There’s always a reason
Updated: Feb 27
Remember that children never ask questions out of the clear blue. They have either heard something or something has happened - if not, they wouldn’t be asking the question.
You might begin by gently asking where they heard about the word or activity. Sometimes kids tease each other with words or names that none of them truly understand and, as casual and unconcerned as your child may seem to be, they can be concealing a great deal of pain or terror underneath a bland expression.
Whether you’re a parent or a grandparent, try to remember that when children do ask questions, no matter how hard the question or how shocking, never be mad! Parents' anger is what children fear most. If you can’t think of an answer straight away, tell the child: “I need the time to think about this, I promise we will talk about it after supper,” or whenever. Please don’t cross your fingers and hope that they won’t ask again. If the child doesn’t ask, bring it up and explain your unease if necessary. “My parents never talked to me, but I’m really proud that you asked me and I’m going to do my best to answer your questions.”
Bedtime is a great time to talk to young ones because they’ll do anything to stop you from leaving and turning out the light. This is a good time to get a book and start reading to them or answer questions they may have asked earlier that day on a crowded bus or at a holiday dinner.
One dad told me that his seven-year-old son asked, “What’s a blow job?” at the Christmas dinner. This dad responded, “We’ll talk about that at bedtime, son.” I congratulated him on his wisdom, but he said, “Yeah right, Meg. My biggest problem was all my relatives begging to stay for bedtime too!”
Always praise your child for his or her maturity and set out your expectations for good manners. At the same time, don’t expect them to always get it right. All of us love to have news to relay, gossip to pass on, and startling new discoveries to share. This kind of thing is the spice of human interaction, for children as well as for adults. Learning about vulvas should be fun as well as fascinating and they may pass on the good news to the cashier in a crowded supermarket. Ignore the smirks, the looks of horror, and the bashful red faces of the others in the grocery line. Be proud that your child is well-educated and protected. If and when we finally drag our whole society into sexual maturity, no one will be upset or think anything of a child’s natural curiosity and willingness to share.
Some parents hesitate to tell their children the facts of life in a straightforward, truthful manner for fear that the child will tell the neighbors. My reply to that is, “If the neighbors are hearing the facts of life from a four-year-old for the first time, all you can do is feel sorry that no one has told them the truth before this!” Why would parents want to protect their neighbors and not their child? The only question a parent should ask is, “Did my child tell it correctly?”
Meg Hickling is an award winning registered nurse and the bestselling author of several books including Speaking of Sex and Boys, Girls & Body Science. After teaching sexual education for over 40 years, she uses her recognized sensitivity, gentle humour and warmth to dispel the myths and instil the knowledge of sexual health in children and parents.
Excerpt from the book The New Speaking of Sex used with permission by Wood Lake Publishing.