Dr Sindi van Zyl explains how to have “The Talk” with your children, and when.
Talking sex with your kids
“Mom, where do babies come from?” “Dad, where did I come from?” Have you heard these questions from your children? And if yes, how did you feel? The sex talk is probably one of the hardest things that any parent, caregiver or legal guardian will ever have to face. Many of our fears about discussing sex with our children come from the fact that we did not have proper sex talk with our parents. Even after getting marriage, I did not get a semblance of a sex talk from my mother! So, I decided that I would not allow my children to go through the same. One of the principles I stick to is that you need to have given your child “The Talk” by the age of eight. This is because once they hear about sex or puberty from other sources, they get embarrassed when you try and introduce the topic, and even don’t want to discuss it. So, it’s always best for them to hear about it from you or their caregiver. Make it clear to them that should they hear anything else, whether from the playground, classroom or WhatsApp, they should come back to you to verify the information. Need to be their primary source of information and education around all matters regarding sex, sexuality and consent. And, if they know that they can be open with you about sex, they will tell you if something goes wrong. You need to be their first point of call if anything happens, be it sexual assault or rape. So, here is a guideline on how and when to talk them.
Four years old
Children are generally not aware of their genitalia or yours till the age of four. That is when they start noticing that mommy and daddy have different parts. Once they are able to recognise that the opposite sex’s genitals are different from theirs, you need to start using the correct terminology. Nicknames such as “pipi” and “khekhe” may be cute, but you need to transition to proper names – penis and vagina. This is in preparation for the sex talk at a later stage because you will have to use those terms.
Five years old
Around this age, kids are aware of pregnancy. They are now curious about where they come from, and may see or hear things about sex. This is the right time to start discussing babies and where they come from. But, do this in a very age-appropriate manner. Say your child asks: “Mom, where did I come from?” You cannot tell them that they came from a stork or were delivered by Mr Delivery. Explain that your egg and dad’s sperm came together; that is how the baby ended up growing in your tummy and were born.
Six years and older
At this age, you can expand concepts and go into more depth. Explain where egg comes from. Tell your child that every month, a woman produces an egg. During sex, the man ejaculates and the semen has sperm, which then fertilises the egg. By the age of eight, you want to have cemented these concepts, and should be speaking confidently to your child about a penis, vagina, semen, ejaculation, menstruation and wet dreams. And, as you go along you will expand and build on those concepts as is necessary.
Where do you give the talk?
Choose a venue that your child can’t run away from. If you’re going to do this at home, they may walk to their room and lock themselves in. So, do this at a public place; either a park or their favourite restaurant. But, make sure that this is a place where they will have no option but to give you their undivided attention. The second thing is to write points down. Note down exactly what you want to discuss because you need to be confident when delivering this message. If you fumble around, look down or get embarrassed, then your child is not going to believe you. So, it is important to be confident about what you want to say. Keep it simple, use the correct terminology and cover every topic. If you have missed the eight-year-old mark, then start the conversation now because you have some catching up to do.
Consent and bodily autonomy
Consent is important to cover when discussing sex with your children. And, this issue starts at a very early age. One of the best analogies that I have ever received was from my 10-year-old daughter. At school, they were taught about the traffic light – red is for no, orange is for maybe and green is for yes. The green zone is from the top of the head to the neck. And, this area is reserved for kisses from parents and grandparents. The orange zone is from the neck down to the navel. And, it is reserved for healthcare professionals examining them in the presence of a parent. The red zone, from the navel going downwards, is the no-go zone. It is strictly reserved for healthcare professionals examining them, and in the presence of a parent. So, once kids understand which part of their bodies are no-go zones, and that “no” is a full sentence, you need to keep reiterating this message. If anybody touches them inappropriately in the orange or red zone, then they need to tell you, regardless of who that person is. It is unfortunate that most children are abused by someone that they know and trust. So, keep reinforcing the message that if your child is touched inappropriately, they need to let you know immediately.