The Birds and the Bees: Having the talk

Where do babies come from?

A question sure to strike fear into even the most liberal parent. The fact is, at some point all parents will need to have this conversation at some time or another. By the time sex education classes are delivered in school, it may be too late to ensure that your child has the facts. Children are children and while we want to be see them all as darling little bubbles of innocence, the fact is that they are far wiser to the world around them than we’d like to believe. Children with older siblings or more exposure to the facts of life have no filter when sharing their knowledge with their peers. If you’re keen to ensure that your child has the facts, then it is your responsibility as a parent to ensure that they have an accurate understanding of the facts rather than a media fuelled distortion of reality, your time is now.

The time is right

For many parents, ‘the talk’ is something they agonise over, procrastinating and distracting themselves with anything and everything other than that dreaded conversation. You will need to decide realistically, at what age you feel your child will be ready to absorb the information. There are a number of factors to consider. Is your child the eldest with younger siblings, will he or she be likely to share his or her new pearls of wisdom with others and what impact will that have?

Perhaps your child is being told snippets of information on the school playground, you’ll see the signs and they will no doubt be swirling around you with questions that will make you want to run a mile. This is probably the time to address the facts. Once your child starts asking questions, mentioning things they’ve heard or asking about how they got inside your tummy – usually, parents are quite content in their little world where their child was quite satisfied if not amused by the tale of coming from Mummy’s tummy. The glaring reality is that enquiring minds will start to speculate, but how on earth did they get into your tummy in the first place?

You may want to discuss the situation with close friends who have children of a similar age, your own siblings who may have already experienced this situation or may be keen to discuss your ideas ahead of tackling the very same issue themselves in the near future. Your child’s teacher can be a very good source of information, they often see the children and hear their chatter in a way that parents very seldom see. The important thing is to come up with an approach to addressing the topic, in a calm, relaxed and matter-of-fact way. Your child is quite likely to want to tell his or her friends about this new information that has been gingerly passed on to them. Consider how other parents may view your talk, ensuring that the language is age appropriate and not too descriptive!

The reality

It is no secret that the number of teenage pregnancies is still an issue along with sexually transmitted diseases. Particularly in the under 16’s. Sound, factual sex education is therefore a key element in prevention and health promotion. The age old debate rages on, should it be the parents who deliver ‘the talk’ or the school? From an educational stand point, the biology of sex is a key part of the education children will receive but if you are not yet ready or you don’t feel your child is ready to be given the truth about sex by someone other than you, then it is crucial that you make the decision and have a plan in place to address the topic as soon as possible. Once the school has delivered its programme, there is no going back. Your child is informed and they will be discussing this information with their classmates, joking and considering the reality of their discoveries.

Building clear lines of communication with your child will mean that they feel more comfortable talking to you about a range of issues as they grow up. Shying away from or altering the truth to suit your own fears will only come back to haunt you later on. It is quite possible to deliver the facts with enough detail to leave your child informed but not shocked! Many believe that in the first instance, it is the responsibility of the parents rather than the school, particularly if there is a certain amount of information or associated conversations that you would like to discuss. The biggest mistake a parent can make in discussing the ‘birds and the bees’ is to make their child believe that the facts of life are something to be ashamed of and embarrassed about. Doing so can have lifelong implications for a child.

Getting the basics right

There have been discussions at government level about introducing sex education at all key stages, including key stage one. The idea will not be to bombard children with the mechanics of reproduction but rather to provide a basic outline around where babies come from, laying the foundations for more detailed discussions in the years to come. Some parents are relieved at the thought of someone else working towards making the conversation easier while others are concerned that the information may illicit premature questions around babies and sex.

Some feel that the early introduction of sex education may be robbing children of their youth, giving them too much information that is too far out of their comprehension. Others feel that this is the best way to prevent early teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. They believe that by making the conversation easy from a young age, children will be less secretive and more practical in their approach to issues relating to relationships, sex and the associated dangers.

Your child, your call

When it comes down to it, you are the parent and you should have the final say in when your child is given ‘the talk’ and what information is included. You are the best judge when it comes to knowing your child, what they are ready to understand and how they will handle the information. At school, there is a very standard approach. The children are all given the same information and their questions are open to the subjective views of the person providing the answers. Some parents are horrified when their six year old comes home from school talking about things they would rather never have heard at all, while others are quite happy letting their twelve year old carry on unaware of what his or her body will soon start to experience. The conversation is not just about where babies come from. All children develop at their own rate and it is important that as parents, you are prepared to provide information and answer questions relating to the changes your child’s body will experience over the years.

The other consideration worth keeping in mind is your own family or cultural values. These differ widely across the world and within our local communities. You should be sensitive to what your child needs to know versus the traditions that you follow in your daily lives as a family. There is some concern around the published leaflets and information handed out to children via the sex educators, some seem only to promote sex as a leisure pursuit rather than an act that for some, is only part of daily life once you are married or living within a monogamous relationship.

All of these factors should be considered when thinking about how you will discuss the topic. These discussions should also factor in the changing world we live in. It would be irresponsible to suggest to a young child that sex is fun and exciting and they’re free to take part in it when they’re older, without explaining the risks involved and why it can cause more heartache than it’s worth in some situations. These conversations will need to be age appropriate and in many cases, ongoing discussions should take place as your child grows mentally, emotionally and physically.

Your six year old may not need to know anything about sexually transmitted diseases, changes in the body or more detailed information on the mechanics of sex but you may want to start to discuss relationships and where babies come from in the most basic form.

The talk – a checklist before you start

✔ Is your child ready to digest the information?

✔ Do you believe it is necessary to have the talk sooner rather than later?

✔ Have you discussed your plans with your partner or other influential figures in your child’s life, for their pointers?

✔ Have you decided on an age appropriate level of information?

✔ Have you considered some of the questions your child may ask and what you will say in response?

✔ You may want to look on the internet for some fun, non-offensive pictures or cartoons to help you describe your information

✔ There are some great online resources to help you make the difficult choices, social media sites that steam video can offer some fantastic inspiration!

✔ Will you include information about relationships as the building blocks of health sexual relationships, even as a starting point that you can build on as your child gets older?

✔ Will you consider asking your child what they already know about sex as a way of gauging how you will approach the subject and how much information you will provide?

✔ Do you have other, younger or older children who may be effected by the information you provide?

✔ Have you considered asking your child’s teacher for advice on what children already know, if school has already had some input?

✔ Have you devised a simple, factual account for discussion?

✔ Have you considered how you will encourage your child to talk openly to you about such issues, now and in the future?

✔ Have you considered the language you will use when discussing the issue of ‘the birds and the bees’ and will this be appropriate language for your child to use when they’re with their friends who may then in turn, pass that back to their own parents?

✔ Have you decided on the approach you’ll take to ensure that your children do not view sex as a sinister deed but rather a part of life that can be enjoyed with the right person at the right time in their lives. This will help to encourage open discussions with your child in the future.

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