Motherhood

Talking to Kids About Sex

Talking to Kids About Sex

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.

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…

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)

  1. Mary H. says...

    My dudes (almost 6 and 9 1/2) have really never asked, not even from the older one when I was pregnant with the younger one. So I often wonder how to bring it up if they’re not initiating ?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      good question!

      one idea is that you could ask them, maybe at bedtime when it’s dark/cozy/easier to chat:), how they think babies are made. then you could share some basic facts and see where it goes? I always think of sex conversations equalling many, many conversations during childhood, so you can give them a few facts as you go along — you don’t have to share everything all at once :)

      another idea is that you could get a bodies/sex book and read it near them. yesterday I actually got out This Is Amazing and read it next to toby while he was reading a different book. then he saw what I was reading and asked if he could see it. I asked if he wanted to read it together or if he wanted to look at it by himself, and he said by himself, so I just handed over the book and casually left the room. so that’s one way to approach it.

      I’m sure there are countless ways! good luck and you sound like a great, caring mom. xo

  2. Anna H says...

    I appreciate the re-post on this because I bought “It’s not the Stork!” per Jo’s suggestion a few years ago. I love a lot of it but I do think it’s getting dated- there is a lot of unnecessary stuff about what makes girls and boys different and that it all comes down to the private parts. I try and change it while I’m reading to be more inclusive but I’d appreciate more recommendations in the 4-8 range or hopefully they will update it!

  3. Ivy says...

    So in discussing good books for kids, I recently had a son. I can find tons of great books about female leaders and feminism. As an English teacher, I’m so happy to see books being tailored toward girls and everything they can offer, and I plan on showing these books to my son. However, I’ve been trying to find children’s books that demonstrate different ways a boy can be a boy. It doesn’t seem like there’s much that shows how to combat toxic masculinity or boy-focused books that don’t center on sports or trucks. Any insights? Suggestions? Especially, Joanna, since you have two boys?

    • Lili says...

      Really? I think you just need to look more. I’m sitting here with most Caldecott winning books on a shelf, and books that are super ‘boyish’ or ‘girlish’ are in the minority.

    • Brielle says...

      I recommend “Julián is a Mermaid” by Jessica Love. Beautiful book and message. My three-year-old son loved it.

    • Rosalie says...

      I LOVE Julián is a Mermaid! Another good one is A Boy Like You, which celebrates different ways to be a boy.

    • Katie says...

      I have two boys and we’ve long sought out these books, and read some great ones! We looooove Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress. That was a favorite. Others we read were Tough Guys Have Feelings Too and Perfectly Norman. Also, The Storybook Knight.

    • Rosa says...

      Two recommendations
      Teddy’s favorite toy
      The Knight who wouldn’t fight

    • Lindsey says...

      Small Saul is wonderful! Also Piggybook is a favourite in our house.

    • baiyu says...

      Try ‘Boys who dare to be different’. We love this one.

  4. Kirsten says...

    Not about sex perse, but my three year old has been OBSESSED with childbirth since I had her brother last year. She’s a smart kid and she wants details and we found that every single book about sex and having babies skips the part about what happens when the baby comes out. Like the parents just disappear to the hospital and then there’s suddenly a baby and that wasn’t good enough for her. I wanted to recommend the book by Lennart Nilsson called “How Was I Born?” for anyone in a similar situation – it has real life pictures of a growing fetus and a (non graphic) picture of a vaginal birth, which finally seemed to satiate my daughters curiosity. It’s from the late 70s I think so definitely heteronormative and such but the pictures are the best for curious kiddos! Drawings just don’t do it for every kid.

    • binke says...

      Thank you for this one – it looks exactly right. I also loved the suggestion above called “Julián is a Mermaid” as supplemental reading. Beautiful books.

  5. Tracy says...

    In the car yesterday my four year old son asked how to make a baby (because he’s informed us he wants one million babies by the time he’s 60). And then I came home and saw this post. What perfect timing CoJ. Thanks!

  6. J-Girl says...

    I cannot recommend highly enough!!
    https://www.corysilverberg.com/what-makes-a-baby
    “What makes a baby”
    Geared to readers from pre-school to 8 years old, it teaches curious kids about conception, gestation, and birth in a way that works regardless of whether or not the kid in question was adopted, conceived using reproductive technologies, at home or in a clinic, through surrogacy, or the old fashioned way, and regardless of how many people were involved, their orientation, gender and other identity, or family composition. Just as important, the story doesn’t gender people or body parts, so most parents and families will find that it leaves room for them to educate their child without having to erase their own experience.

    • Katherine says...

      I absolutely agree! This is a fantastic book. My 4 year old daughter brought it to school to share with her classmates. I had emails home from her teacher and other teachers thanking us for the book/ sharing how they appreciated it for their own classrooms and families.

  7. Yes! My son learned about sperm and eggs when he was three. He’s just turned four now, I think his friends’ mums are a bit taken aback by what he can come out with! But his head isn’t filled with strange ideas about storks, which wouldn’t sit right with me :)

  8. Eliza V. says...

    This is so timely. Just two nights ago (at bedtime, of course) I got grilled on “how the sperm and the egg meet.” We have a little engineer who likes to know how everything works, and the depth of curiosity could not be satiated by my factual explanations!

  9. Rosie says...

    My mom did such a good job with sex ed and teaching us about the importance of women enjoying sex that I thought only women had orgasms until I actually started having sex. I truly believed that the whole point was for the girl to get off and the guy was just doing it for her to be nice and/or make a baby.

    • Nicki says...

      Rosie, your mom sounds amazing!

    • fgb says...

      This is amazing, Rosie – go mom! I would love to hear more about how she did that!

  10. Felicity says...

    Cannot recommend Vaginas and Periods 101 Pop Up Book and the Sex Ed Talk Instagram feed highly enough!!
    https://sexedtalk.com/popup

  11. Emily D. says...

    Highly recommend the book What Makes a Baby for an inclusive approach.

    • Christa says...

      YES! We love this book!

  12. BC says...

    With regards to IVF, my twins are 6 and we have only given them the rudimentary basics of babies. I don’t especially want to tell them that they were conceived via IVF just yet, but is that ok? It just seems like an extra layer they don’t need to absorb right now. Also, to be very honest, I am still very private about this part of our lives. I have encountered stigma from folks asking if they are “natural” because they are twins, and things of that nature (no, they’re androids. Eye roll). Kids can’t seem to keep anything to themselves, so I imagine they would tell everyone they know! Just curious if there is any guidance on whether and when you need to tell your kids they were conceived through IVF.

    • Silver says...

      Going through IVF always sounds to me like an example of just how much someone wants a baby – there’s nothing sad about you trying so hard, in fact it is a testament of your love, dedication and capacity to put others ahead of yourself. I am truly shocked that anyone would ask if they are natural – I actually had to re-read that a few times to make sure I understood. Gosh! Personally I say, break down that stigma – see if you can’t educate a few people about what is involved in going through IVF – for me, you have nothing but my respect and admiration. I had to have surgery so I could conceive a child, and I’ve always told my son that. It’s part of our conversation about all the ways I love him, and will support him. The thing is about IVF, and other methods of enabling conception is that we’re all preparing for a baby we really really want. There’s no accident here, and you were doubly rewarded! Be proud, you are awesome. As for telling them, you can only do what is right for you, and I am sure you will find the right way and time but I really hope you know you are amazing for bringing your twins into this world.

    • Emily says...

      I don’t have an answer for you, BC, but I do love something I heard about childbirth that always makes me chuckle. It was a documentary or podcast about childbirth – unmedicated, vaginal, c-section, etc. – and the expert said “All birth is natural, because we are all human and whatever we do is natural. We are NOT supernatural.” So next time someone asks about your twins, maybe say “Well, they’re pretty awesome, but they’re far from being supernatural, so yeah. Natural twins” :)

    • Laura says...

      Of course it’s OK. You know best. Xoxo

    • M says...

      I would love a post about telling children who were conceived through ivf or other fertility treatments (including those with donor sperm/eggs) about that process – could be experiences of parents who had those conversations or expert advice about how / when to explain it

    • t says...

      We conceived our twins through IVF and relied heavily on the book what makes a baby because it doesn’t address sex at all and is age appropriate for young kids.

      I would recommend talking about it early because if not it can become something that feels shameful and it shouldn’t be. Good luck!

  13. Sarah says...

    Check out http://www.birds-bees.com
    Super helpful info for parents!! 🙌🏻🐝🙌🏻🐝 highly recommend

  14. Megan says...

    This is so important! Check out birds-bees.com and follow @birds__bees on Instagram … Lots of helpful info!

  15. Emily says...

    We were reading Maurice Sendak’s ‘In The Night Kitchen’, and my daughter suddenly notices that the little boy is naked for the first time: “What is THAT, Mama?”

    Also, my friend Cory wrote these books that are just perfect–inclusive, for all kinds of families: “What Makes A Baby” https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781609804855

    And “Sex Is A Funny Word” https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781609806064

    We love them in our family, and “What Makes A Baby” in particular is great for the younger set — my three-year-old is obsessed. I wish we’d had books like these when I was growing up.

    • Shan says...

      Sex is a funny word gets a big thumbs up over here.

  16. Ari says...

    For older kids, but there are great videos covering sex, bodies, and gender on the AMAZE.org site: https://amaze.org/

  17. A few months ago there was a post on a similar topic and a few people on here recommended the book, Beyond Birds and Bees: Bringing Home a New Message to Our Kids About Sex, Love, and Equality by Bonnie J. Rough. I read it and LOVED it. It’s part journalistic investigation and part memoir about the positive benefits of the Dutch approach to sex ed. Besides the Robie Harris books listed, I also liked reading the book What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg with my 4 and 7 year-old. This is a helpful article too: https://www.parents.com/kids/health/best-sex-education-books-for-kids-by-age/

  18. Susan says...

    My lovely friend Kathleen has a wonderful YouTube channel dedicated to helping parents discuss a wide variety of sexual health topics with kids of all ages – I highly recommend checking out her videos!

    https://www.youtube.com/c/KathleenHema/featured

  19. I love Some Cats Just Want to be Looked At by Nicole Lesavoy to start talking about consent with Preschool age children. NicoleLesavoy.com is where you can buy a copy. She’s kind of under the radar still.

    • C says...

      Oh my gosh I ordered that immediately, thank you! Looks perfect for many reasons, including the fact that I have a toddler and a cat who *definitely* just wants to be looked at.

    • Lindsey says...

      THANK YOU, Allie (and Nicole)! I just ordered this for my niece. My husband and I have always said we wish our cat could teach about consent — she knows what she likes and what she doesn’t, and isn’t afraid to say so! :)

    • Ale N. says...

      Just ordered this, too! Thanks for the rec :)

    • Nicole Lesavoy says...

      Thank you C, Lindsey and Ale N
      I really hope you all enjoy it!

  20. R says...

    Hi,
    Can anyone recommend books for a 3 or 4 year old explaining how babies are made using IVF?
    Thanks!

    • Emily says...

      R we love “What Makes a Baby?” by Cory Silverberg which addresses all kinds of ways babies and parents form a family without being overly cutesy or highfalutin, for that matter. I also feel it’s very inclusive. Our daughter (now 6) still loves that book and has had it since she was 3.

    • GOBLUEMOM says...

      My kids and I were reading 100 Things to Know About the Human Body and came upon a few pages on IVF. I had never told them that they were conceived through IVF but it was great timing and they got a good chuckle learning that they were really triplets (born years apart) and had spent time in the freezer for a couple years before entering the world. We still laugh at that! If your kids are 4+ it’s a great book to introduce them to IVF.

    • Jeannie says...

      It’s Not the Stork also has a short explanation of IVF. Most of the book is about bodies and how bodies develop, including during pregnancy. Conception and IVF are only a page.

    • Ali says...

      I’ve recently bought Making a Baby: An Inclusive Guide to How Every Family Begins by Rachel Greener and Clare Owen as my three year-old has been asking more questions about how babies are made and I wanted something really inclusive. This includes IVF, as well as IUI, adoption and surrogacy and also covers the birth.

  21. I adore this post! Have you seen The site Scarlet Teen? Certainly for more seasoned children however an asset I wish I would’ve had when I was growing up

    • Rosie says...

      This website is amazing. I looked at it in the 2000s when I was a teenager/college student and I learned so much. I also think I got a newsletter at some point. I just suggested this to the daughter of a friend. Huge fan.

  22. I cherish this kind of posts! You are so shrewd :) Lot’s helpful hints and such ungainly circumstances. A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing! I’ll be readied when this kind of inquiries will come up

  23. I love this: 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.

    Spot on!

  24. So good! I’m going to go look for this book now. My parents never talked to me about sex so I always felt it was something bad or wrong. I have a 6 and 3 year old and we talk a lot about body parts but haven’t really broached the sex subject yet. I just try to keep my answers honest and straightforward. “You have a penis and your sister has a vagina.” That kind of thing.

  25. I love this sort of posts! You are so clever :) Lot’s of useful tips and such akward situations. Thanks for sharing! I’ll be prepared when this sort of questions will come up ;)

  26. Gina, I was referring to this statement.
    NETHERLANDS LAWS:
    1. Has no sodomy laws, the age of sexual consent is 16 for all, sex between an adult and a young person between the ages of 12 and 16 is permitted by law, as long as the young person consents. It may only be prosecuted by complaint from the young person or the young person’s parents. The question remains whether the public prosecutions department would proceed to prosecute if the young person themself had consented and their parents filed the complaint.

    Regards

    Jessica

    • Anna says...

      Hi Jessica, this freaked me out a bit. Here is what I found: The Age of Consent in Netherlands is 16 years old. The age of consent is the minimum age at which an individual is considered legally old enough to consent to participation in sexual activity. Individuals aged 15 or younger in Netherlands are not legally able to consent to sexual activity, and such activity may result in prosecution for statutory rape or the equivalent local law.

      Netherlands statutory rape law is violated when an individual has consensual sexual contact with a person under age 16 out of wedlock. Close in age exemptions, at the descretion of the prosecution, exist for minors close in age in a relationship within “”social-ethical norms””(outside of these norms could be a group sex or even an unequal relationship, meaning that the offender was not in love with the victim)

    • Marie says...

      Hi Jessica,
      Just wanted to add to what you posted.
      Consensual sex with adults is permitted from age 16.
      Before age 16, consensual sex is only allowed by law if it is between people of the same age!!! Hence, 18 y.o. and 15 y.o. not allowed by law, regardless of consent.
      I feel like that is an important distinction to make!
      Best,
      Marie

  27. My mom “accidentally” left out a book of anatomy and human sexuality (a college textbook, mind you) when I was around 7. There were lots of pictures and diagrams. It was interesting to say the least, but I don’t really remember having many questions after that…

  28. Just to point out – the age of legal consent in the Netherlands is 16 – not 12. :)

  29. We have done the Dutch approach, just because I always naturally thought that it was something best approached as early as possible. I think talking about and understanding sex as a biological process and how babies are formed is very different to talking about sexual intimacy and relationships. We have totally explained every little detail of sex and how babies are made biologically from when our daughter was a young preschooler. Now she is older we have basic talks about sexual relationships and sexual intimacy, and we will go more down that track as she gets older. We always use proper names, no talk of seeds its sperm. I got the ‘its not the stork’ book out of the library for my daughter first when she was maybe 3 or a bit younger, and she moved on to the next one at about 4. We still get that one out from the library every so often and she still enjoys reading it.

  30. I love this and I love your blog. I am not a mother (yet) but I want to be someday. I have to thank you for your posts, as I feel they give me some direction as the mother I would someday like to be. I would love for you to blog about when it is age appropriate to become a mother. I am going through a break up with my long term boyfriend (I really thought he was the one!) I am approaching 30 and am worried whether I will ever meet the right man to have children with. I’d love to read your take on those topics and your personal story. How old were you when you had Toby? How old is too old, etc? I have been following your blog for years now, and really enjoy reading about how your break ups have led you to the place you are now! it’s so inspiring, Joanna!

    • Laura says...

      I have 30 first cousins. One of them just had a baby at 19 and is the most exquisite mother— from day one. Another (on the same side) is 46 and just had her third and final child. She started at age 41 and met her husband the year prior and has never been happier. So… Whatever works. No age is perfect for anything. Do what is right for you ALWAYS— it will come. Xoxoxoxox

    • J says...

      Hi Tristen!

      I know I’m not Joanna, but I wanted to respond. I broke up with a long-term boyfriend at 29 and was completely convinced that it would have a huge impact on my own timeline for having children, or might mean I may not have children at all. And those two things are possibilities that definitely could have happened, but right now I’m 35 and sitting here breastfeeding my 9 month old daughter, and I also have a 3 1/2 year old son. I ended up meeting someone almost exactly a year after ending my previous relationship, and we got pregnant within the year. It was entirely unexpected, and I never could have possibly planned this outcome, but it has really showed me that you just never know what can happen, and in such a short period of time. Sending warm thoughts your way—breakups are the worst.

    • bee says...

      Hi, Tristen- I am sorry to hear of your breakup. Just my 2 cents, but I don’t think there is a “too old” or “too young”- there is a range of experiences, and pros and cons to having children at any age. I had my son when I was 23- it was unplanned, and often a beautiful mess, but I learned a lot along the way, and now he’s a senior in college, smart, gorgeous, and as kind as can be. The majority of my friends and siblings did not have children (if they had them at all) until they were in their mid-to-late 30s, and one of my best friends had her much-longed-for baby at 43! They got to have a lot more self-exploration in their 20s and 30s than I did, but now I am rediscovering myself in my 40s, so I guess we all get our time. If you want kids, and an opportunity happens for you, go for it!

    • Mona says...

      I’m 38 and hubby is 55. We had both given up on relationships and were looking forward to living out our lives as happy singles when we met less than 4 years ago and just clicked. He whisked me off to Paris when we’d dated for 3 weeks and asked me to marry him on a bridge called “pont au change”, the bridge of change. We have a little girl, two years old and I could never have imagined life taking this turn. You just never know.

    • JP says...

      Hi Tristen! I broke up with my longterm (7 years!) bf at 29, fell into an intense and all wrong relationship at 30, and spent the next 7 years single. I met my husband at 38, got married last year and am now expecting our first little one! I say this because your life will change so quickly when it’s the right time and the right person. Have the patience and the willpower to be very picky. Mr. Right will come your way. In the meantime, make the most of your 30s :-)

  31. Ohmigosh that is the cutest! My son is only 8 weeks old, and I love the baby stage, but I kind of can’t wait till he starts talking and asking questions like that. Thanks for sharing – made me giggle!

  32. I had “Where Did I Come From?” too growing up (the book AND the movie) and I just bought “The Baby Tree” last month! It seemed to satisfy his curiosity even though it’s pretty vague. :)

  33. great post, thanks for sharing.

    We had a preliminary conversation with my 3.5 yr old and my explanation was ‘Dad puts a little cell into my body and then it grows into a baby’. The question on how exactly the process is hasn’t followed yet so I’m counting on the books you’ve mentioned to be prepared :)

  34. My 7 yr old nephew has always been somewhat of a genius. An obviously biased opinion of course, but not really.

    In regards to sex and where babies come from, he’s always known that boys and girls have different body parts and that he came from his mom’s “belly” via c-section. However last year at school he discovered that babies can also come out of a girls “virginia” (he’d nonchalantly stated to his mom he knew that he would never have a baby in his belly because he didn’t have a virginia). Then as my sister stood momentarily in shock, he began to sing “Take Me Home Country Roads” and that was that.

    My sister and brother-in-law believe in open conversations with my nephew with the understanding that the content will change as he grows. I love these different books for the different ages!

    • beth says...

      omg- I don’t think I will ever hear “Take Me Home Country Roads” quite the same way!!

  35. I remember when my mum explained it to me – I was seven and telling her about this book I read at school which describes how the platypus came about (basically that a duck and otter had babies, very scientific). My mum used this to segway into a “do you know how babies are actually made” conversation

  36. while that question hasn’t come up yet my four year old has been very curious about private parts.. the difference of boys and girls and nursing..
    that sounds like a great book. will keep it in mind.

  37. It’s so interesting how everyone has a different experience of this. I remember asking my Dad, how babies were made when I was 8, he replied by eating lots of jelly babies!!

    I guess it depends on the individual child..I have a niece and nephew 6 and 5 and so far…they haven’t asked any questions in relation to how babies are made…although I will be interested in the answer my sister comes up with!!!

    Yes, the Dutch may be more open minded about sex but the legal age of consent over there is 12 which I feel it far to young to start having sex.

    • AN says...

      Jessica – that’s inaccurate. Legal age of consent in the Netherlands is 16.

      Also – eating lots of jelly babies?! Oh, dear. I hope your sister has a better and more true answer, haha!

  38. My parents taught me with “Where did I come from?”, too!!

  39. Very interesting post! As an American living in the Netherlands, I will say the explanation is right on. I have school aged kids and am very open with them when they have questions about babies, sex, gay couples… pretty much anything they ask deserves a fair and thorough (age-appropriate of course) answer. My 5 year old daughter isnt as curious as my 8 year old daughter and my 10 year old son is pretty embarrassed by everything, but I try to soothe his embarrassment by making my answers logical, factual and as non-embarrassing as possible. I notice that the teenagers I come in contact with through my volleyball team (for the most part) are very well adjusted and comfortable with themselves. Much more so than I’ve observed in the states. It’s refreshing. Thanks for the interesting topic!

  40. I don’t remember how my parents talk to me about sexuality, i think they didn’t.
    I just answered my children with simple words.

    Christine

  41. There’s a great resource in http://www.sexplainer.com She gives lots of advice about how to build an open and honest relationship with your kids, so they will continue to come to you with all their questions. Also to help you overcome some of your nervousness at the whole prospect!

    • Also, Jo, the fabulous books you listed, which are fabulous, are by ROBIE Harris, not Rosi.

      Great post!

  42. I don’t remember ever being curious about how babies were made (I just thought married ladies had babies and that was that), but I remember asking my mom how babies got out of their moms’ bellies when I was about 4 or 5. I was FLOORED by the answer and immediately told my best friend who was also amazed haha.

    When I was 8, my older brother (he was then 11) learned about sex at school and told me about it. I didn’t believe him, so he showed me in his science book. I told him that was gross and I’d find a better way to make a baby XD

  43. such a a great post! this is an open topic in our family. on a family car drive, my then 3.5 yo daughter asked us how she got into my belly. i explained the egg and the sperm (and left out the intercourse part). she asked me how the eggs were in my body and how the sperm were in her dad’s body. i said i was born with all the eggs i need- just like she was born with all the eggs she needs. i’m not sure who was more stunned by this fact- my daughter or my husband, who apparently missed that day in sex ed.

    currently (now 4.5) she likes to talk about things that will happen when i’m dead. 1) she will marry daddy, 2) she will wear my wedding dress, 3) her and her little bro will take over the house and live in the master bedroom.

  44. When I was pregnant with our second, my oldest want to know how ‘he would get out.’ So I explained it using the correct terminology and for a while he really liked using the correct words for male and female anatomy. It’s waned a bit recently, but I’m sure it’ll come back up. Thanks for the book tips!

  45. very cute! we’ve recently been there, though the girls are (thankfully?) more interested in trying to wrap their heads around the baffling meta-concept of the world pre-existing them. “where were we when you and daddy got married?”. “no but where WERE WE??”.

  46. I love that there are informative about this sex for children- it’s so healthy for parents to be honest and positive with children about topics like this one!

    witormiss.blogspot.com

  47. Well … What was your answer to toby ?

  48. My mother was always very direct and straightforward with us, and a favorite story in our family is what happened after she gave us “the talk”. My sister (about 4 years old at the time), after hearing that we women are born with all of our eggs inside, said….”I know I have those eggs inside of me, cause sometimes I can hear them growl”. Haha.

  49. As a side note when my son was 3 his preschool teachers all seemed to have nose piercings and he asked if he had to get one too when he grew up. It was an awful thought to him

  50. I love this and thank you for these suggestions. My mother and father would like us to believe we were immaculately conceived and never explained anything about anything. Your body, sex, normal bodily functions were all embarrassing and not discussed. I wanted my children to be open and love everything abkut themselves and realize, it’s all pretty normal and were all the same, pretty much. Plus, prior to having children I worked with abused kids and always wanted my kids to know they could come to me about anything. As a single parent of a boy child I feel less secure that I know what I’m doing. But my son has always come to me and I think he feels pretty comfortable with his body and talking about sex. He’s only 7 but there’s been an incident at daycare with a boy who was a sexual abuse victim touching every one and exposing himself and I was the first to know about it and get a counselor in go work with the kids. He really REALLY wanted to see female body parts last year so I found an old library book we read and he was horrified and officially doesn’t want to see girls parts anymore. Hahaha I am going to check out the books you’ve recommended. He has a friend with older brothers who keep introducing their brother to things like tongue kissing and humping who then teaches my son. I use it as a teaching moment for what’s ok and what’s not and saying no etc but if is difficult to calmly respond and not freak out

  51. The chin question! Sooo cute! And I’m dying to know how did you handle the question sans book? Did you tell him “we’ll talk later” or something? I’m terrible at being caught off guard! Lol. Thanks for sharing, you’re great as always!

  52. The chin question! Sooo cute! And I’m dying to know how did you handle the question sans book? Did you tell him “we’ll talk later” or something? I’m terrible at being caught off guard! Lol. Thanks for sharing, you’re great as always!

  53. I was taught about the birds and the bees by “It’s Perfectly Normal”! A great, illustrated book that conveys in a cool-but-nonchalant-but-still-important way some of the intricacies of sex, sexuality, and sexual health. I remember being mortified when my mom gave it to me, but then as a few days passed, reading it with rapt attention.

  54. I love this posts Joanna! I love how open and honest you are about things people often want to keep quiet. :) Thanks for the resources, will definitely be checking them out for our little dude.

  55. My son is 15 now, so I’m well past this point. My general rule with him was to answer only the question asked, in an open way that was appropriate to his age. He is a huge question asker, so he definitely let me know when he wanted more information!

    I’m sure books can be a great help, but direct conversations make it clear that parents are ready and willing to engage in a dialogue with their kids about sex. That is probably the most important lesson of all, especially at a young age.

  56. I’m so glad you wrote about this. Yes. We’ve had….correction I have been asked questions and have come up with answers. It’s so spot on how you answer questions matter of factly and then they stop asking when they’ve been satisfied. Great to hear about this from you.

  57. This is actually a highly fascinating subject whether one has children or not. I can’t remember how my parents told me about sex, or if I learned at school from other kids…I honestly have no memory of it. Something to think about.

  58. I asked my dad multiple times, but he never told me. Neither did my mom, to be honest. I found out about sex on my own, through reading my mom’s various Ladies Home Journals and this book on female maladies that was all the rage in the mid-90s. By the time they tried to sit me down for the “big talk,” I knew what I needed to know, and didn’t want to hear it from them. I was 12 when my youngest sister was born, I didn’t need to be told how that happened. I’d seen HBO.

  59. What a sweet question by Toby!

    My parents were incredibly open, honest, frank, and scientific about sex and love, without being age-inappropriate or trivializing. I was absolutely fascinated by the idea of the sperm and egg (and especially by twins!) when I was little :)

  60. I can see this coming on the horizon (at least version 1 – my son is 3), and I’m glad you brought it up. I like the Dutch version, as that’s about where I’m at with it. But I really appreciate the insight about the fact that this is “a talk” to be had many times over the years, allowing kids to develop with all of it slowly and naturally. Thanks!

  61. Brilliant post about a topic that needs to be talked about more. My parents didn’t tell me anything as a child, I went from being born to literally the age of 11 thinking babies appeared in a womans stomach when two people loved each other, and kissing was as intimate as it got. Suddenly secondary school told me all about puberty, labour and sex over a period of three days and I actually cried when I was first told.

    That being said I think now a days, you can’t a child to ‘just find out’ anymore, not with access to the internet and other things. I’d rather tell them how they should find out, rather then see something very adult online, on a mobile or from a friend who has seen such things

    Jenna || Jennafifi.co.uk

  62. When I pregnant with baby 2, my very curious 4 yr old had LOTS Of questions and 1) I am HORRIBLE at lying and 2) We felt like he wanted real answers so we read him the stork book you mentioned. It was perfect – we focused on the answers to the questions he had and left the other stuff out. At his young age and with the curiosity he has we just answer the questions as honestly as we can – hoping to instill some sort of trust in us at this young age.

  63. thanks for this tip…i wasn’t sure where to begin with my little ones on this topic. Also, do you have any recommendations for books dealing with death and explaining to kids about this topic? I found that my 4 year old has asked a lot about dying and the such (some of this was picked up from school with zombie talk apparently…) anyway, since we don’t belong to any organized religion i’m a bit lost on where to begin. thanks!

  64. I don’t have any children yet, but I did take a couple of sex education classes in college (they were Bible courses at my private university)! We learned that the sexual part of ourselves is nothing to be ashamed of and not to make our children feel ashamed about their questions or curiosity. Growing up in the church, we were expected to be abstinent (which is a good thing), but it made us feel like sex in and of itself was wrong. I actually have some friends who have had a hard time wanting to have sex with their husbands because of the guilt associated with sex! It’s such a fine line between letting them know it’s normal and learning how to guard their hearts because no matter how many people say it isn’t – sex is a very emotional thing, too.

    • Jen says...

      When very pregnant with my second child, I was having a shower when my 4 yr old son burst in. In his distress, he asked me « mom will you vomit the baby?! » (He hated getting sick so wouldn’t wish that on anybody).

      I said no and before I could say more, he bends over with his head now upside down trying to look between my legs saying «but mom where is the hole».

      I wish I had been more prepared in that moment because I’m pretty sure I just laughed and laughed. I guess it’s not too late to add to their book collection now that they are 6 and 2.

  65. I think that beyond the physical nature of sex and babies, it’s so so so important to teach children the emotional intimacy side of it, the “soul” part of sex. :)

  66. I just read The Baby Tree to my two and a half year old daughter before her nap! We’re having another baby in May and found our way to this book to help us talk to her about it. I think the Durch are right, being honest and talking to them will hopefully ward off the ackward conversations and feelings that can arise if you wait or won’t answer questions. It’s all part of life. Thanks for the other recommendations!

  67. This was so important to me. As the child of a much-older mother who was taught that those subjects weren’t meant to be discussed, basically everything was a surprise, and in high school, I was pretty sure everything would either get me pregnant or diseased. When I was pregnant with my firs child, I decided if they were old enough to ask the questions, they’re old enough for the answers. (Which doesn’t necessarily mean they need every detail right then, but rather an honest response with an honest intent.) It’s worked so far.

  68. Thank you so much for posting this Joanna. My 3.5yo daughter asked us last night how mummy’s and daddy’s make babies and where they get all the parts from. This book sounds perfect, I’m going to get it today as I’d promised her a book that would explain it to her… (thinking where did I come from would be good but way too graphic for a 3yo ). So thank you so much for saving me!!!!!!

  69. i never took sex ed, in elem, middle or high school. everything i learned about sex was from the Judy Blume book Forever and from my friends. i was raised by asian gparents and parents who had high expectations and vague explanations. they were very strict, i wasn’t allowed to do anything. it’s no wonder i went crazy my first year of college.

    admittedly, talking about sex makes me feel awkward and uncomfortable. i blame my upbringing.

  70. My daughter asked lots of questions over the years, so this was kind on an on-going conversation. My favorite/most uncomfortable question: “Mom, you know how you said the sperm comes from the dad, and the egg is in the mom? How does the sperm get in there? Does he just shove it down her throat?”

    • Allison says...

      This made me laugh out loud!

  71. Being Dutch, I can confirm that sex education indeed starts quite young. My mum, being Belgian with a slightly less open upbringing, left my dad to give my sisters (4,6) and I (8) ‘the talk’. He also used a book to talk us through the ins and outs (no pun intended) of baby making. From what I recall, it was very much focused on the mechanics of it and less so on the emotional side of things, although it probably mentioned something along the lines of “When mummy and daddy love each other very much…”. I remember finding it all a little excruciating. Perhaps because I was already 8 and therefore aware of the concept of sex. Perhaps cause my dad was informing us as opposed to my mum…who knows! I’ve got 2 daughters aged 4 and 6 months and this post has reminded me to start prepping for this. A few weeks ago, I already broached the topic of death with my 4 year old, surely explaining how babies are made should not be any more tricky…? I live in London now and fear a bit of the British ‘modesty’ has somehow rubbed off on me! ;-)

  72. Being the youngest of three girls, I will always remember how my oldest sister would say in a sing-song-y way “It’s per-feeectly noooormal.” My mom bought me that book when I was a pre-teen. I already felt so embarrassed when I would reach for it and read it, but then to hear my sibling acknowledge it, it was the worst. Ah, older sisters. So mean!

  73. Let me just add how important it is to start including LGBT in your discussions really early on. As the parent of a gay adult, I know we could have done a much better job if we’d opened the door of understanding to all different kinds of sexuality, right from the beginning. He’s fine, happy, but I’m always going to feel some maternal regret at my heterocentric approach.

  74. I had to tell my daughter about where children come from because of a second grade school project. She was supposed to draw a picture of herself and label which traits came from her Mom and which came from her Dad. She just couldn’t understand how she could inherit any traits from her Dad since she grew in my tummy, what did her Dad have to do with it? She wouldn’t let it go and I felt like I needed to be honest.

  75. I distinctly remember thinking that people made babies by kissing naked, and then trying to get another baby doll by having Ken and Barbie do the deed. I don’t think “the talk” happened until I was about ten, and by then, I figured there had to be more to it.

    Love that Toby was worried about his chin. Too freakin cute.

    Katrina
    kateandfleet.blogspot.com

  76. When we had our third child, our older two were 11 and 7 1/2. It was interesting since the 11-year-old already knew about the “birds and the bees” stuff (she asked when she was 5), but the 7 1/2 had shown absolutely no interest in hearing or knowing. (He was a little shy.) After our littlest guy was born, though, the 7-1/2-year-old asked us how he’d been made. We hemmed and hawed about how to explain…and finally I said that it was like his LEGO sets… Daddy had some of the pieces and Mommy (me) had the rest and the set was built inside of me. I wanted to continue by explaining more, but he smiled really big with new-found understanding and moved on to another topic. ;) He’s had the “talk” with Daddy now (he’s nearly 14), but I’ll never forget that smile.

    My parents explained it differently to me and my sisters, and, of course, we also learned about it in school, but I love how each family can use their values and explain about it in their own way. Originally, I was really nervous about talking about it, but it’s a very special time, isn’t it? :)

  77. These are great book recommendations! We are trying to go with the Dutch way, but so far our oldest (7) has been most satisfied with the very scientific side of things. It’s so much easier to broach the topic earlier because each bit of information builds on the previous bit, so by the time your kid is a pre-teen, you’ve naturally progressed over the years to the more in-depth parts of sex. At least, that’s how I’m hoping it goes, ha ha!

  78. Oooooh yeah. After talking about it with my (then three-year-old niece), I thought we had covered everything, until she paused, wrinkled her eyebrows, and said, “I understand the part about the sperm and the egg. But how does the sperm get TO the egg?”

  79. Before my mom had a chance, I saw a life-changing episode of ‘Blossom,’ involving Phylicia Rashād and a cake.

  80. We love all the books you mentioned. We have a very logic oriented 5 year old who has had lots of questions about boys and girls from an early age. I find that “it”s not the stork” has helped me know how to simply and honestly answer her questions without feeling embarrassed myself.

  81. I have a 3 and a 2 year old and I’ve mentioned to the older one about how he was in my belly, but there’s been no questions on how he got there. I’ve also been pretty frank about how he’ll get hairy like daddy. As a side note, we were in a restaurant yesterday and my husband took him to the bathroom where he proclaimed to a stranger:”I have a small penis, Daddy has a big penis, and Mama doesn’t have a penis.” I’m not sure if I want to have a full blown conversation right now.

  82. Great post, I will have to check out the other books. We liked It’s Completely Normal for a rising sixth grader. We let him read a chapter on his own them discuss with us. I definitely think it brought down the nervousness level on his end.

  83. I’m going to check out these books for my son, who is Toby’s age. So far he hasn’t asked too much, but it will be good to have them on hand. My parents told us when I was in 4th grade and my sister was in 2nd because my dad had a vasectomy and I guess they just decided to roll it all into the what’s-wrong-with-dad explanation (he was lying on the couch in pain afterward and kept saying “They used a chainsaw!”)

  84. We used ‘it’s perfectly normal’ and found it to be a great resource for a rising sixth grader. We let him read each section on his own, then discussed them after. I found it to be a great approach for a kid who gets embarrassed really easily.

  85. I have a son, and I’ve always tried to be calm, truthful, and matter-of-fact about sex and the human body, which has left him pretty chill about it, too (or, y’know, doing an excellent impression of chillness). I really think if you respond to these questions in an unembarrassed and low-key way, the kid will regard them that way, too. And if you don’t, you’re going to end up with a kid who gets a LOT of information from inaccurate sources, including stuff that you wouldn’t automatically think of–like, you might not discuss menstruation with a male child, but you wouldn’t want them to assume that the whole “Women go crazy once a month!” thing they see on TV or wherever is true.

  86. I love this post! Have you seen The website Scarlet Teen? Definitely for older kids but a resource I wish I would’ve had when I was growing up.

  87. This is great! I learned from Where Did I Come From? too, though the VHS version. :)

  88. I love that they write books for things like this now! I am only 20, but I never had the guts to ask my parents because my friends had told me so many horrible stories! I finally asked my mum one night when I was in the bath and she was checking my hair for headline, haha! Idont remember how she replied but she confirmed the best story out of the horrors that I had been told!
    I also remember having sex ed at school when we was about 10, and one boy threw up! Funnily enough he was the first to loose his virginity!
    I don’t think it matters how you tell children as long as you don’t embarass or upset them; so these books seem perfect!

    May //
    http://www.dropsofbrandy.blotspot.co.uk

  89. Oh Léo asked how his baby brother would come out of my body. He said “Is he going to push himself out?” I just said “exactly!” Because really that was pretty close to how it happens (at least the use of the verb “push!”). One day he’ll ask more and I’ll answer more in depth, keeping your wonderful book recs in mind, but for now… I’m just happy to have dodged that bullet!

  90. I don’t remember this conversation, but my mom says when she told me I said, I’LL NEVER DO THAT! and I thought an aunt and uncle who adopted children adopted so they wouldn’t have to “do that” either. Needless to say, I have a 4-month old. Whoops.

  91. I got The Baby Tree for my (very inquisitive!) daughter Zoe as soon as we found out we were pregnant with a second. I’m due very soon, and they’ll be about 3 1/2 years apart, so this book was perfect for her age. Zoe LOVES the book, and her favorite part is the last page where the parents explain exactly what will happen — I know this because she will read the whole page along with me. And 3 is definitely not too young to “get it” from the science perspective — Zoe has told me that she knows that her baby sister came from an egg inside of me meeting a seed from Daddy, etc. :)

  92. I never asked my parents about sex, but when I was 10 and my sister was 7, they overheard us wondering about where babies came from, so a few days later they made us watch the “Where Did I Come From?” movie.

  93. OH MY GOSH you were 5 when you were exposed to what sex is?! I only say this because I need to back up my sex-ed plan like 25 years now. (My little one is 4!)

  94. The toddler I nanny for loves the book “What Makes A Baby” by Corey Silverberg. The book is awesome with interesting illustrations and encompasses a wide diversity of family types. They are honest and upfront about the topic, and use the actual words for body parts etc., while still being appropriate for young ages. He is only one and a half and it is hands-down his favorite book, which has made for some interesting plane rides!

  95. I love the ‘conversations with a x year old’ series you post on occasion. Such gems! It reminds me how how our brains worked at that age.

  96. I’m so happy you’re bringing this up! I think developing a healthy sexuality (this does not mean sexually active, but rather developing our own value systems regarding gender and ourselves). Another resource, which is aiming more towards young people (and adults!) is Al Vernacchio’s take. He has a fantastic TedTalk called, “Sex needs a new metaphor” along with his book, “For Goodness Sex”. Even though he’s gearing this curriculum towards high school students, I have learned so much about it and about myself (and I’m just shy of 30!)

  97. Thank you for this Joanna! It comes at exactly the right time for me. My 4 year old son Alec has just started asking these questions. It’s such a minefield! I want him to have correct factual information that is appropriate for his age. I want him to be safe and understand about privacy and that he decides about his body etc. I just really want to get it right from the start. Thanks!
    http://www.minipiccolini.com

  98. Also, for young people a little bit older, Al Vernacchio’s TedTalk “Sex needs a new metaphor” along with his book, “For Goodness Sex”. He has a realistic and innovative approach!

  99. “Will I have no chin?”…sweet Toby!!

  100. I love this! Thank you. Pinning for my future children board!