Caring for Kids…at Billings Clinic

The talk, yes that talk

One of the most uncomfortable conversations we’ll have with our kids is the old “Birds and the Bees” talk.  Most parents are usually caught off guard by an inquisitive preschooler asking, “Where do babies come from?” The response involves a nervous, flushed parent carefully choosing words that include, “when two people love each other….” Most parents are passive about this important discussion. They wait for their children to show signs of interest or curiosity, thinking that they’re too young to really talk about it.  Many times the golden time to discuss it passes by and you are confronted with a tween rolling their eyes saying, “Yeah, I know this stuff already.” Unfortunately by this point, they probably got their knowledge from friends, social media, or episodes of the Kardashians.

So, in our digital information culture that moves at a lightening pace, when do you have “The Talk” with your kids?  How can you protect their innocence and at the same time allow for a healthy discovery of their sexuality?  I would argue this is the most proactive conversation you should have with your kids. It should start as soon as they build an awareness of gender.  Before the age of 4, most kids lack the developmental and social awareness to distinguish between the sexes. Trying to explain anything will lead to confusion.  This is a good time to use the proper terminology for their private parts, however, and try to avoid cutesy descriptors that you’ll have to unravel later.

There are two conversations that you should be having simultaneously as you talk about sex with your kids. The first is the factual “anatomy and physiology” discussion.  Obviously we all don’t have degrees in biology, and our kids don’t need us to go into great scientific detail.  But a general understanding of how it all works is important to share. Start with the proper scientific terminology for all the parts, followed by age-appropriate descriptions of how they respond during arousal.

The other conversation involves the emotional and moral implications of intimacy.  Sexual intimacy is the most private and physically vulnerable act you can share with another person.  Unfortunately our culture, like with many things, has desensitized us to the emotional gravity of this experience.  It’s been degraded to a purely physical act in some platforms. Not linking the physical to the emotional and spiritual aspects will be a huge disservice to your children’s perspective of sex. Start with age-appropriate explanations for love, intimacy, relational safety, morality, and modesty.  Remember to emphasize that sex is meant to be enjoyable, which can only truly happen in a safe, loving, respectful relationship between two consenting and mature people. Experiences outside of that are usually fraught with guilt, shame, and many other emotional consequences.  Make sure you are investing in their self-image so they value their body and soul enough to protect it from sexual perversion and precocious behaviors.

There is no specific step-by-step guide to starting and continuing these discussions with your kids. The way you approach it will depend on your child’s temperament, personality, and your relationship with them. My advice is to start young (younger than you think), keep it age-appropriate, don’t make it weird, and always season it with lots of perspective about healthy parameters for sexual expression based on your family’s moral and spiritual compass (without making them fearful or ashamed). Don’t let their sexual education be solely from the public school system, internet, and peers. This is an important parental responsibility! Good luck!

Michelle Pierson, MD

Hi! My name is Michelle Pierson and I am a wife, mom, and general pediatrician at the Billings Clinic. I am excited about this blog and the opportunity to reach out to parents in my hometown of Billings. Growing up here and raising my own kiddos in this community gives me some perspective on how we can take care of our children's health with the resources we have in the region. I get great joy from my family and job, and a good piece of chocolate cake! A good book and "cuddle time" with my kids on the couch rank up there pretty high too.

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