Lisa Handy, project manager at Coram Life Education, the leading provider of Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education in primary schools across the country, offers her expert advice on how to talk to young children about sex and relationships
Parents and carers often worry about what sort of questions their child will ask them as they grow up and learn about the world around them. This anxiety can come from fear of embarrassment or more simply because they don’t know the answer to the question.
Perhaps you would feel more reassured if I were to point out that you have probably already given your child some valuable information about their bodies, such as an understanding of some of the biological differences between boys and girls, and as they get older these questions simply build on the information you have passed on.
Babies and toddlers are curious about their bodies and it is likely that within a family you have already given names to the genitalia: the medical terms or perhaps you have opted for other words that you feel comfortable using in the home. According to a study, children who learn the medical terms for their genitalia are more likely to be able to report unwanted touch and abuse.
When in doubt, learn together
Not being able to answer a question can feel awkward, but it can also be used as an opportunity to help children learn how to get the information they need. If your child asks a question that you can’t answer, or you are not sure what words to use, you could search on the internet together. Use safe and reputable websites such as NHS choices for support.
Repeat, gradually adding more information
You don’t need to set yourself up for ‘the talk’. Children will want and need a ‘drip-drip’ approach. Your child may ask the same question twice within a year, not because they have forgotten the answer, but because they are ready to learn more.
Children will guide you as to how much information they need. They may ask ‘Where do babies come from?’ and you can answer ‘from a special room in mummy’s tummy called the womb’. The next time they might ask a bit more such as ‘How do they come out?’ and you can start to talk to them about how the womb is connected to the vagina, that has an opening between a woman’s legs where the baby will come out.
Have conversations about relationships and consent
Talking about where babies come from and the mechanics of sex as they get older is only half the job. This goes hand in hand with conversations about relationships. It is important that children know what being a good friend is all about, from a young age, and understand what they can expect from a good friendship. This way children will be better able to recognise a healthy, intimate relationship as they get older. Topics such as consent can also be addressed at a young age, with examples such as making sure they ask before they borrow someone’s toy, or being sure to stop touching someone’s hair if they are asked to.
Use real life examples to help guide your conversations
For more natural conversations, try using examples of everyday life to open discussions about relationships and sex. Perhaps your child has gained a new sibling, or a baby has been born into the extended family. This can be used as an opportunity to talk about a range of topics, such as how some children are born into families, how some are adopted, how some people have a mummy and/or a daddy and some have two mummies or two daddies.
Talking to young children about relationships and sex will give them:
- the right information to make sensible decisions.
- a better understanding of themselves so they can feel more confident in responding to pressure or unkind comments from other children.
- the ability to recognise what inappropriate touch is.
- an understanding of the concept of consent.
Some parents may feel that their child is not ready for discussions about sex and relationships whilst still at primary school. However, it is worth remembering that if we don’t give them the correct information when they start asking questions, they will get it from somewhere else, and we can’t guarantee that it will be the right information.
Coram Life Education has launched a new Relationships Education programme, funded by specialist insurer Ecclesiastical, for Year 1-6 (Key Stage 1 and 2) pupils, with age-appropriate lesson themes including healthy relationships, body ownership, consent, puberty and reproduction. Find out more at coramlifeeducation.org.uk.
The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or CEOP.