If you’re a parent, or if you hang around kids long enough, at some point you will be asked a question pertaining to sex. Many adults panic when confronted with such questions. Right away, they think that they’re going to have to explain the whole scenario, and they don’t know how to talk about sex with younger children. What should a parent say to explain sex to a toddler or elementary-schooler?

First, relax. In all probability, the answer the child is looking for is something very simple. You should answer honestly, but give only one piece of information at a time and see if that satisfies the child. If children are too young, they’re not ready to hear the whole explanation of the birds and the bees, so don’t rush into it without first ascertaining exactly what kind of answer they want, something Jimmy’s mom should have done in this example:

Little Jimmy was 5 and had just started school two months ago. One day, he came home and asked his mother, “This girl in my class, Kim, said that she was different from me. How is she different from me?”

Jimmy’s mom jumped to the conclusion that this was one of those questions that she’d always dreaded. She sat Jimmy down and spent ten minutes telling him the differences between boys and girls. When she finished, she gave a deep sigh, hoping that she had answered his question. She asked him if he wanted to know anything else.

“Yes, Mom. Kim said she was Chinese. What does that mean?”

Jimmy’s mother could have saved herself having to give that particular lesson if she had asked her son some more questions before starting in. And, although it certainly did Jimmy no harm to hear her explanation of what makes boys different from girls, that wasn’t his question.

One day, the question your child asks will be about sex, and then you have to be prepared to answer it. One recommendation that I can give you to make this situation a little bit easier is to buy a children’s book on sexuality ahead of time and get it out when the time comes. Then you can be prepared if your child really does want to know, or need to know, the answers to some questions having to do with sex.

You may be wondering why I said “need to know.” I wasn’t referring to something actually having to do with sex, at least not yet. Sometimes your child may be hearing things that he or she finds frightening from other, possibly older, children. You have to be ready, in those situations, to give your child a full lesson so he or she understands that there’s nothing to be frightened of.

Having a book to look at together makes teaching your child about sexuality a lot less embarrassing for both of you. You can read the parts that embarrass you, rather than having to stumble around in your own words. And the book will probably have pictures or drawings to help you.

After you’ve given your lesson, leave the book out so your child can look at it on his or her own. Children should be allowed to take the material into their rooms, close their doors, and read it in private. Just the way that adults need privacy when it comes to sexual matters, so do kids. And you have to respect that privacy.

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