Tips for Discussing Sexual Health
Your child sees you as a role model and a valuable and credible source of information. They want to get health information from you based on the loving and trusting relationship you have. For these reasons, along with many others, it’s important that you discuss sexual health with your child—this will help your child to make healthy, informed decisions now and in the future. Here are some tips for starting or having conversations about sexual health, at any age:
- be an askable adult. Being an askable adult means that you are approachable, respectful and that you listen. An askable adult teaches their child through words, through behaviour and their reactions to situations, questions, etc.
- start early and talk often. Don’t try to cover everything at once, but also don’t worry if you think you have said too much. If you haven’t started the conversation with your child yet, don’t worry. It’s never too late to start.
- keep the language simple and age-appropriate. A 3 year old may be satisfied with “babies grow in a special place inside the mother’s body called a uterus”. A 6 year old may have more questions about how the baby grows, and may want to know how it will come out.
- use proper terms for body parts and body functions. It can be confusing to children to have cute names for some body parts and not others. This can also help to protect your child from abuse as they will have the words to express negative experiences or interactions.
- use ‘teachable’ moments to open discussion. Discuss and help them understand issues as they come up in TV shows, movies, ads, music, the news and in the community. This can also help you communicate your values and beliefs.
- find out what they already know. Ask your child what they can tell you about a particular sexuality topic. Older children in school will inevitably hear comments or words that they don’t understand. This encourages communication and can give you the opportunity to correct any misinformation that they may have.
- talk about more than the ‘facts’. Along with facts about the body and how it works, talk about feelings, relationships and how other people are affected by them.
- provide resources. Be sure there are resources in your home where your children can get correct information. Provide age-appropriate resources (e.g. books) to get the answers they’re looking for.
- don’t act like you know it all. Avoid acting as if you have learned all there is to know. Be an active learner yourself. Your child will teach you just as much as you teach them.
- encourage your child to express their thoughts and views. An open exchange of ideas can help clarify the values you each hold.
- let them know what is socially appropriate and inappropriate. As children get older it is important to help them understand that other people’s standards may be different from theirs.
- when your child asks you a question, do your best to answer it at the time. If you don’t know the answer, suggest that you find out together or tell them you will find out and get back to them. Don’t put it off. This might lead them to think that it’s not an appropriate discussion to have.
- listen carefully. When your child does come to you with questions, listen carefully and make sure you understand what they are asking.
As your child enters the teen years, they start to turn to their friends for answers and information. Being an askable adult helps your child to know that they can come to you whenever they have questions.
At this age, children have lots of questions that they may not ask aloud.
Talking about sexual health with your teen may be tricky. They are likely experiencing puberty changes, including mood swings and continuing to push for their independence. Remember that your teen cares about what you say and do, even though it may not seem like it at times.
Here are a few tips for conversations with your teen:
- communicate your values honestly—and expect to have them challenged. Teens want to be independent and have their own identity. As a parent you want that too, but continue to say what you believe and model it in your own life.
- help your teen learn from both good and bad experiences
- play the what-if game. Ask them a situational question like “What if you/your partner/your friend got pregnant?”, or “What if your friends asked you to do something you weren’t comfortable with?”. Do your best not to judge their response, but do discuss the possible consequences.
- speak to them as a mature person. Use correct terms to show that you respect their age and knowledge.
- recognize that you can’t control all of your teen’s actions. Assure your teen that there may be times you don’t approve of their actions but you will not abandon them and will always love them unconditionally. Promote responsibility for their actions.
- try not to talk down to your teen. This may be difficult, but they are old enough to have a mature conversation. Respect their views and validate their feelings.
- demonstrate responsible, health-conscious decisions with your own use of alcohol and other drugs.