Talking with the little ones when they come up with the dreaded query as to where babies come from can be a tricky rite of passage for both parents and kids. This discussion is far more complex than merely sharing the mechanics of the physical act because how you speak with your child about relationships has the potential to influence a significant element of your child's personality.
A recent study discovered that “Where do babies come from?” is the question that the parents of two to six-year-olds dread the most. Admittedly, this study was carried out by me and consisted of my asking everyone I know with kids in that age group in addition to crowdsourcing on my social media channels. I always knew all of that work on statistical analysis as part of Master's Degree would come in useful one day.
Many parents report feeling overwhelmed by what they think is an immense pressure to “get it right.” Conflicting personal, religious, scientific and social perspectives frequently add to a parents confusion over how much to share, how to share it, and when is a suitable time to introduce specific information.
Knowing that everyone is in the same boat does not automatically help you out though, so what are you supposed to say and do when THAT question raises its head?
20 Have Your Game Face Ready
When you are a child, nothing says “You have found a subject that is taboo” like mom being flustered and embarrassed, fobbing you off or telling you not to speak about something you ask or say. For this reason, think ahead about what you are going to do when your little one first asks about babies.
In an ideal world, you will have already been reasonably open about the human body and the physical differences between boys and girls. Although if you are an all girl or all male household, you may not have had the opportunity to do so.
Either way, be ready to respond in a casual and relaxed style like it is no big deal.
19 Avoid Mañana
Avoid fobbing your child off with a vague comment like “we’ll talk about that later” or “ask me tomorrow.” This will give them the impression it is a subject to be embarrassed about or one that is to be avoided.
Admittedly, kids have a knack for asking awkward questions at inopportune moments. The chances are that if your little one has even the slightest hint that a particular discussion might be embarrassing for mom, you can almost guarantee they will save their questions for the most uncomfortable situation possible.
If you’re hit by a curve ball like “Why don’t I have hair down there, but daddy does?” while you’re waiting at a checkout, then an answer like “I’ll tell you all about that when we get home” is perfectly acceptable.
18 Honesty Is The Best Policy
When they ask “Where did I come from?” it might seem like a good idea to tell your youngster something along the lines of “the stork brought you,” “we picked you out of the baby garden,” or something similar but this is problematic.
At some point in the future, you are going to have to tell them the truth. Fair enough, you might feel some discomfort tackling the subject, but you’re son or daughter is going to need to know eventually so it’s best to do it now, when you can drip feed information, as they need it, in an age-appropriate way.
17 Don’t Give Too Much Information
Human reproduction is a vast and complicated subject, one that, I suspect, many of us never even begin to truly understand. So, don’t make the mistake of trying to share everything at once.
If your little one was to ask you “How does the car work?” you might say something like “We put gas in the tank (or plug it in). This gives the engine energy, and then the engine can turn the wheels, and make the car move.” You do not immediately jump into the details of how spark plugs ignite the fuel and how the expanding gases push the pistons, and so on.
The same principle applies to talking about the intimacy topic. You can say, “A seed from daddy, and a seed from mommy mixed together in mommy's tummy and grew into a baby.” Details that rival the Kama Sutra are not required.
16 What’s Their Question?
When you have taken the time to be prepared for the talk, it can be easy to think your child is asking one thing, when perhaps they are asking you another. Be sure to listen carefully, and take a moment to understand what your child is actually asking you.
This might seem obvious but, for example, “Where do babies come from?” is a subtly different question to “How are babies made?” and as such, requires a slightly different answer. By answering the right question, you can limit the chances of your child becoming confused.
15 Answer With A Question
As adults, we tend to forget what sneaky little buggers we were as kids. It’s not a conscious thing, but it is not unusual for a child to have a small nugget of information, then question their parent to see if the answer they get from mom matches with the knowledge they already have.
Asking your child what they already know, or what they think they know is useful for two reasons. First, if they have been misinformed, you can address the false information, explain why it is wrong and provide them with accurate facts.
Secondly, you can avoid giving your child less info than they already have and leaving them with the impression you withhold info from them.
14 Confirm What They Hear
The world would be a very different place and everyone's lives would be a lot easier if we always understood each other clearly. Taking a thought from your head, translating it into words, speaking those words, and having the other person hear them. Then having those words travel to the other person's brain and, finally having their brain process everything and understand it is a process fraught with potential mistake and misunderstandings.
When you have spoken to your child, make sure everything has been communicated clearly and ask them to let you know what they have learned.
13 Take Your Time
After the initial ask, be prepared for follow-up questions. It might be that your toddler says “where do babies come from?” and you, being the prepared rock star you are, casually ask “where do you think they come from?” Kiddo says “The stork,” and you respond “No, that is just a fun story. Babies come from mommies tummies.”
In some scenarios your toddler will shrug and say,“Oh ok, can I have some grapes now please?” in others they will ask, “How do they get in there?” or “Why do people say it’s the stork?” or any other random, yet connected question that pops into their head.
For this reason, take your time when discussing and give time and space for follow-up questions before moving on.
12 Reading Faces
Some kids are chatterboxes out of whose mouths flows a never-ending waterfall of questions. I can always be sure our youngest daughter has everything she needs to know because she won’t stop talking and asking more questions until her curiosity is satisfied.
Other children are thinkers and brooders and don’t immediately ask follow-up questions. Our middle son is like this. He will ask a question, you answer, and he will go away and have a good think. Sometimes this is good, but on some occasions, it can lead to a child trying to puzzle something out on their own, when really they need help.
Observe your child when you have spoken and ask if they have more they need to know.
11 Stay Available
It used to be that a parent would have “THE TALK” with a child and that was it, subject closed. Today, hopefully, we are speaking with our children more casually and openly, throughout their childhood. Make sure your child knows you are available to speak with them at any time as they are growing. By doing so, you can gradually introduce more information with more detail, and more complexity as they get older.
This open, available approach will be invaluable when they hit the teen years and have the much more difficult questions and worries about emotions and relationships to deal with.
10 Avoid The Slang
It is easy to think that by using cutesie words when having the talk as if it will somehow be more comfortable or less embarrassing. Some parents make this mistake because they themselves are uncomfortable using words the appropriate words around their young children. Others do not want to have their children being comfortable with those words for fear their three-year-old will suddenly start talking about their private parts in an inappropriate setting, and other people will think it is odd.
If somebody thinks your child knowing a simple word for a human body part is inappropriate, the issue is with that person, not with you or your child.
9 Language Is Crucial
When children get together, they share what they know. Getting together in the schoolyard and comparing notes is a normal part of growing up and this is another reason why you should always use clear, consistent, unambiguous language.
If your young lady is told they have a hoo-hoo and then they hear other girls talking about the real term, your daughter can become confused, even worried she is different in some way, and the same goes for boys. This confusion can fester and bloom into a huge worry, especially if your child one who would not come straight to you and ask about it.
8 Teaching Respect Towards Peers
A final note on language. Although it is important to always use the correct terms when you are talking about bodies and how they work, there is still some value in sharing the other words your child might hear.
Knowing that some families are not as relaxed and open as your family is an important side lesson for your kiddos. Teach them to be aware that some people are more comfortable using different words and that if they encounter a child who uses the phrase pee-pee to not to be judgmental or scornful. Teaching respect for other people's thoughts, attitudes and perspectives towards this topic are important for developing healthy relationships in the future.
7 It’s Not A Business Meeting
If you and your kiddo are comfortable sitting face-to-face across the dining room table while you impart information, referring, from time-to-time to your checklist of “must-tell” information, then go with that set-up. Whatever works for the two of you.
However, if you feel a little awkward, or if the question is sprung during another activity then there is nothing wrong with talking over another activity. This is especially true as kids get older and they want to ask things but making eye contact with your mom while sharing the news there was a strange wet patch on your sheets this morning could be too much. As long as your attention is not divided, doing something like weeding the garden, or folding laundry can be a useful buffer for you both.
6 Check It Out
Personally, I have always found a good, age-appropriate book is a fantastic way of teaching your child about bodies and their functions. They have all of the information you need, ensuring you don’t forget critical facts, and, if your child is more of a visual learner, illustrations that help your explanations.
Trying to explain to a little girl that there are two holes down there, one for peeing and one for babies is much easier if you have a picture to show her, trust me. Been there, done that. You don’t have to go out and buy loads of books your local library should have a selection from which to choose.
5 Don’t Forget The Other Team
It is easy to forget to tell your child about the equipment and functions of the opposite gender. This is especially true if you are in an all-female or all-male household and do not encounter differences on a daily basis at home.
It is just as important for your daughter to know what boys have, how the parts work, about wet dreams and all of the other “boy stuff” as it is for her to know about her own body. Likewise, all boys should know about what girls have, periods and all of the other “female stuff” we often only impart to girls.
4 Just The Facts Ma'am
The physical act of being intimate and our emotional responses to it are inevitably intertwined. Having said that, when your child is first asking questions about girls bodies, boys bodies, and how babies are made, it is not the time to connect emotions to the mechanics.
Something like, “When a mommy and daddy love each other very much they do X and make a baby” feels like an innocuous statement, and it probably reflects the ideals you adhere to and that you wish for your child to follow. However, it can result in unintended confusion for your child when they discover the physical act and love are not always linked.
3 Look For An 'In'
While most kiddies are curious about the ins and outs of the horizontal in and out, few never have it cross their radar. If your child has never asked and they are approaching school age, it is important to share some information with them before they get to the land of formal learning and either feel left out, embarrassed, stupid, confused, or scared when another child takes it upon themselves to explain the circle of life.
If you are not sure how to bring the subject up lookout for a TV show, a Youtube video or a book with a pregnant woman in it, casually ask if they know how the baby got there and take it from there.
2 Sidestep The Shame
Being the extraordinary and yet hideously complex creatures we are, human beings tend to deviate from the logical path and fill the blanks in our experiences with all manner of weird and wonderful things. This can lead to the most remarkable thought processes which are sometimes positive and sometimes less so.
For example, imagine your child walks into the room and they are, as is entirely normal, touching themselves. Tell them off sternly, and they will extrapolate all manner of negative and shameful associations with their genitals because mom was angry, so it must be something wrong.
Instead, tell them you understand it feels nice, but it’s something to do in private, and they’ll think little of it.
1 Define What’s Appropriate
When you talk to your little one, ensure you make it clear that intimacy is something that only grown-ups do. Take the time to explain that just because an adult says you should do or have to do something it doesn’t always mean it is right. Make it clear that if someone wants your child to do something that makes them uncomfortable, it is Ok to say no and then come and tell mom and that the same thing applies if somebody asks them to look at or touch any body parts and keep it a secret. Let them know they will never get into trouble for coming to you and telling you such a thing.
Equip your child with knowledge and confidence, and you’re setting them up for positive experiences in the future.
References: Facebook, and This One Mom's Experience.