Talking with Children about Sex and Relationships
Children learn about sex whether you want them to or not. Sex is everywhere around us in:
- Newspapers and magazines
- Advertisements and billboards
- TV and Soap Operas
- Song lyrics and musical videos
- News items etc
Children also learn about sex from each other, not all of it accurate information.
You as a parent have an important role in making sure your child has the right information.
This brief guide should assist you with when to start discussing sex and relationships and to respond comfortably to questions they may ask.
Sex education shouldn’t be a one off talk but a gradual process of communication starting when your child is small and continuing into adulthood.
If your children grow up knowing that you are comfortable with what can be a sensitive issue it is likely that they will come to you when they need to.
‘Talking you’re your child about relationships and sexual health – For parents and carers of children’ - http://www.healthscotland.com/documents/1138.aspx and
‘Talking with your teenager about relationships and sexual health – For parents and carers of children between 10 and 13 years old - http://www.healthscotland.com/documents/1141.aspx.
1. Sex and Relationships – What is it?
- It’s about
- Body changes
- Growing and changing
- Keeping safe
- Who you can talk to
- Who can offer help
2. What should I do?
As a parent/carer you’re in a good position to discuss sex and relationships at a time which is right for your child.
- Start early. Young children aren’t embarrassed, so you needn’t be
- Answer questions simply and naturally. It’s an everyday matter. You don’t have to say much, children are happiest learning in small steps
- Clarify what your child means e.g. “Mmm that’s interesting, where did you hear that?” or “...like...?”
This can tell you how much they know and helps to give answers they will understand
- Use their comments and questions about programmes on TV, or reports of their day, or magazines they see to continue the conversation
- We know that everyday activities like going for a walk, or washing up together, encourages talking
- Have a line up your sleeve for difficult moments such as:
“That’s a good question, let’s talk about it when we get home.” And make sure you do
- See the resources section of this website for books and leaflets. You may contact your child’s school for advice about materials to read together or you could look in your local library
3. When should I start?
It’s best to start talking to your children about growing up at an early age. Some children ask about where babies come from when they are very young. Even if they don’t they are already picking up information and messages about sex and relationships from what they see and hear.
Puberty can begin as early as eight years old for girls and boys so it is important that your children are prepared.
Children need this information before they start to experience bodily changes. If they aren’t prepared they may be anxious and afraid.
4. But don’t they learn about sexual health and relationships at school?
Yes they do. Programmes of study for teaching and learning are used in all Tayside schools. They cover from nursery to 18 years, beginning with work on feelings, relationships, family, difference and roles before moving on to sexual development in self and others. For further details of content you may ask at your child’s school.
Good sex education in school can provide children and young people with accurate information about sexual health and relationships. It can present opportunities to explore feelings and to develop strategies for keeping safe. Young people want to know more about relationships and how to manage feelings.
You may feel concerned that by discussing sexual health and relationships you will encourage your child to start having sexual relationships. Research demonstrates that the opposite is true. Young people who have the information they need defer their first sexual activity until they are older.
Research also shows that many young people are not having sex.
The UK has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe and sexually transmitted infections are increasing among young people. Giving your child support, information and help to feel good about themselves can lessen the chances of both.
5. How can I encourage my teenager to talk to me?
It’s important to talk to children when they are young because teenagers often find it hard to talk to their parents or carers.
It helps if they already know that you are always ready to talk to them. It may be that your teenager doesn’t want to talk to you – it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure as a parent. Part of the process of growing up involves becoming independent. Young people need privacy and a chance to make their own decisions, but to have your support when they need it. You can help by making sure that they know where else to get advice if they do not want a discussion with you.
Remember you are not alone
- You can ask to speak to someone at your child’s school
- Other parents and carers or other family members can be a support for your child
- Young peoples’ friends are invaluable in listening and supporting
- Sexual and other health sources of support are detailed on this website
6. Any other tips?
Children and young people notice the tone of what you say, as much as what you say. Try not to get impatient and don’t put them down. If you don’t know the information say so, but find out for later. Be as truthful as possible – myths don’t help an enquiring mind.