Tips for Talking about 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 talk about sexual health with your child—this will help your child to make healthy, informed decisions now and later on. 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 your child feels:
- comfortable coming to you
- feels respected
- feels heard
An askable adult teaches their child through words, through behaviour and their reactions to situations and questions.
- 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 confuse children when some body parts have cute names and not others. This can also help to protect your child from abuse, as they will have the words to tell you if they feel something happened.
- use teachable moments to begin the talk. Talk about and help them understand 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 talk about your values and beliefs.
- find out what they already know. Ask your child what they can tell you about a certain sexuality topic. Older children in school will hear comments or words that they don’t understand. Asking them what they know can give you the chance 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 children can get the right 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 your values.
- let them know what’s socially okay and not okay. As children get older, it’s important to help them understand that other people’s values 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’ll find out and get back to them. Don’t put it off—they might think that it’s not okay to talk about it.
- 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 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 about.
Talking about sexual health with your teen may be tricky. They’re likely going through the changes puberty brings, like 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 identity. You want that as a parent, but it’s important 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 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?”. Try not to judge their response, but do talk 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. Make sure your teen knows that there may be times you don’t approve of what they do. Make sure they know you’ll always love them no matter what and that you won’t abandon them. Make sure they understand that they’re responsible for their actions.
- Try not to talk down to your teen. This may be hard to do, but they’re old enough to have a mature conversation. Respect their views and make sure they understand that their feelings are their feelings, whether or not you agree or understand.
- Show responsible, health-conscious decisions when you use alcohol or other drugs.