The Talk

When my little boy was 8 years old and my daughter was 9 (only by two weeks), my husband and I decided it’s time to have the talk with our children.

We decided we would take them on a weekend trip. I would go with our daughter and my husband would go with my son. 

Our little boy went to a Rangers game and Six Flags. Our daughter wanted to go to Sea World. 

I’m a child psychologist, but approached that weekend as nothing more than a mom. My husband and I listened to tapes by a pastor with questions and answers that help prompt parents on how to give the talk. But we added in our own information too. 

We chose to do same-sex parent/child the first time because they were young and we did not want either of them to feel embarrassed. My little boy later told me he would have preferred both of us that first time too because he knew I would lay it all out in terms of communication.  My sweet husband was not quite as comfortable as I was with the topic. 

After the weekend with each child we both made a point to briefly discuss the information and open up the dialogue for each parent.

We continued to have the talk with our children as they got older. We discussed how we could help them as they established their core value system and what we could do to support that. 

Every parent should have the talk with their children and should be prepared before they have the conversation:

1.   When do you have the “talk?”

The answer to this question is really multi-faceted.  But for baseline purposes, you should begin this open dialogue by age 8 years, regardless of their gender.  However, it is OK to start the dialogue process even younger, particularly if your child asks questions. But always make sure you are only answering what they ask, and that your answer is age-appropriate. Always teach your children the accurate body part names at an early age. And never avoid what are considered “teachable moments.” 

2.   How often should you have the talk?

Again, never miss an opportunity to have a discussion. Some discussions may be brief and only for answering a straight forward question whereas other discussions may lead into a more comprehensive talk. Developmentally wise, 8 year olds generally have the ability to attend, discuss and think through the information they are being taught. The message that is critical to send is that you are open for questions; no question is too silly or unimportant. There is no one better than you as the parent to instill your values in your children and this topic is one of those golden moments to do so. One family I know established a special time for the sex talk discussion with each of their children around 8-9 years of age.  They continued to keep an open dialogue and then planned another special time for a second lengthy discussion that took place around the ages of 12-13 years. This family based upon their beliefs and values encouraged abstinence, with each child receiving a “purity” ring at the end of the second lengthy discussion. The good thing about this is that the parents set themselves up to be approachable to their children and the children knew they could come to them for information.

3.   How should the talk change depending on the age and gender?

When children are younger they often are curious about their bodies.  Be sure to label body parts correctly and only provide short answers to their questions.  Don’t give more information than they need, but be sure to inquire if you have answered their question or if they have more questions.

Beginning at approximately around 8 years, keeping in mind this may vary for some children, you should have a more detailed discussion.  It is important to have this initial talk before your child has the sex talk at school in a sexual health class. Topics to cover include:

  • Male and female anatomy
  • The mechanics of making a baby
  • Discussing your beliefs and values
  • Discussing the consequences of sexual activity at an early age including the emotional risks and health risks

It’s important to emphasize again that these points should not be discussed once and only once. They need to be revisited over and over. Be sure to instill your values, explaining why you believe something. It is very important for you to talk to your children about sex, pregnancy, AIDS, STDs, abstinence, love, dating, differentiating infatuation from love and types of relationships. Your children want to know this information.  Surveys are showing that kids want to know about the emotional impact of sex, but are not getting that information and the information they are getting is from peers, which we all know is not always a reliable source of information. 

 4.   How to prepare for the sex talk?

  •  Start early. The earlier you start the more comfortable you will be when the bigger talk needs to take place.
  •  Parents should initiate the conversation so their child knows it’s important for them to hear their parents’ views and values.
  •  Parents should be familiar with the current “language of sex” because it is always changing.
  •  Parents should not present sex in a negative light. They need to explain that in the proper setting (marriage – my personal view) with their spouse sex is a beautiful gift.
  • Parents need to listen to their child’s questions and be honest and vulnerable to the best of their ability. One parent told me that they told each of their children that having the sex talk was uncomfortable for them. No one had ever had the sex talk with them when they had been a kid and they didn’t know how it should be done. Just being honest and vulnerable in that way made the conversation much easier and their children appreciated their parent’s honesty.
  • Discuss peer pressure with them and ways they can handle that pressure.
  • Keep the dialogue going, use opportunities to talk about sex and use humor. Kids respond to humor.
  • Make yourself an “askable parent.”

The bottom line is that parents shouldn’t have just one talk with their child. Our world is extremely hyper-sexualized and parents should be encouraged to make opportunities as “teachable moments.”

5.   Are there books/resources to read?

  •  The Talk: What Your Kids Need to Hear from You about Sex, by Maxwell
  •  How to Talk to Your Child about Sex: It’s Best to Start Early, but It’s Never Too LateA Step-by-Step Guide for Parents by Eyre and Eyre 
  • Intended for Pleasure, Fourth Edition by Wheat and Wheat by Ed Wheat, Gaye Wheat
  • The Gift of Sex: A Guide to Sexual Fulfillment by Penner and Penner
  •  The Family Book about Sexuality by Calderone and Johnson
  •  How to Talk with Your Children about Sexuality: A Parent’s Guide by Planned Parenthood
  •  Raising a Child Conservatively in a Sexually Permissive World by Gordon and Gordon
  •  Talking with Your Child about Sex: Questions and Answers for Children from Birth to Puberty by Calderone and Ramey
  •  Sex: The Facts, the Acts and Your Feelings by Carrera
  •  How to Talk to Teens about Love, Relationships and S-E-X by Miron and Miron
  •  Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense about Sex by Roffman
  • The Real Truth about Teens and Sex: From Hooking Up to Friends with Benefits – What Teens are Thinking, Doing and Talking About, and How to Help Them Make Smart Choices by Weill

Lisa Elliott is a licensed psychologist and clinic manager of Cook Children’s Behavioral Health, located at 3201 Teasley Lane, Ste. 202, Denton, TX 76210. To make an appointment, call 940-484-4311. Cook Children’s Psychology provides care focused on children’s behavior, from ages 3 years through 17.