Talking to kids about sensitive topics

“Why do daddies pee in mommies?”

That was what my 6-year-old son asked me one afternoon while we were playing with his Star Wars miniature figures. Apparently, he learned it from his classmate.

I had a very calm façade, almost stoic, or maybe catatonic. Deep inside of me was like a scene from a Michael Bay movie, though. Explosions everywhere.

To say that kids are naturally inquisitive is putting it mildly. And in their sea of whys, there will always be the ones that make us feel scared to answer. It’s not just questions about sex, either; there’s racism, terrorism, bullying, divorce, death, and other sensitive topics as well.

In this case, the question itself didn’t scare me. It was more about accepting the fact that my child is losing his innocence.

I’ve mentally rehearsed this scenario over and over again in preparation for something like this. I didn’t want my son to see an exterior manifestation of an internal tremor when the time comes. I didn’t want him to feel that the question he asked is something he shouldn’t ask, because it’s not.

Children ask questions out of simple curiosity. It is intrinsic. Notable developmental psychologist Jean Piaget believed that children are naturally motivated to learn. They look for answers in order to improve their understanding of the world.

Would you rather give them the right ones, or have them learn the wrong answers from other sources?

Age of learning

So, when should this kind of conversation start? Whenever your child is ready. My cue was the question that my son asked me. I knew that he was starting to get curious about sex.

The age when a child generally develops logical reasoning is around 7 years old, but some kids mature faster than others. Look for signs that your child is ready to have these big conversations, because these signs may not always come in a form of a question – you may see it in the way they play, or in what they talk about.

Talking tips

  • Assessment: Before you start talking, assess what your child knows by asking them, and then by asking follow-up questions like “why do you think that happened?” or “where did you hear that from?”
  • Be straightforward: Give a straightforward answer that is appropriate to your child’s emotional and intellectual level. For example, toddlers need concrete situations for them to understand a problem better. When your toddler asks you why their friend keeps pushing them, you can take two of her toy figures and create a teachable scenario about bullying by using those. On the other hand, older children are more ready to think problems through logically, so at that later stage, a matter-of-fact technique can work better. When my son turned 13, I taught him about the male and female reproductive systems by showing him my Anatomy and Physiology book. He found it boring.
  • Ongoing process: One conversation won’t cut it. You’ll have to do the “talk” from time to time based on your child’s developmental stage. Their level of curiosity, thirst for knowledge, and level of thinking will change. We have to keep up with those.

If you ask me, talking to kids about sensitive topics is easy. Determining whether you have enough healthy values to teach your kids about these topics is the hard part. Once you realize that you are not only teaching your son or daughter but an entire generation that will come after, it becomes scary.

But the good news is that we have the ability to give our children logical, factual, scientifically-proven answers. We have a whole world of information at our fingertips, we just need to learn how to use it wisely.

About the author: Len D.C. is an RN by chance, a web content specialist by choice, and a mother by fate.

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