“Which chicken lays the egg?” was the question on the card in the general knowledge game I was playing with my seven year old god-daughter Livvie, and her friend Jess “What does that mean?” enquired Livvie. “Well, what is the name of a mummy chicken and a daddy chicken?” I asked. “A hen and a rooster,” both girls chimed. “So which one lays the egg?”. It was Livvie’s turn in the game to answer and she said, “The chicken”, which was correct. At that point I asked, “So what does the rooster do?”, thinking they would say, “He says cock-a-doodle-doo!” when Jessie piped up very matter of factly, “He mates!” Hats off to Jessie’s parents who clearly aren’t afraid of discussing where babies come from.
It’s a well-documented fact that teenagers the world over are very critical of the way their parents, for the most part, didn’t handle their sexuality education at all or did a poor job of doing it. Many parents still either avoid sexuality education on purpose or miss it completely through their own ignorance or fears and the result is that sexuality education is becoming increasingly institutionalised. Parents are relying on schools or society to handle these sometimes awkward but natural questions for them.
Children are fascinated by where they come from (as were we). Don’t duck and dive from these questions. They are amazing teachable moments and relationship builders. Here are some classics I have heard that have been wonderful conversation-openers:
“Why is that lion jumping on top of the other lion?” (4 year old)
“How did I get out of your tummy?” (7 year old)
“Can an 80 year old man become a dad?” (8 year old)
If your children can trust you to be their source of this very important information, then they will be able to trust you with other matters as they get older. Always personalise your answers by making your child the central character in the story of their birth, which will make it very meaningful to them. Just give them the information they asked for, you don’t have to embellish too much beyond that. If they want to know more they will keep asking (and yes, you will have to keep answering).
Children will also find their own way to make sense of it all (even if you have used all the correct terminology) as my eldest son did when he was nearly five years old. His cousin was born via an emergency Caesarian due to my sister having Placenta Previa. Ryan’s explanation was simple: “Nic had to be cut out of his mummy’s tummy because her tunnel was blocked! That’s not how I was born.” He chose the word tunnel himself because it made sense to him just as, at the age of eight, when he discovered how the sperm actually got to the egg, he said: “Oh, so it’s just like mid-air refuelling between two aeroplanes!” Definitely an engineer in the making, I thought at the time.
Celebrate the fact that your child is coming to you with the awkward questions. Be prepared to show up for this part of the job or someone else will, and you can’t guarantee who that someone else will be or, then again, it may be live sex on a screen (horror of horrors)!
PARENTING ACTIVITY LIST ON SEXUAL EDUCATION | FOR ALL AGES
1. Think about the past few weeks and whether there were any opportunities missed or taken to discuss an aspect of sexuality and sexual education?
2. If you grasped the teachable moment with both hands, congratulations to you! If you avoided it, write down what you think it was that was standing in your way.
3. So what’s the difference between boys and girls? Here’s the answer to this very common question. Very simply, boys have two holes and girls have three. They both have holes for pooing out of and weeing out of, but girls have an extra hole in the middle where babies come out of when they are born.
4. Children are naturally curious about how they got into your tummy and how they got out. When you next have a friend who is about to pop, or indeed if you are pregnant, this is a perfect time to discuss how some babies are cut out of their mummy’s tummies in an operation, and others just pop out of the ‘middle hole’. Tell them how they came into the world if they ask, or if you have a teachable moment such as this.
5. If you haven’t yet done so, do purchase my best-selling sexuality education book for 8 – 13 year olds, Easy Answers to Awkward Questions (available in English and Afrikaans) here. It was endorsed by Childline and has become a handbook to many thousands of parents and educators. Initially, use it as your handbook for ideas of how to answer their questions (even if your children are pre-schoolers), and read parts to them, but then pass it on to your children when they can read themselves. It is written exactly as children think and ask about sex and their sexuality development.
Creative parenting expert, inspirational speaker and co-author of Future-proof Your Child (Penguin, 2008), and Easy Answers to Awkward Questions (Metz Press, 2009)