How and when to talk to your child about sex

For many parents, "the big talk" is a very, very tough task. But there is a right way to do it, and it can make an enormous difference in your child's life.

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  • It is critical for parents to teach their children about how wonderful sex can be with the right person at the right time.

  • As we speak to groups of parents, it is interesting how well most parents have done talking to their children about drugs, substance abuse, violence, smoking, drinking and safety issues, but they do a horrible job talking to their kids about sex.

  • Why? Because it is a tough subject and an embarrassing one. Most parents just don't know what to say or when and how to say it.

  • Through our own experiences, we have learned some valuable lessons on how to approach "the talk." Here is our advice and guidance:

  • Who

  • If you are a two parent family, both parents should be in on the talk. Doing this together sends a powerful message to a child.

  • Take courage! Among the thousands who have had "the talk" at our encouragement, not one has ever said they wished they had not done it. It opens communication, builds trust, and it may save your child from big problems. It also increases his or her chances of a committed relationship and marriage.

  • When

  • Of course, it is really not just about one "big talk." Rather, it should start with "little talks" to preschoolers about the miracle of their bodies — eyes as cameras, elbows as hinges, etc. Early elementary age kids need to know that they can talk with parents about any part of their body.

  • The best time, we think, for the big talk is age 8, when kids are old enough to understand, yet young enough to be open, trusting and un-cynical. The idea is for parents to have a preemptive strike and be the original source for kids' understanding of sex and intimacy.

  • To wait much longer than that is to risk a child's first source to be a peer, media, the Internet or even school (which does not always present things the way we would wish).

  • If your child is past 8, move ahead with confidence. There are ways to modify the dialogue and to explain that while you know your child already knows a lot, this is a way to re-focus and learn it the way it really is.

  • There will be a need for follow up talks and to keep sex an open topic in which kids feel that they can ask any questions that occur to them.

  • Over and over, parents find that once they bite the bullet and have the talk, everything is better. Trust levels go up between parent and child, and kids feel like, "If I can talk about THAT with my parents, I can talk to them about anything!"

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  • How

  • Many parents make a big deal of the "the talk." They start building up a few months before their child's eighth birthday by saying things like, "For your birthday, we are going to tell you about the most beautiful, wonderful, miraculous thing in the world! I won't tell you what it is yet, but here's a clue: It's about YOU."

  • Then when the birthday arrives, plan a mommy and daddy date with your child and let him or her pick a restaurant to go out to dinner. When you get there, find a private place, and using a book of your choosing (for example, "Where did I come From" by Peter Mayle) dive in and have the talk.

  • What

  • Remember to emphasize the positive.

  • Stress how wonderful sex can be with someone you truly love and are committed to. It is that vision of how good it can be — later, with the right person at the right time — that deters kids from diluting and wasting it on recreational sexual experimentation.

  • Help your child understand how to protect themselves from becoming a victim of someone who wants to exploit them, and that they should always come and talk to you if they feel like someone did something to them that made them feel uncomfortable.

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Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times #1 Bestselling Authors and founders of JoySchools.com who speak worldwide on marriage and parenting issues. Their new books are The Turning, and Life in Full.

Website: http://www.valuesparenting.com

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