Talking to Kids About Sex

The other day, I was putting four-year-old Toby to bed, when he turned to me and asked…

“When I grow up, will I have no chin?”

At first, I didn’t know what he was talking about, but then I realized that most of the men he knows have beards, so he thought his chin would disappear. I explained that he could have a beard or no beard, and either way, he would still have a chin.

I thought my work there was done, and was about to head to the living room to watch TV with Alex, but his follow-up question was…

“How did Anton get in your belly?”

Big questions, Tobes!

Back when my sister and I were five and heard on the school bus about the shocking mechanics of baby-making, we hurried home to ask my mom, and I remember sitting in our bedroom as she told us matter-of-factly how it all worked, and, a few days later, we all read “Where Did I Come From?” The book was good-natured and funny (“it feels like a sneeze!”) but now feels a little dated.

So, I looked around for a new book for Toby, and here’s what I found…

Talking to Kids About Sex

The Baby Tree. For Toby, I read this beautiful, charming book about a little boy, whose parents reveal over breakfast that they’re expecting another baby. The boy wonders where the baby will come from, and proceeds to ask his babysitter, teacher, mail carrier and grandpa. They all give him different answers, and when he finally asks his parents, they tell him directly and truthfully (and somewhat abstractly:). It’s really sweet, and I love that the final page of the book addresses more in-depth questions — about adoption, same-sex parents, etc.

For older kids:

Ages 4-8: It’s Not the Stork!
Ages 7-10: It’s So Amazing!
Ages 10 and up: It’s Perfectly Normal

These three books by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley are WONDERFUL. They talk about bodies, sex, birth, adoption, different types of families — and for teenagers, puberty, contraception, homosexuality, masturbation, you name it. The books are very open and accepting of kids’ questions and feelings, while writing with a warm, direct tone.

Pamela Druckerman wrote a New York Times essay about the inspiring Dutch approach to teaching kids about sex:

Apparently, the Dutch are at the forefront of sex education, and they have little trouble broaching the topic. Parents in the Netherlands have lots of casual age-appropriate talks about sex with their kids, over many years, beginning when children are small. Mandatory sex education begins in elementary school, and includes lessons on respecting people who are transgender, bisexual or gay.

“If we start with sexuality education when children are teenagers, or even just before they start with any interest in sexuality, I think you are too late,” says Sanderijn van der Doef, a psychologist…“As soon as children have questions, they have the interest, and then they have the right to get a correct answer.”

Dr. Van der Doef says parents should give simple, clear responses. If the child has more questions, he’ll ask. Once he’s 3 or 4, “You can start to explain, in a very simple way, that Mommy has a little egg in her belly, Daddy has very small sperms in his body, and when the sperms meet the egg, a baby grows in the belly of the mother.” Three-year-olds rarely ask how the sperm and egg meet. If they do, “then you have a very smart child at that age, and that means that child needs to have an answer,” she adds.

What about you? Have your little dudes asked about where babies come from? What did you tell them? How did your parents tell you? I’d love to hear…

Cup of Jo has been running for 13 years (!) so we’ve decided that, now and again, we’ll be highlighting one of the most popular posts from the past. Here’s one of our favorites, originally published on January 26, 2015.

P.S. How to get your kids to talk at dinner, and conversations with a four-year-old.

(Illustrations by Sophie Blackall for The Baby Tree)