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Talking to Kids about Sex & Reproduction

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Talking to 4 year old about where babies come from

August 2008

My 4 1/2 year old has been asking questions about where the babies come from more often recently. We have talked about this at some point and discussed the fact that both he and his baby brother lived in my belly for several months; and then, when it was time for them to get out ('be born'), they came out! It was enough for several months. Now he wants to know the details - such as where did they come out from, and how they got there in the first place - all that good stuff! I would appreciate any advice on how to talk to a curious son of mine on the subject. anon


There's a great book out called: ''It's Not the Stork: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends'' by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley. It's for ages 4-8 and explains EVERYTHING about bodies and babies in a way that young kids can understand. Check it out here: http://tinyurl.com/5t4ak2 Andi
I think at that age I told my son, ''Sometimes mommies and daddies like to kiss a lot and sometimes they make a baby. The baby lives in the mommy's tummy until it's ready to come out. Then it comes out of here (pointing).'' That's about it. I started to tell him more at first, but he got bored and walked away. The next time he asked, I made it a lot simpler.

I see no harm in telling him as much as he wants to hear. If he's interested in hearing about penises and vaginas and sperm and eggs, I see no harm in it. If he were growing up on a farm he might already know. Good Luck!


Some of our favorite books in my house are:
1) Where Do Babies Come From? by Margaret Sheffield
2) Baby on the Way by William Sears, Martha Sears & Christie
Watts
3) Welcome With Love by Jenni Overend
4) How You Were Born by Joanna Cole
These vary from natural homebirth's, birth center, to hospital surgical births! They are mostly illustrated (drawn pictures) and are informative but not visually disturbing. #4 is mostly photos, but is very sweet. It's dated (70s) but is great. Hope this helps! Community Midwife
Our friend gave us a great book called ''Its Not the Stork'' by Robie Harris which our 3-going-on-4 year old LOVES. We lent it to friends (2 Dads) and their 5 & 6-yr old adopted kids love it too. Overall it's great on many levels but could be better at addressing the gender binary stuff. michelle
Honesty is the best policy I think. My son asked ''the question'' when he was 3. I didn't do the whole sperm/egg thing, since I can remember as a child thinking that was just weird and animal- like.

So, I told him what penises and vagina's do, how the baby ''gets in there'' and the whole bit -- of course, I only answered his questions.

Now that he will be 5 next month, he has upped the ante, asking particulars and I just answer. I think the key is to just give them enough info and not overwhelm them with info.

He really wants a brother or sister and just tonight asked if Daddy and I could ''get working on that will ya!'' Ah, kids. :)
just the facts ma'am


How to explain to 4-5 year olds where babies come from

Feb 2008

I have 2 boys, ages 4 & 5, and am pregnant with #3. If all goes well, we'll tell them in a few weeks that they will have a sibling. My question is, what do I tell them about where the baby came from. They have already asked questions about babies -- how they get out of their mom's belly etc. I am not sure what to say, i don't think they are ready for a conversation on sex, but don't want to be too vague either. Any advice on what to say? anon


Hi, In my opinion, 4 & 5 are great ages to learn where babies come from. This doesn't have to have any shameful/embarassing overlay on it - the kids don't have any, and it's a good time to start modeling open and easy communication about sex with your kids. Don't signal to them that it's something you don't want to discuss with them! I know it's hard to get started, but there are some great books out there. Joanna Cole's ''How You Were Born'' was practically a daily book for us for quite some time - it glosses over the sex part, and covers the development part very nicely. The ''It's So Amazing'' folks have a book for younger kids, called something like ''It's Not the Stork.'' These both cut right to the chase, in a way I appreciate but that might be your second line of information after the Cole book. We also have an out of print book that's great - it has paper-cut-type illustrations of different animals mating and having young - all very mellow but straightforward (''How Babies are Made'' - now pricey on Amazon, I see!). There's a section on Amazon under

Children/science/health called sexuality, and you can find a lot of age-appropriate stuff in there. My main point is that there is help for you out there, and I encourage you to use it to start your family down a path of open communication that you'll really appreciate in ten years' time! After my own repressed Catholic upbringing, I can't tell you the relief I have to be able to discuss these things with my own daughter in an age- appropriate but open way. I always feel like I really am doing her one better than was done for me, and that feels great.
Once a blastocele, now a mom


Tell them the truth which is what I told my 4 year old. The male has a sperm that fertilizes the egg. The egg grows inside the female. If you talk about the sperm as little ''fish'' that have to fight and fight to make it to the egg, it sounds kind of cool and ''sciency'' which it is. Then you can talk about how the egg is a zygote that grows inside mommy's womb into a fetus, and it still sounds kinda cool, but eventually they get bored with the unfamiliar words and want you to stop talking. Honestly I'm glad I didn't have to get into HOW the egg is fertilized, but I'm sure I could have made my answer very dry and boring if I felt the need. There's no reason to turn it in to a big deal. anon
I explained it in very simple terms to my young kids. It helped that my son was (and is) really into science. So I just explained the biology of sex (an egg from the female, a sperm from the male to fertilize it, it grows into a baby in the mother's uterus, etc.). All animals do this in some way or another. I also bought the book ''It's So Amazing!''

http://www.amazon.com/Amazing-About-Sperm-Babies-Families/dp/0763600512

My kids still love to read the book, at 7 and 9.

Just answer the questions as they go. For me, by discussing sex from a scientific/biological perspective, it made it easier for me to talk about. Later on we get to the nitty gritty :-) laurel


Just tell them the truth when they ask.

Asking about where babies come from is no different than asking why the sky is blue. It's a valid question, and deserves an honest answer. Answer it with no fanfare, in the same way you would answer any other question.

They may not be interested in all the gory details, in fact, they'll probably be satisfied with some pretty simple answers at first. The less drama and mystery you put on it, the less it will become taboo, the less intriguing it will be later when they get the urge.

There was a hilarious article in Cookie magazine about ''the talk'' that cited BPN http://www.cookiemag.com/homefront/2007/11/birdsbees

Its how they came to exist, it shouldn't be hidden from them. Sex is normal


I believe you should be completely honest - but honesty does not equal openness. You can say that there is a baby growing in your womb. Girls and women have wombs that are in their belly. It's a warm safe place for the baby to grow. You can then talk about brothers and sisters and names.

If your kids ask how the baby got there I believe you should say that women have eggs and men have sperm. And that one egg with one sperm usually make one baby. If they then ask how the sperm got in there you should say that the sperm comes out of a man's penis. If the questions continue, answer the questions as they come up.

If you don't answer the questions you are sending two messages to your kids: 1. They can't trust you to give them the information they are requesting (they'll find someone who can and will respect their request for information) and/or 2. You don't know the answers to their questions, but are afraid to say so.

Honesty is important. Let your children guide the amount and quality of openness.
Mom who has explained to her son how he is a Sperm Bank Baby


My advice is to answer their questions simply but honestly. The trick is to only answer the actual questions they ask at the level they ask them. Sometimes we elaborate and answer far more complex questions than they ask. If you take each question one step at a time you will not answer more than they are ready to take in.
- Kindergarten teacher and mother of two grownup kids
I love the book ''Mommy Laid an Egg'' by Babette Cole, and my three kids (now ages 5, 9 and 11) did too. I also like the whole series by Robie Harris - I think there is one for 4-7 year olds. I found that just treating sex/reproduction in a matter-of- fact, just like any other animal way demystified the whole thing, and we are just starting to address the emotional part with our 11 year old now. This is a great opportunity! Don't let it freak you out,
Teach 'em young, teach 'em right
I agree with the person who said to just answer the specific question they ask and don't go on about everything. My 7 year old asked me how she could look like Daddy or be like him and I told her a little about genes. When she asked, but how did Daddy's genes get in the egg? I hesitated and didn't know what to say. I told her, ''Well the answer is about sex. How much more do you want to know?'' She said, ''Oh, that's okay. That's enough information.'' I'm so glad I didn't go into detail about the biology and anatomy involved!
--getting good at taking these ''parent pop quizes''

What's the appropriate level of information for a 4.5 year old?

Oct 2007

Hi, Here is my first question: How do teach a 4.5 year old (daughter in my case) about her body, reproduction (how she was conceived) and sexuality? What is the age appropriate level of information? What are some great resources, books or other things that have helped you?

This is a brief history: I happened to explain to my daughter that mommy's seed and daddy's seed combined in mommy's tummy, and she was formed, and after living in my tummy for a while, she was born. This was in response to her question about how she was ''done'' or ''made''. She also asked how the daddy gave his seed to mommy, and I said ''the seeds of daddies come through the tip of their penis''. She said ''okay'' and I did not go any further about how the daddy's penis could have gone into mummy's tummy. In a recent discussion in another (non-American) parents' forum, I have received quite a variety of responses to this level and style of teaching about reproduction. Most felt it was too much and recommended that at this age, ''if mommy and daddy loves each other, then they have a child'' would suffice. What do you think? How do you talk with your 4 or 5 year olds?

My second question: How do you react when you find out that your 4.5 year old daughter and a close friend of hers, a 6 year old boy has exchanged turns in showing their private parts to each other and maybe have touched each others' vagina/penis? My husband overheard a conversation between our daughter and this other friend, and this is what we think might have happened. The boy is a sweet, non-agressive boy, whom we have known almost since he was born (and very close friends with his family), and I am pretty sure that they were very innocent and it was based on mutual curiosity. This one time instance is not a big deal, but I don't want it to happen again, especially with others who might actually be forceful and dangerous for my child, irrespective of their age. How do I teach her about her physical boundaries without making her feel bad about her body or sexuality, and without making her suspect everybody else for trying to harm her.

I am looking for advice, books or other resources for: 1) sexuality and reproductive education for ages 4-8 2) teaching ways to protect her from inappropriate sexual advances/abuse without making her paranoid about any person touching her

Thank you for your advice. Sex Ed Mom


A book I found very useful (and allayed a lot of anxiety about talking about sex with young kids) is ''From Diapers to Dating: A Parent's Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children From Infancy to Middle School'' by Debra Haffner.
Kim
Good for you, not to slink away from tough questions. My now 11 yr old son started asking the same questions when he was 4. I love the book ''Mommy Laid An Egg'' by Babette Cole. I also really like ''It's Not the Stork'' by Robie Harris and Michael Emberly (actually all of their books are good, but that is the most appropriate for a 4 yr old). At 4, I think it is best to answer the questions as simply as possible, not get embarrassed, and wait for them to ask if they need more information. As far as the ''how does the seed get into the tummy'' question - I told him that ''it was a special kind of hug that mommies and daddies did where their bodies fit together like a puzzle''. That seemed to be enough for him at the time.

As for the body exploration - very normal at that age. I would just say ''I overheard you talking about...It's ok to be curious, but it's better to keep our private parts private. Do you want to learn more about your body?'' Maybe a nice segue to the books I mentioned above?
Good luck! Mom of a Curious One too


I haven't bought this book yet (my son is only 3), but it got a good review in in the SF Chronicle and gets good reviews on Amazon.com. It's called It's Not the Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends by Robie Harris for kids ages 4 to 8. http://tinyurl.com/25vc6p Apparently it also talks about OK and not OK touching.

As for playing 'show and tell' with the other boy: I did that when I was six one or two times. It's pretty harmless. We didn't have siblings and I had never seen my father naked so I was curious. I would talk with her about it, but be very careful not to be angry or to embarrass her. What she did is totally normal and common. Anon


Sorry I missed the last posting, but I really wanted to chime in on this one. First of all, I think it is an excellent idea to start talking to your kids about sex early on. It should be an ongoing conversation that your child feels comfortable discussing with you. I used to teach sex ed to 7th graders and I was always horrified to find that these savvy urban kids, who were sexually active already, believed all kinds of illogical things about sex--- many believed their boyfriends were on the pill! Due to this experience I talked to my daughter about sex early on--- just as much detail as I felt she could handle and was age appropriate, such as: Boys and girls have different parts because there bodies do different jobs for a baby, the mom contributes some information and so does the dad, mom's have ovaries and dad's have sperm to carry info, and my favorite--- the baby comes out of the vagina which is why you have to make sure you take good care of it and make sure no one else touches it''. I have to say here, that my daughter (age three at the time) was a bit upset at this realization and verbalized her fear that one day a baby would fall out while she was walking. I assured her that in order to make a baby a mommy and daddy have to share information and do something special in order to create a baby. That made her feel better, but she swore she would not have children!

The entire story finally came out when she was five, due to an experience similar to yours. My friend's son (a wonderful boy--- one year older) and her were curious and did a little peep show. He felt bad later and told his mom. At this point we felt it was necessary to talk to them. She spoke to her son and i spoke to my daughter. I decided to tell her the everything, including how the information is shared (I even showed her pictures from an anatomy book I had). I told her that this is why parents are so concerned about exploration and that this is why private parts should be kept private. I also told her sex is a beautiful thing if you wait until you are mature enough to handle it and the consequences of it. I told her that if people have sex too young or are touched sexually when they are little it can affect them later on and even make it difficult for them to trust people or see sex as a the beautiful thing it is meant to be. For this reason I stressed the importance of protecting her body and respecting other's bodies. I also told her that it was a parent's right to decide when they should tell their kids about sex so she should not discuss any of this with anyone else other that her dad and me. I warned her that many adults are very uncomfortable with the topic and it could create problems with other parents if she did not respect her friend's bodies or if she decided to tell another child about sex. (Caveat) My daughter was a very bright, very verbal child and because I had laid the foundations for this talk early on, I felt she could handle it. You will need to decide how much your child is ready for. However, I have to say that once she had the whole story everything finally clicked for her and she finally grasped the reason why private parts should be private and why exploration could be problematic. Well, my daughter is now 8 years old and we never had any other problems like that again. She never told any other children what she knew and is a very self-confident girl. She will still occasionally ask very up front questions about sex when they come up--- like when i became pregnant with my second child. She said, ''that means you and daddy had sex!'' She was appalled. I told her, very matter of fact, ''yes we did, that's what mommies and daddies do.'' She seemed fine with that.

Better she hear it form me that from a neighborhood kid!

Best of luck, Informative Mommy


5-year-old imitating sexual scene from a movie

Sept 2006

When my sister’s son was 4 he saw the movie ''Robots'' in which an oversized female character (it's animated) accidentally backs into another character and traps him against the wall. We’re guessing he had some sexual dream about that scene that night because he awoke the next morning and was eager to take a bath (he hates baths) and wanted my sister to undress and put her bare backside against him while he stood against the wall naked. She talked to him about how people's privates are for themselves and nobody else is allowed to touch them, etc etc, which put an end to his request that day but didn't really seem to register with him. Since then, she’s discovered that he's asked our step-mom, her neice and her friend (both 12), and his cousin (3-year-old girl) to sit on him while he's lying down while they were playing (they all refused). She was told about all of these instances immediately and tried to talk with him numerous times but she can tell she’s not making any sense to him. Our concern is that he may ask someone who will take advantage of him before she is able to get through to him. Of equal concern is the risk of him making someone uncomfortable (his female cousin, for example) or coaxing them to do it. Obviously she’s watching him like a hawk when he's around anyone else and he's not yet going to school so there's not much opportunity at the moment for this to turn into something disastrous. We're both first-time parents and we're both stumped -- how does she handle this? She asked me what to do and I have no idea. What language does she use to send the point home without creating a big taboo around the issue? Is this at all normal? Help us!! Concerned Aunt


If he is imitating the movie, I would just keep watching him and reminding him that we don't sit on people and that we hug with our arms and not our bottoms. Hopefully his memory of the movie will fade in time.

I could not help but wonder why a 4 year old saw Robots, as it's rated PG for ''Some brief language and suggestive humor'' according to its web page: http://www.robotsdvd.com/

Little kids imitate everything they see on TV at that age. I have found it difficult to find movies that don't have something that I don't want my sons to imitate, but some of my 5 year olds favorites are the new Curious George, Milo and Otis, Dumbo, Aristocats, Thomas the Tank Engine, Magic School Bus, There goes a Truck, etc. After this experience, your sister may be sticking to ''Curious George''! Good luck


Explaining new baby to 6-year-old

Nov 1999

Can someone give me some advice on when the appropriate time to discuss sex is with kids? I am expecting and have a 6 year old son. My husband thinks that now is an appropriate time to explain EVERYTHING to him since I'm pregnant, but I on the other hand, think that my son is too young to be able to fully comprehend what we tell him. I mean, we are dealing with a kids who gets the giggles over the word "butt". If anyone has advice or guidelines on this matter I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks.


I understand your desire to give your child accurate information about sex and your pregnancy. We hear so many stories from adults who's parents hide the truth or created a feeling of embarrassment or shame around sex. In an effort to avoid this, I believe many parents today go to the opposite extreme and give too much information too early. As a teacher, I taught a "Growth and Development" unit to 5th graders. Though some of my students knew very little about their bodies and sex, many knew an amazing amount. Some would comment that their parents wanted to talk to them about sex and explain things all the time. It made them very uncomfortable. Over the years, I have developed a philosophy that kids want to know the truth, but not all of it at one time. I believe it is important to give a little information, then stop and look at the child's expression. Is he with you or starting to "glaze over?" He may ask a question. It is important to answer that question and stop so that that you do not go on into more depth than he is ready to hear. If you are comfortable answering the question, then most likely he will be comfortable coming back in the future and asking the next question. This way he is in control of the information coming at him. I believe this respects the needs of the child.

Sex talk with 8 year old

June 2003

My daughter just turned 8. She is very open and talkative about most everything that happens at school and with her friends. If she doesn't understand something someone said or did, she'll ask either her dad or me. I keep expecting her to come home one day and ask about sex or babies or the like. She knows all about the birthing process (vaginal vs. c-section) but to my knowledge does not know about conception. So, my question, is when do we have the talk? Do I wait for her to initate the conversation? Or do I bring it up? My mother never talked to me about sex until I was in high school. By then I knew all about it and didn't feel comfortable talking with her. I don't want that to happen with my daughter. Thanks in advance for your wisdom and insight! clueless


There is a great book called ''Flight of the stork'' that covers the subject of sex talk from birth to age 12. Might be worth it for you to look into it. One thing I remember from that book is that parents think their children know much more than they actually do. m
Yes Yes talk to her about it. She is probably hearing things at school and just hasn't gotten around to asking you about it. My 8 year old came home and mentioned a man and woman getting naked in bed and ''sexing.'' I asked her if she knew what it was and went on to explain the basic sex act. She asked a few questions and we moved on to other subjects. I also told her that she could ask me and her daddy anything anytime. Just yesterday, we were at the Oakland Zoo and ''love was in the air'' for the camels. She got quite an eyeful and asked lots of questions about their mating. It was great, but after a while I wanted to get moving to see the elephants. I am sure there are good books around for talking to your child if you need some help. Thank you for being sex positive for her. Jeanne
Your daughter is not too young to know about sex - from you! Maybe you could get a book you like and think is appropriate for her age and read it with her, and then discuss whatever questions she might have. The best books talk about changes to expect in her own body (that comes first, after all, and she's getting close!) and just touch upon sex and its part in how babies are made. I had an Usborne book for my son when he was about 6 that told a bit about how babies are made, from a very scientific point of view.

It would be better if she knew the real story before she starts getting it from a skewed kid point of view. If she hears it neutrally or positively from you, then the ''ugh gross'' that kids say when they tell it won't have such an effect. Some girls now are getting their periods and breasts REALLY early, and I'd think maybe some 9-year olds even might be developing. Certainly, some of my son's 10 to 11 year old fifth-grade classmates had breasts last year and mood swings and maybe even periods! Some are still just babies though. anon


I think it's great that you are trying to figure out how to be more open with your daughter than your mother was with you! I definitely think that it is a good idea to initiate conversations about sexuality as a parent because kids can easily get the idea (from us or others) that it is a taboo topic and therefore not feel comfortable bringing it up themselves.

I have two book suggestions for you: ''From Diapers To Dating: A Parent's Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children'' by Debra W. Haffner is a great book all about how to talk to your kids in a developmentally appropriate way at each age. One of her main points is that there shouldn't be 'one big talk' about sex, but instead it should be something that we bring up casually in conversation quite often.

The other book: ''It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Sex and Sexual Health'' by Robie H. Harris is recommended for kids ages 10 and up so it might be a little mature for your daughter, but it's one of my favorite books about sexuality for kids. If you want to find other books, SIECUS has a huge bibliography for parents: http://www.siecus.org/pubs/biblio/bibs0011.html

Hope that's helpful. Amy


The book ''It's So Amazing'' by Robie Harris (illus by Michael Emberly) is a great resource for kids your daughter's age. Maybe just having it around the house will stimulate discussion, or she might peruse in private, it at her own pace. By making the information available, you'll signal that it's OK for her to talk to you about it. Letitia
Yes, bring it up. Don't wait any longer. It will be so much harder to talk about when the hormones start flowing, which could be any minute. Get some books. Go over them together and individually. Thinking ahead a few years, set up some expectations for her behavior. anon
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