policy.
The FPA advises using the correct names for body parts, and teaching children that it’s normal to explore their own bodies - but inappropriate in public.
As for the old classic, “Where do babies come from?” a good answer for a toddler might be: “A man and a woman have a special cuddle and then the baby grows inside the woman’s tummy safe and warm, until the baby is born.”
Kesterton adds: “There are ways you can make it easier to talk to your child, such as using TV storylines to spark conversations, or useful books and websites. This can help your child feel that talking about sex and relationships is a normal part of family life.”
Other tips include:
- Talk when you’re doing something else, like washing up. It helps to make the subject normal and not uncomfortable
- Use humour to show your child you can talk and laugh about sex and relationships
- Don’t panic in public – if your child asks the question at a difficult time, say: ‘That’s a good question, let’s talk about it when we get home’.
Just make sure you do.
For more information see the FPA’s website at www.fpa.org.uk
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