Tips for Talking about Sexual Health
Your child or teen sees you as a role model and a valuable and credible source of information. They want to get health information from you because they love you and trust that you want the best for them. For these reasons, along with many others, it’s important that you talk about sexual health with your child—this will help them make healthy, informed decisions. Here are some tips for having conversations about sexual health at any age:
- Be an askable adult. Being an askable adult means that your child:
- feels secure coming to you
- feels respected
- feels heard
An askable adult teaches their child through the words they use. They also teach through their behaviour and how they react to situations and questions.
- Start early and talk often. Don’t try to cover everything at once, but don’t worry if you think you’ve said too much. If you haven’t started the conversation with your child yet, it’s not a problem. 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 got in there and how it will come out.
- Use proper terms for body parts and body functions. It can confuse children when some body parts have more than one name, and not other body parts. Using proper terms can also help protect your child from abuse, as you can be specific and clear when you talk to them about inappropriate touch. They will also have the words to tell you or a trusted adult if they feel something happened.
- Use teachable moments to begin a talk. Talk about issues as they come up in TV shows, movies, ads, music, the news and in the community. This can also be a good time to discuss your values and beliefs.
- Find out what they already know. Ask your child or teen what they can tell you about a certain sexuality topic. Older kids in school will hear comments or words that they don’t understand. Asking them what they know can allow you to correct any wrong information.
- Talk about more than the facts. Along with facts, talk about feelings, relationships and how they affect other people.
- Give resources. Be sure there are resources in your home where your kids can get correct information. Have age-appropriate resources (e.g., books) for them to get the answers they’re looking for.
- Don’t act like you know it all. Be an active learner yourself. Your child will teach you just as much as you teach them.
- Encourage your child to talk about what they think. This can help each of you talk about what’s important to you—your values.
- Let them know what’s socially okay and not okay. As kids get older, it’s important to help them understand that other people’s values may differ 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, you can suggest finding out together. Or tell them that you’ll find out and get back to them. Don’t put it off—they might think that it’s not okay to talk about or that you aren’t a reliable source.
- Listen carefully. When your child does come to you with questions, listen carefully and make sure you understand what they’re asking.
As your child enters the teen years, they often turn to their friends for answers and information. Being an askable adult helps your teen know that they can still come to you when they have questions.
At this age, teens have many questions that they may not ask about.
Talking about sexual health with your teen may be tricky. They’re likely going through puberty’s changes, such as mood swings and trying out 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 talks with your teen:
- Talk about your values honestly—and expect to have them challenged. Teens want to be independent and have their own identities. You want that as a parent, but it’s also important to say what you believe and model it in your own life.
- Help your teen learn from both good and bad experiences.
- Use inclusive language. It will show your teen that you will support them if they are exploring their gender identity or sexual orientation. Regardless of the results of the exploration, they will know that you want them to be their authentic self. They will feel loved. See Inclusive Language for more information.
- Play the what-if game. Ask them a question like “What if you, your partner, or your friend got pregnant?”, or “What if your friends asked you to do something you weren’t comfortable with?”. Try not to judge their response but talk with them about the possible consequences.
- Speak to them as a mature person. Use correct terms to show that you respect their age and knowledge.
- Accept that you can’t control everything your teen does. There may be times that you don’t approve of what your teen does. Make sure they know you’ll always love them no matter what they do, and that you won’t abandon them. However, make sure they also understand that they’re accountable for their actions.
- Try not to talk down to your teen. This may be hard, but they’re old enough to have a mature conversation. Respect their views and make sure they understand that their feelings are valid, whether or not you agree or understand.
- Model responsible, health-conscious decisions when you use alcohol or other drugs.