It is important to start speaking with your children about their bodies and behavior at an early age. If you create an open dialogue, without shame, your children will feel free to bring you their questions throughout their lives. This is often an uncomfortable topic for parents, so I have created a list of books and resources to help you get through it (scroll down). I also encourage you to discuss any questions you have on the topic with your child’s pediatrician (we are always here to help!).
- Watch out for everyday opportunities to teach your child about privacy and hygiene.
- Encourage your child to ask you questions, to learn that they can feel comfortable coming to you with their thoughts.
- Try to be calm and open about the topic (pay attention to your body language and tone of voice).
- Give simple and short answers.
- Make sure your answers are age appropriate.
- Young children take everything you say literally, so avoid metaphors.
- Use anatomically correct terms for their body parts (i.e. penis and vulva, not “weewee”)
- Avoid shame and ridicule.
- Become closer to your child by showing them that you accept & support their feelings.
- Set rational and consistent limits.
Here is a great blogpost by Dr. Claire McCarthy on getting started with the conversation: “6 Tips For Talking To Your Kids About Sex.”
I also recommend looking at the website “Empowering Our Children,” which is designed to teach parents how to protect their children from sexual abuse.
The “ScaryMommy” website has a good post on what these conversations with toddlers may look like.
My Book Recommendations:
For parents to read overall:
- “Everything You NEVER Wanted Your Kids To Know About Sex (but were afraid they’d ask)” by Dr. Justin Richardson & Dr. Mark Schuster
This is the best book for parents to read on the subject. It tackles every sexual stage of development from infancy (yup, some babies masturbate) through adolescence, as well as age-less topics, such as homosexuality. I recommend starting to read this book when your child is young, although it’s never too late to learn.
Books to read with your children (or for them to read by themselves), by age group:
Toddlers & Pre-Schoolers:
My favorite overall book for toddlers. Teaches basic anatomy, privacy, and even how babies are born.
A very simple book on pregnancy and birth to read to young children. No lies (e.g the stork), but no anatomy or private parts mentioned either.
This book is great for families that conceived via IVF, adoption, surrogacy, or traditional means. It talks about sperm, egg, uterus, and birth, but each as its own thing, and at the end it asks, “Who was waiting for you to be born?” Technically accurate, but simple, with cartoonish illustrations.
This is the classic “how babies are made” children’s book, but take a look through this book before buying it, as it is may be too explicit for some families (see the anecdote at the end of this blog post).
This book discusses inappropriate touching/abuse. It does not discuss development or how babies are made.
School Age Children:
Covers all of the basics, including proper anatomy, mostly with diagrams, and a little cartoon guidebird.
- “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” by Robie Harris & Michael Emberley
Very similar to the school-age version by Harris (above), but with more words, less illustrations, and more details.
My tween patients report that they love this book. It goes over what to expect in puberty and how to take care of girls’ changing bodies. This book includes discussions on hygiene and how to use menstrual products. There is a version for boys. There is also a version with the number 2 at the end for teenagers.
A Funny Story About Me:
When I was 3 years old, my mother (who is a pediatrician as well) read me the book “Where Did I Come From?” I went to my religious nursery school and proceeded to tell everyone, “I was the fastest sperm!” Some of the other parents were not happy when their own children went home and repeated the same thing to them. My mom got a stern ‘talking to’ by the school. We still laugh about it, to this day. The moral of the story? Teach your children about their bodies and development before anyone else does, or you may not be happy with what they learn 😉