A Parental Guide to Discussing Sexuality and Relationships with Children

Explore approaches to discussing sexuality and relationships with children. Learn to dispel stereotypes, while creating an environment that fosters openness.

Updated Aug 15, 2023
sexuality and relationships

Hidden behind closed doors and unspoken anxieties, lies one of the most essential discussions parents must have with their children – sexuality and relationships.

For many parents, addressing these matters can be difficult, given the feelings of discomfort, fear, or inadequate knowledge.

And yet, having open and honest conversations about these subjects is vital for their development and well-being.

In this article, we try to figure out ways to initiate these discussions, and the tools that can help us all navigate the uncharted waters of children’s curiosity.

By utilizing strategies such as creating a safe space, age-appropriate language, and promoting ongoing dialogue, parents can foster understanding, respect, and healthy attitudes.

Here We Go!

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto: https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-of-man-helping-partner-tie-shoes-4827135/
Sexuality and relationships for children. Photo by Ketut Subiyanto (Pexels)

1. Create a Comfortable Environment for Conversation

To initiate conversations about sexuality and relationships, it is crucial to create a comfortable and safe environment. This includes setting aside dedicated time, finding a quiet and private space, and ensuring everyone feels at ease.

Talk to your child about their feelings and experiences, and let them respond without fear of judgment. Encourage your child to ask questions and express their thoughts and feelings openly.

For example, you can tell your child “Hey, Sarah, I noticed you’ve been curious about some things lately. How about we sit down together in the living room after dinner, and you can ask me any questions you might have?

Promote active listening in your conversations. By giving undivided attention, maintaining eye contact, and responding empathetically, you create a safe space where children feel heard and understood.

For example, “”I want you to know, Alex, that it’s perfectly normal to have questions about relationships and how people feel. I’m here to listen and help you understand anything you’d like to know.”

Other open ended discussions include,

Example 1: “How do you feel about having a crush on someone, Jake? What would you like to know about it?

Example 2: “I found this book that explains relationships in a way kids your age can understand. Let’s read it together and discuss anything you find interesting or confusing.

By establishing an atmosphere of trust and openness, children will be more willing to engage in discussions such as sexuality and relationships.

2. Start the Conversation at an Appropriate Age

The timing of these conversations is important. Parents should begin discussing sexuality and relationships at an age-appropriate level. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, it is generally recommended to introduce basic concepts during early childhood and build upon them as children age.

This allows for a natural progression of understanding.

For example:

  • Preschool Age (3-5 years old):

You can begin by discussing concepts of love, affection, and appropriate touch.

Example: “Do you know how much mommy/daddy loves you? We show love by giving hugs and kisses to people we care about, like family and close friends.”

  • Early Elementary Age (6-8 years old):

At this age, children may start to ask questions about where babies come from or notice physical differences between genders.

Example: “Sometimes, boys and girls have different body parts, but all bodies are unique and special. When people grow up and decide they want to have a baby, a baby starts to grow in the mommy’s belly.

  • Late Elementary Age (9-12 years old):

As children approach puberty, they may become more curious about body changes and emotions.

Example: “As you grow older, your body will go through changes like getting taller and developing new body parts. It’s a natural part of growing up, and it’s okay to have questions or feel a bit unsure about it.”

  • Early Adolescence (13-15 years old):

At this age, you can talk more openly about puberty, attraction, and feelings in relationships.

Example: “During puberty, you may start to notice new feelings and attractions towards others. It’s completely normal, and it’s essential to understand consent and healthy boundaries in any relationship.

  • Late Adolescence (16-18 years old):

At this stage, you can have more detailed conversations about safe sex, contraception, and respecting personal boundaries.

Example: “When people become sexually active, it’s crucial to use protection like condoms to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Remember always to have open communication and respect your partner’s choices.”

3. Use Age-Appropriate Language

When discussing sensitive topics, parents should use language that is suitable for their children’s age and comprehension. Avoiding jargon or complicated terms will prevent confusion and ensure clear communication.

By using age-appropriate language, parents can tailor their conversations to their children’s developmental stage and help them grasp the concepts effectively.

Avoid going into explicit details that might overwhelm or confuse a young child. As your child gets older and asks more specific questions, you can gradually provide more information, always tailoring your responses to their age and understanding.

When your child asks questions about where babies come from, be honest but use age-appropriate language.

For example,

  • When a baby is ready to be born, it comes out of a special place called the womb.”

Another example:

When a child (Age 5) asks: “Mom/Dad, where do babies come from?

Answer:

  • That’s a great question! Babies grow inside a special place in their mommy’s belly called the womb. When a mommy and daddy decide they want to have a baby, a tiny egg from the mommy joins with a tiny cell from the daddy, and that’s how a baby starts to grow. The baby then stays in the mommy’s womb until it’s ready to be born and join the family.

4. Address Misconceptions and Stereotypes

Children may have misconceptions or be influenced by stereotypes regarding sexuality and relationships. It is essential for parents to address these misunderstandings and provide accurate information.

By dispelling myths and stereotypes, parents can help their children develop a well-rounded understanding of these topics and challenge harmful societal narratives.

For example,

  • Sometimes people think that only girls can like certain things, and only boys can like others. But it’s essential to remember that anyone can enjoy any activity or interest they like, regardless of their gender.”
  • It’s not right to judge or make fun of someone just because their family looks different from ours. Families can be made up of different people, and what matters most is that they love and care for each other.”
  • Sometimes, movies and TV shows might show relationships in a way that isn’t accurate. It’s essential to remember that what we see on screen might not always reflect real life. We should be open to learning about different types of relationships.

5. Promote Open-Mind and Respect for Diversity

Parents should emphasize the importance of open-mindedness and respect for diverse perspectives, identities, and orientations. By teaching children to value and embrace differences, parents can foster an inclusive mindset and create an environment where all individuals are respected and accepted, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Discuss different types of families and relationships to help your child understand diversity and respect.

For example,

  • Some families have a mom and a dad, while others might have two moms or two dads. What matters is that all families love and care for each other.”

In addition, “Different cultures and communities have their own beliefs and traditions about relationships. It’s essential to be open to learning about and respecting these differences.”

6. Emphasize Consent and Boundaries

Teaching children about consent and personal boundaries is crucial when discussing sexuality and relationships. Parents should emphasize the importance of respecting others’ boundaries and seeking explicit consent in all interactions.

By promoting a culture of consent from an early age, parents can help their children develop healthy and respectful relationships built on mutual understanding and consent.

Teach children about consent early on by using simple scenarios.

For example,

  • If your friend doesn’t want to play a game, it’s essential to respect their choice and find something else to do together.”

Elsewhere in any relationship, it’s crucial to respect each other’s boundaries. No one should do something they’re uncomfortable with, and it’s okay to say no if you don’t want to do something.

7. Teach Healthy Relationships and Communication Skills

Parents play a vital role in teaching their children about healthy relationships and effective communication skills. They can encourage open and honest communication, active listening, and empathy.

By modeling healthy behaviors and discussing the importance of trust, mutual support, and effective problem-solving, parents can guide their children towards establishing and maintaining healthy relationships in the future.

Talk about what makes a healthy friendship or relationship.

For example say these to your child:

  • “In a good friendship, both people listen to each other, share things, and treat each other kindly.”
  • “When someone shares their feelings with us, it’s important to be understanding and show empathy. Let’s put ourselves in their shoes and imagine how they might feel.”
  • “When you have a disagreement with a friend, try using ‘I’ statements like, ‘I feel upset when…,’ instead of blaming or accusing.”
  • “When someone is talking to you, look at them, nod, and respond to what they say. Listening shows respect and helps build a strong connection.”
  • “Conflict is normal in any relationship, but we can learn to handle it constructively. Take deep breaths, stay calm, and talk things through.”
  • “It’s important to identify and talk about your feelings with someone you trust. Remember, all feelings are valid, and it’s okay to express them.”
  • “A healthy relationship is based on mutual respect, trust, and support. Don’t be afraid to walk away from any relationship that doesn’t make you feel good about yourself.”
  • “If someone consistently puts you down, tries to control you, or isolates you from others, those are red flags of an unhealthy relationship. Talk to someone you trust if you experience this.”

8. Nurture Self-Confidence and Body Positivity

Addressing sexuality and relationships involves discussing body image and self-esteem. Parents should foster a positive body image by promoting self-acceptance, emphasizing the uniqueness and beauty of each individual, and discouraging comparison with unrealistic standards.

Encouraging self-confidence and self-expression allows children to develop a healthy sense of self and positively navigate their relationships.

  1. Emphasize Individuality:
    • “Every person is unique, and that’s what makes them special. Embrace and celebrate your individuality, and remember that there’s no one ‘ideal’ way to look or be.”
  2. Encourage Positive Self-Talk:
    • “Be kind to yourself and avoid negative self-talk. Focus on your strengths and the things you love about yourself.”
  3. Celebrate Achievements Beyond Looks:
    • “Remember that your worth is not determined by your appearance. Your achievements, kindness, and talents are just as important as how you look.”
  4. Avoid Appearance-Based Compliments: “Compliments should go beyond appearance. Instead of focusing on looks, let’s appreciate each other’s efforts, talents, and character.”
  5. Expose Children to Diverse Body Types: “People come in all shapes and sizes, and that’s what makes the world beautiful. Let’s celebrate and appreciate the diversity in ourselves and others.”

9. Discuss Online Safety and Cyberbullying

In the digital age, it is crucial for parents to discuss online safety and the potential risks associated with technology and social media. Parents should educate their children about the importance of privacy settings, responsible internet use, and recognizing and reporting cyberbullying or inappropriate online behavior.

By equipping children with the necessary tools and knowledge, parents can help them stay safe in the online world.

As children become more tech-savvy, discuss online safety and appropriate behavior on social media and online platforms.

For example, “Be careful about sharing personal information online, and if someone makes you uncomfortable, talk to a trusted adult about it.

10. Recognize Signs of Abuse and Provide Support

Parents should educate themselves about the signs of abuse in relationships and be prepared to provide support if their child is a victim. By fostering an environment of trust and non-judgment, parents can encourage their children to confide in them if they feel uncomfortable or experience any form of abuse.

It is crucial for parents to take immediate action to ensure child safety and well-being.

Identifying Different Types of Abuse:

  • “Abuse can come in different forms, such as physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual. It’s essential to know that no one should ever hurt you or make you feel scared or uncomfortable.”

Discuss “Safe Adults” and Trusted Figures:

  • “It’s important to have ‘safe adults’ you can turn to if something is bothering you. Safe adults are people you feel comfortable talking to and who will support and believe you.”

Recognize Warning Signs:

  • “Sometimes, abuse can be subtle and hard to recognize. If someone is trying to control you, put you down, or make you feel scared, those are signs of an unhealthy relationship.”

Talk About Healthy Relationships:

  • “In a healthy relationship, both people respect each other’s feelings and choices. There should be no fear, threats, or harm involved.”

Explain Consent and Boundaries:

  • “Consent means that both people agree to what they’re doing, and they’re comfortable with it. If someone does something without your permission, that’s not okay, and you should talk to a trusted adult about it.”

In Addition

teens, sexuality and relationships

1. Address Peer Pressure

Address peer pressure and the importance of making decisions based on personal values. For example, “Sometimes, friends might want you to do things you’re not comfortable with. It’s okay to say no and stand up for what you believe in.”

2. Lead by Example

Lastly, parents must lead by example. Children learn from observing their parents’ attitudes and behaviors. It is essential for parents to demonstrate healthy relationship dynamics, respect for others’ boundaries, and open-mindedness towards diverse perspectives.

By embodying the values and principles they want their children to adopt, parents can positively influence their children’s understanding of sexuality and relationships.

Finally …

Photo by Anete Lusina (Pexels)

Effective communication about sexuality and relationships with children is not a one-time conversation. Parents should maintain an ongoing dialogue with their children, encouraging them to ask questions, share their experiences, and seek guidance whenever needed.

By normalizing these conversations and making them a regular part of family discussions, parents can establish a foundation of trust and openness.

Parents should also remember that they don’t have to navigate these conversations alone. There are numerous external resources, such as books, websites, and community organizations, that provide valuable information and support for discussing sexuality and relationships with children.

If needed, seeking guidance from professionals, such as therapists or educators, can also offer additional expertise and assistance.

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