I’m facing yet another new parenting dilemma. They seem to come thick and fast in our house resulting in me never feeling truly au fait with my role as a mum, but this latest instance is a particularly curly one.
It began a few days ago when a little panicked voice squealed out of the bath with the words ‘mummy, mummy, my willy’s gone a bit fat!’
After a moment, a big deep breath, and a vague mumbled response of something like ‘umm, that’s OK possum’, I spent the rest of bath time frantically deliberating what I would say the next time the subject comes up.
Coming from a traditional household where sex was never mentioned and body parts were hidden away, I want to be unfailingly open and honest with my children on the subject.
But how do you have ‘that’ conversation with a three year old?
And exactly how much detail should it contain?
Well, the experts say that it is never too early to begin a dialogue your child about their body, it will enable them to have a positive relationship with their body and a strong self image as they grow through the years.
In the younger years (2-4), establish there are girl parts and boy parts, but it is best to keep things brief and simple. Detailed accounts of reproduction will only confuse them, so instead, single sentence answers such as ‘you came from Mummy’s tummy’ will usually satisfy.
As they get a little older (4-5) it is more appropriate to start using real words for body parts rather than play words so your child can begin to better understand their body. They are also old enough to understand that touching might feel good and is fine, but should be done in private, and nobody should ever touch them in a way that makes them uncomfortable.
Key points to remember throughout:
- When they ask a difficult question, don’t put them off until later: your child needs to feel comfortable and confident they can come to you with any kind of question and be respected by being given the time for an honest and open dialogue immediately
- How you react is one of your child’s first lessons in sexuality: by responding with an open and honest manner you teach your child that curiosity and what is happening to their body is normal
- Avoid made-up tales (such as the stork brought you): they not only dismiss your child’s curiosity, but also make the parent look less credible when they eventually find out the truth (which they will!)
- Try not to panic: all kids have a sensitivity radar and will know if you are uneasy. Matter-of-fact honest answers will make them more comfortable to approach you with other questions later.
- Find out exactly what your child wants to know first: there is no need to go into detail that isn’t necessary, they might simple be wondering if babies come from the hospital (like their sister) or from an egg (like chickens)
- Use picture books: there are some great pre-school books and teaching aids out there that cover the subject in an age appropriate manner
For now, my three-year-old seems completely satisfied with the answer that it is simply something that happens and it’s perfectly normal. And when the subject comes up again, I hope I’m armed and ready to answer a little more succinctly!