The second part of this installment deals with topics traditionally considered “not for kids.”
So you’ve put in the hard work and raised your children to know human bodies — anatomy, bodily functions, and menstruation. They have asked you questions, and you’ve done your best to answer them. So what’s next?
Simple. Please keep the discussion going so when it evolves to the next logical phase, you are confident and prepared. Get your partner involved, so your child sees both adults as excellent sources of information.
6) Puberty hits anywhere from 9 to 16, depending on genetics and gender. But the child’s body begins the process of change much before that. Research and discuss with your pediatrician, then sit your child down for a heart-to-heart to help ease this process. 7 and 8-year-olds have the cognitive skills to comprehend basic biology.
And once again, honesty and science are your friends. Use appropriate terms — breast buds and possible tenderness, pubic hair, increased vaginal discharge, increased body fat, ejaculation (in boys), voice/height changes, and feelings of attraction towards others their age. While the child may experience mood swings and some confusion, you can reinforce that these are normal and expected. And this is also the perfect time to revisit consent, privacy, and making safe choices.
7) Girls typically attain puberty before boys. And since they also deal with menstruation, they might want to know about reproduction and how babies are made. Of course, this curiosity isn’t exclusive to them. And since this is a critical but sensitive topic, you want to be well prepared. Read up on what you don’t know or have forgotten. And again, speak with clarity and honesty. Describe the female and male reproductive systems to both genders using anatomical terms. There are elementary illustrations of the human body available online that can help them understand better.
And armed with this knowledge, you can have talk about sex. This discussion will look different depending on the age of your child. If the child is younger, overloading them with information isn’t helpful. Using even simpler terms helps. Penis insertion into the vagina, semen from the father fertilizing (or joining) the mother’s egg, which is embedded on the uterine wall if successful. If the process works out, the embryo grows over nine months, and a baby is born—basic, accurate, and concise. When dealing with older pre-teen children, you can go into more details — Assure them that while sex is a very private act, it is NOT shameful or reflective of a person’s worth. Sexual intercourse happens WITH consent, casually or with the purpose of reproduction, between strangers/lovers/ married couples. And if one is not careful, there is a high risk of passing on diseases too. A brief tangent about consent, safe sex, contraception, and protection will be relevant at this point.
If there is one thing you do during this conversation, let it be this:
Foster a strong relationship with your child, so they feel comfortable coming to you with worries or doubts. No topic should be taboo, and no question off-limits. A lot of us have a degree of shame/guilt associated with sex and our sexuality. It helps to introspect and address our anxieties so we don’t unknowingly pass them on to our children.
8) Some children also worry about their sexual orientation. Repeated studies have shown that one’s sexual orientation is not a choice and can occasionally change with age. Discussing the sexuality spectrum with your child (homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, pansexual, and asexual) and showing them unconditional love and acceptance goes a long way to helping them feel confident in themselves and respectful of others. Please consult a professional counselor if you need more help to navigate these waters.
9) Marriages are no longer made in heaven. Two adults who love each other choose to commit and stay together for as long as possible. For some, it may be a lifetime. And for others, it may end in separation or divorce. Sometimes people fall out of love, get incompatible, or for a hundred other private reasons. Children should know that there is nothing shameful about divorces, and their parents will love them no matter what.
10) Religion is a sensitive topic, no matter where your beliefs are. In the history of humankind, countless wars have been waged and people killed because of religious intolerance. And once again, this is a choice that is very private to each family unit. Some adults are very religious, and their children follow suit. Some are agnostics/atheists, and others are in the fluid middle. Whatever one’s choice, children can be taught to respect everyone’s religious preference and not discriminate.
10) And finally, we come to the boss of all big little questions — death. However old you are, death is always a hard fact to face. I grew up with a vague idea of death, and when some I loved passed away suddenly, the trauma stuck with me for a long, long time.
Children are resilient if we give them the proper coping mechanisms. Being honest is a good start. Death is a natural end to life. It can happen suddenly or at an expected time because of old age or disease. Most children will cry or ask, “Will you die?”
A relevant question because this is possibly the first time they have consciously thought about death. You might pause and want to distract them with a happy story. Why expose them to sadness, right?
There’s no correct answer here. You know your child best. But when you decide to respond, stick to the facts. Something like, “Yes darling, I will die. Everyone dies. But they die when they’re very old, or if their bodies are very sick. I’m not very old. And I’m not sick, either. So I don’t think I’ll die for a long time.”
You could even follow up with, “You might miss me when I die. And it’s ok to be sad about that. Just remember, I don’t plan on dying soon.” Again, depending on your child’s personality, edit your response. Expect shock, tears, and a mild obsession with death and the finality it brings. Let them have space and freedom to explore their emotions. Offer lots of physical affection and all the comfort they need. And with time, they will make their peace with death and move onto other things.
You might roll your eyes and think, “easier said than done!”
Or you might have handled these big little questions differently. But as long as you give them the correct information and try your best to be honest and accommodating, you’re doing just fine!
Our kids are breathtaking beings, capable of so much. Some day, they’ll have these big little discussions with their children. And when they think back, they’ll thank you for always being honest with them.
(I will post part 3 of Sex, Death, and big little things tomorrow. This installment will feature all the absurd bloopers I have made and the ridiculous things my kids have asked. There will be lots of poop talk, so be warned!)