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Sex Education: How and what your child needs to know

Parenting

Don’t wait until your child asks you about sex before you find the right words. Plan ahead at every age and stage. Be prepared to discuss all kinds of sexual activity.

No one really wants to have The Talk. Talking to your child about sex doesn’t have to be difficult (or embarrassing). Not the kids, and not the parents. It’s awkward, and embarrassing.

But it’s very necessary and once you get going, you’ll find it’s easier than you think. Have the conversation early and often. Your home will become a safe and comfortable environment for your child to ask questions.

Your child needs to hear accurate information about sex from you. Kids are naturally curious about sex, If they don’t have access to proper information from parents, educators and other reliable sources, they will get it from less reliable sources – friends, television and movies, and increasingly, online porn.

Information that needs to be known includes the basics (vaginal, oral, and anal sex), birth control, sexual assault, sexual molestation, and your family’s moral beliefs. Your child needs to know that he or she can talk with you about sex.

They can talk with you about their changing bodies, their feelings, their concerns, and their confusion. You don’t have to know all of the answers to their questions. However, you should be willing to help them find those answers.

Help them do the research when you don’t know the answers. You want to be approachable. You want them to feel comfortable talking with you about sex.

Things to consider

  • Don’t judge your child’s opinions about sex. However, don’t ignore the facts. Present the facts about unsafe sex and sex before you think your child is ready.
  • Talk to your child about how to handle pressure to have sex from friends or a partner. Role play with your child by practicing what another child might say and how your child should respond.
  • Give your child a code word to signal that they need help getting out of a situation that could lead to pressure to have sex.
  • Continue to set curfews and know where your child is. Avoid letting your child be alone with a partner. Don’t be embarrassed to check with other parents to make sure there will be adult supervision at their home.
  • Be a good example of respect in your own adult relationship.
  • Talk to your child about healthy and unhealthy relationships. Unhealthy relationships involve pressure, physical abuse, rape, or sexual molestation.
  • Accept that children and teens are or will be sexual beings – even if it’s hard for parents to think of them that way.
  • Don’t wait for them to come and ask you. Start the conversation.
  • Ask them what they know, so you can gently correct misinformation and fill in gaps.
  • You don’t have to explain everything in one go! You will need to talk to them again and again as they grow up and face different issues.
  • Find the answers if you don’t know them. You don’t have to be an expert!
  • Let kids know they can always come to you with questions and concerns.

Focus on these key messages

The changes to your body are normal

It’s scary having things growing and sprouting, but it’s much less so if kids know exactly what to expect.

Puberty is a process. The changes start earlier for some, later for others, and will continue for years.

This is also a good time to mention that bodies come in all different shapes and sizes. The bodies they see in ads, in movies and – especially! – in pornography are not what ‘real life’ bodies look like.

Sex is natural and good

Don’t create a culture of shame around sex. They should know that sexual feelings and fantasies are normal and healthy – but that doesn’t mean they always have to be acted upon. As well as making babies, sex is pleasurable and positive – at the right time and with the right person.

It’s OK to be curious

Hey, sex is an important part of life, and it’s OK to think and talk about it. But kids should know they are exposed to lots of misinformation from sources like other kids or pornography. They should rather get their information from you or from their sex ed teacher or educator.

Take care of yourself

Every person should take pride and enjoyment in their own body, and look after it. Kids must be told: your body is your own – no one can touch your private parts without permission or a medical reason.

Older kids need to be empowered with information about contraception and the prevention of sexually transmitted infections.

Path to follow in your kids well being

What and when you tell your child about sex depends on a lot of things. Age, for example, is the most important guide.

Preschool children:

Young toddlers will not understand sexual intercourse. At this age, it’s important to teach your child the correct names of their genital parts.

For boys, use the word penis. For girls, use the word vagina. Your preschool child may want to know where babies come from. Don’t ignore the question.

Keep your answers short and simple. Use language a toddler would understand (for example, tummy vs. uterus). It’s okay if your child asks you for more information. Don’t worry that you are telling them too much. When they are younger, they often hear only as much as they need to know.

Elementary school children:

Continue to answer your child’s questions about their bodies. Use language they can understand at their grad level. Around 4th or 5th grade, your child’s school will teach students (in stages) about their bodies, puberty, and how it relates to sex and pregnancy.

This will prepare your child for the changes coming to his or her body. Once your child understands puberty, use this new knowledge to continue conversations at home about sex and pregnancy. Again, keep it simple, honest, and accurate.

Middle and high school children:

Your child is old enough to use the correct words for sex. Some ‘tweens’ (boys and girls on the verge of turning 13 years old) have sex in middle school. So it’s important to be truthful and accurate.

Explain birth control. This does not mean you are giving your permission for your young teen to have sex. It simply educates them about sex. This also is a time to discuss the dangers of having sex at an early age.

In addition to pregnancy, tell them that unprotected sex can lead to sexually transmitted disease and other risky behaviors. Always talk with them about respect. No means no, not maybe.

As your young teenager gets older, continue to talk with them about sex. Don’t be afraid to share your family’s moral (or religious) beliefs.

Be sure your teenager understands the responsibilities that go along with having sex (birth control, protected sex). Always remind your child about birth control and sexually transmitted diseases.

This is also a time to remind your teenager how their feelings may be changing. Hormones may make it difficult to resist sexual activity and think clearly.

Be specific when discussing vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Describe what each is and the risks associated with each.

Many children don’t know that unprotected oral and anal sex can lead to sexually transmitted diseases in boys and girls. This includes:

  • HIV/AIDS
  • genital herpes
  • syphilis
  • viral hepatitis
  • gonorrhea
  • trichomoniasis, and more

As puberty begins, it is normal for your child to start to feel a variety of physical urges. Make it easy for them to continue the conversation by not reacting angrily.

Another good opportunity for a discussion about sex is between your child and his or her doctor. Your child’s next checkup will give them a chance to have a confidential and nonjudgmental conversation about sex. It might make it easier for your child to ask questions, too.

No matter how old your child is, always listen to their questions and opinions.

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