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WHY SHOULD PARENTS CONDUCT SEX EDUCATION?

Kids have many influences as they are growing up - friends, teachers, extended family, internet, social media and television. However, parents are the most important influence in shaping a child’s way of thinking. It is essential that parents address sexual education from a young age and create an open, honest and taboo free environment at home for the growing kids. This helps the child in differentiating the information from unhealthy, unrealistic content the child comes across through different media sources.

 

If parents normalise the topic of sex and have a series of age-appropriate chats, the child will develop a healthy understanding of the different components of sexual education, like puberty, protection during sex (safe sex), STDs, gender identity, sexuality, same-sex relationships, etc. and whenever they need more info, they will feel comfortable reaching out to the parent.

The communication with the child should cover important topics like

  • The importance of self image and how to improve it,

  • How to nurture healthy and respectful relationships,

  • The culture values and expectations of parents about sexual decisions,

  • Peer pressure and how to handle it,

  • Consent,

  • Gender Roles,

  • Self Defence, etc.

Pitfalls to Avoid as a Parent

Pitfalls to avoid as a parent

Parents have a variety of responses when the topic of sex or related subject come up in discussion with their kids. It is critical to develop a safe and judgement free space for the kids to express their curiosity. Here are a few common pitfalls to avoid:

  • Avoiding any discussion related to sexual education

    • Do not wait for your children to ask questions to start a conversation about sex - having age-appropriate conversation after the age of 2 or 3 is developmentally beneficial for the child

    • Do not wait to have “the talk” to answer all their questions in one go - it can quickly get overwhelming for them. Rather, answer their questions as and when they come up. This also makes it informal and less awkward.

  • Do not create an absurd story to avoid explaining a question that you feel awkward about. 

    • From the age of 2 onwards, it is better to refer to sex and sexual organs with their proper names, so that it becomes easier for the child to use them later in life

    • Take care to ensure that you do not show any awkwardness through the body language as well while talking on these topics

  • It is common for one parent to take up the responsibility of educating the child on these questions - discuss and define roles clearly so that both parents do not contradict each other

  • Body language cues, such as lowering of voice, poor eye contact and change of tone signals to your child that you are talking about something that is not normal and makes the child uncomfortable

    • This means that the child will avoid talking to you about such topics to prevent any awkward situation

    • So, ensure to maintain the same body language when talking about sex as you would about any other topic

  • Be prepared to answer questions, not just about human reproduction, but also about important everyday topics like masturbation, nocturnal emissions, how to use contraception (condom, oral pills), etc.

  • Do not react to your child’s question with a “Why do you want to know?” or “Do you have a girlfriend?” - create an environment where the child feels comfortable asking any question

How to ensure open communication culture at home?

Open sexual communication with the child

The first time the child pops a question to the parent regarding any sexual topic is very important. We need to encourage the child to stay curious and answer their doubts in a way that is age-appropriate. Finding this balance can be tricky and the following tips can help keep the conversation healthy:

  • Be spontaneous

    • Reserving “the talk” for a special occasion is not very useful

    • It is important to convey to the child that feeling certain things are natural

      • This can be done by pointing out romantic scenes in the movies the child watches. You could tell the child that the two performers were “in love”

    • It is important to keep an open dialogue and be open to answering the questions the child might ask

  • Do not exclude the details

    • Be medically accurate, in terms of your explanations and the words you use to describe sex, the penis, vagina or other “taboo” words

    • Children cannot be explained every detail at all ages, so it is reasonable to modify some details to ensure age-appropriateness

    • Avoid using absurd explanations for natural processes like reproduction or masturbation as this can confuse the child further

      • When the child discovers the truth from another source, he/she will be less likely to trust the parent’s view on such topics 

  • Keep your body language comfortable

    • While talking about these topics, it is important to show the child that the parent is comfortable with answering these queries

    • Along with showing the child that such conversations are natural, it needs to be shown that it is okay that the child would wonder about sex related topics

  • Do not be too opinionated

    • It is recommended to lay down the parent’s values to the child and some general values which should be followed in society

    • However, being too strict about “the right method” is not advised

    • This can make the child feel ashamed if his/her tastes or likings are different from that of their parents’

    • The child needs to know that differences in preferences is normal

  • Include your personal experiences, rather than your opinions

    • It is important that the child feels comfortable expressing their ideas, even if they are different from that of their parents

    • Parents can share their values by narrating their love stories or stories from their past rather than laying down their value system as the only correct one

  • Use everyday opportunities as teachable moments, like while watching TV, or browsing through internet, bath time and other people's (friends/family) experiences. Ask them questions like what do you think about this situation? Was the behavior of person correct? How do you think the actions of this person impact him/her in long run? Did the couple act responsibly? Did they take precaution against STD or pregnancy? etc

You may also follow a four-way approach to build great communication with the child:

  • Validate the child's question and ask them where did they come across this situation. (This helps in understanding what made the child to pop the question in the first place)

  • Ask the child about their opinion and what do they think is the right answer. (This gives you an opportunity to implant your values while understanding child's psychology)

  • Answer the question honestly and with confidence. (This helps in nurturing the bond and trust between parent and the child)

  • Confirm if the child has understood the concept well. (Parent may ask - Does that answer your question?)

HANDLING EMBARRASSMENT / AWKWARDNESS

Feeling embarrassed and having awkward moments while talking about sex is common. However, as a parent, this awkwardness can often mean that important conversations end too early, so it is important that we learn to avoid such moments.

  • Be honest about it 

    • Be upfront with your child about how you feel and talk about why you think that might be the case

    • Ask your child if he/she has any questions regarding your feelings of awkwardness

    • Make it clear that their question was not the reason for the awkwardness

  • Laughing about it

    • Some awkward moments are genuinely funny and can be a laughable memory

    • Openly expressing emotions can create a light environment for the child where they may feel more comfortable speaking up

  • Use supporting material

    • Parents should use books, videos and other material to help them teach their kids about topics that they get awkward about

    • These materials are designed for the children to understand their thoughts, actions and bodies better

  • Looking for information together

    • It is natural for the child to ask questions that the parent is unaware of

    • In this case, the parent and the child could look for the answers together

COMMUNICATING WITH THE CHILD

 

Children Younger Than 2 Years

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Toddlers are the most curious when it comes to learning about their own bodies. They learn to identify parts like eyes, nose, feet and hands. Usually, most parents avoid talking about genitalia to their toddlers

  • During bath time or while changing their clothes, try to call out their “private parts”

    • Kids will begin to ask questions like “what is this part of my body called?”, “where does pee come from?” and “why should I wear underwear?”.

    • Take the time to acknowledge these questions and answer them so that they are confident to ask you more questions in the future

  • Avoid the use of replacement words like “bathing suit area” or “peepee”

    • Children need to understand that their private parts are just as much a part of their body as their arms, legs and face are

    • Use correct terms like penis, scrotum, vagina and buttocks in order to describe their private parts to them

    • This diminishes the taboo around the usage of such words, and will help them communicate easily about sexual education topics in the future

  • Avoid using gendered pronouns while describing private parts

    • The toddler might struggle with their gender identity later on in life and small language modifications can help reduce the confusion they may face in the future

    • For example, instead of referring to people with penises as “boys”, use phrases like “people with penises”. This broadens the child’s understanding of gender and sex

    • This also helps to reduce the stigma and discrimination of transgender people in the society as the child will be more likely to have an open mind

  • Explain to them that they need to keep their private parts covered

    • Toddlers are comfortable with their bodies and may prefer to roam around naked in public platforms or at home

    • Explain to them where it is appropriate to be naked and where it is not, and start by setting small boundaries

Children between 2 - 5 years of age

Sex Education for child aged 2-5 years

Children will begin to question things at this age. They might ask questions like “why are boys and girls different?”, “how was I made?”, “why should I not be naked in front of other people?” and so on. 

It is important to answer these questions in a way that lays the right base for more detailed answers as they grow older. It is important to remember to maintain a balance between detail and overwhelming children with information

 

  • Build on the concept of “private parts”, by designating locations as “private” and “public”

    • Explain to children why it is inappropriate to spontaneously open their clothes while surrounded by other children in public arenas like the park, their schools or playgrounds

    • Use embarrassing encounters that children have with others as teaching moments to reinforce this idea

  • Introduce the concepts of good touch, bad touch and personal space

    • Children at this age need to be told that they can decide who gets to touch their body

    • Explain to them that they can refuse to hug or touch an adult when they do not want to and that they should not force themselves to do that

    • Do not force children to hug any adult or sit on their laps if they are uncomfortable, since this will signal to them that their feelings of discomfort are wrong

  • Set boundaries around your personal space and teach children to respect your privacy

    • Children need to be taught the boundaries of personal space at home, starting with the parent’s washroom, dressing area and shower

    • Teach them basic etiquette like knocking before entering and asking if it is a good time to enter the room

    • Ensure that you follow the same etiquette with them, so they know that they are also entitled to their privacy

  • Set boundaries around when children can touch their genital areas, as they start to explore their genital regions at this age

    • Tell children that it is perfectly normal for them to touch their own genitalia and be curious about it

    • Explain to them the different places where they can and cannot do this by tying this to the concept of private and public space

    • If they begin playing games like “doctor” with their friends which requires them to touch the bodies of their friends, distract them from the game with another toy or game

    • Explain to your child in private about why it is important to respect other people’s personal space

  • Begin to introduce the concept of reproduction

    • Children generally get curious during this age and begin to ask questions like “how are babies made?” or “how is a puppy born?”

    • It is important to keep the explanations simple at this stage. Normalising the concept of birth and explain that a baby grows inside the stomach of the mother

    • Welcome their questions and tell them that they can talk to you about this issue, but they should avoid talking to strangers about it 

 

Children between 5 - 9 years of age

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Children develop some ideas about sex, reproduction and their bodies from their friends, books, the internet and other sources. As children continue to think for themselves, they form many misconceptions.

Ask questions to enquire what they think about different topics and stay engaged in their social lives in school and among their friends. This can help the parent to understand how the child thinks and accordingly explain different concepts and realities to the child. 

 

  • Explain the reproductive system to them in greater detail

    • Explain to the children that they also have internal reproductive organs, along with their external reproductive organs

    • Always use proper names for the organs and tell them that bodies come in different shapes, sizes and colours

    • In a simple manner, explain to them the functions of such organs. For example, ‘the urethra helps our body get rid of urine from our bodies” or “the penis delivers the father’s cells to the mother to form the baby in her stomach”

  • Some children will begin to get curious about the onset of puberty in
    friends/older siblings

    • Children begin to notice changed voices and faster body growth in
      friends/older siblings

    • Tell children that their bodies will change at the right time too and that the right time for puberty is different in different people

  • Begin to teach them how to draw boundaries around their own personal space

    • Introduce phrases which children can use, like “don’t touch me there. I do not like that” and explain to them when to call out for help from their parents or teacher

    • Tell them about scenarios where they should call for help, like when someone is insisting on touching their private parts 

  • Introduce ideas like love, dating, relationships and marriage, which they might be getting exposed to via friends, movies, the internet and books

    • Try to keep the definitions of romantic love gender neutral to avoid causing emotional conflicts to queer children

    • Explain to them that romantic love can be between people of opposite genders as well as people of the same gender

    • It is also important to explain to the children that love does not always have to mean romantic love, but can be feelings of close connection they feel for their parents, family or friends

    • Correct the children gently if they use the word love incorrectly and explain to them the correct word to be used in each context

  • Introduce the concept of masturbation

    • Although most kids do not begin masturbation at this age, explain to children that touching their private parts can feel good and must always be done alone in private

    • Ensure to tell them that they can ask you any question regarding this and you would be happy to answer them

  • Practice decision making and assertiveness around the house

    • Introduce exercises like dummy conversations with a “bad person” and teach children how to say no

    • Teach them when and how to reach out for help in such scenarios

 

Children between 9 - 13 years of age

Sex Education for child aged 9-13 years

This age is one where children undergo a lot of change in their bodies and minds. Therefore, it is crucial that they are supported in this journey as much as possible.

 

  • Explain puberty in greater detail

    • Explain to children the specific changes they can expect to see in their bodies and that this happening to all kids and not just them

    • Talk to boys about hoarseness of voice, growth spurts, facial hair growth  and other changes they might expect in terms of their bodies and emotions

    • Talk to girls about menstruation, menstrual hygiene and teach them how to use and dispose sanitary pads, tampons and other sanitary products

      • Ensure that they understand that menstruation is normal and not something to be worried about

  • Introduce the concept of consent

    • At this age, children who’ve hit puberty might begin to understand the concept of sexual desire

    • It is important to reinforce the concept of obtaining consent before touching another person, romantically or otherwise

  • Start an open dialogue about sexual intercourse

    • Explain to them how sexual intercourse works, with the usage of correct terms, and tell them that it is natural for them to feel sexual desire

    • Tell them that they will be qualified and mature enough to perform intercourse only when they are adults because of multiple issues like STDs, STIs and unplanned pregnancy, which must be avoided

    • Children should be given a book to help them learn and discover things on their own, when they might be uncomfortable to reaching out to others 

  • Start an open dialogue about sexual orientation

    • Tell children that sexual attraction between people of the same sex and those of opposite sexes are both romantic and beautiful

    • Show them shows, movies or books with love stories on same sex couples to normalise this concept for them

 

Teens (Age of 13+)

Sex Education for a teenager child

Sex education during this age needs to be very practical and engaging. If the dialogue around sex was started since a young age, it becomes easier for a parent to talk to their teenager about sex. Sex education needs to be an ongoing back and forth dialogue during teenage years. Just one talk or handing them one book is never enough. 

 

  • Encourage teenagers to talk about physical and emotional issues - the latter is often ignored by parents

    • Encourage the teenager to talk about their emotions, feelings and desires while talking to them about sex

    • Humour can be an interesting tool to use to break the ice

      • Fun queries like “should I make some chocolate milk for your crush?” normalise the concept of attraction around the house and set up a healthy environment for discussions

  • Point out examples of obtaining consent in the content the teenager consumes

    • Show them what consent is - verbally, physically or via body language

      • If you are watching a movie together and the protagonists are about to get involved in sexual intercourse, explain to them how one character obtains consent from the other before engaging in it

      • If you are watching a movie and troubling scenes show up, discuss how it was wrong and ask the teenager their thoughts what should have been done instead

  • Talk about oral sex 

    • Many teenagers resort to oral sex as an alternative to sexual intercourse

    • Keep an open dialogue about oral sex in the house - talk about pleasure, protection and outline risk factors like the spread of STIs and physical injury

  • Explain the negative impact of alcohol and drugs on sexual health 

    • Teenagers are at a higher risk of substance abuse due to peer pressure and the influence of online and offline media

    • Explain the harm caused by the use of alcohol and drugs on their fertility, their sexual organs and other parts of their body

    • Communicate with them about their friend circles and try to outline examples of peer pressure and how they could avoid such situations

    • Another important concept to explain is that sexual intercourse under the influence of alcohol or drugs is never safe and can cause careless encounters, resulting in STIs and unplanned pregnancies

  • Allow the teen to interact and question their doctor or paediatrician

    • Routine check-ups can play a vital role in the proper development of the child. You can include the doctor in this dialogue and ask the doctor to highlight the risks of STDs and unplanned pregnancy to the teen

    • The doctor could also state real life examples in order to make the teen aware of the importance of protection and abstinence under influence

  • Be on the lookout for signs of violence in their relationship

    • It is important for parents to look for signs of violence which might occur as they start dating

      • Avoiding social gatherings and friends

      • Defending the behaviour of their partner

      • Loss of interest in activities the teenager typically enjoyed

      • Bruises/cuts/scratches

    • If any of these signs are present, the parent must speak to the teenager and ask about what might be bothering them, without making any assumptions

    • If nothing seems to work, arrange a therapy session with a medical professional

  • Social media and pornography 

    • Explain to teenagers that any image they share online can be accessed by others and manipulated, especially nude or partially nude photos

      • Show them documentaries on the impact of not protecting one’s privacy online

    • Explain to them that the depiction of sex in pornography is not accurate and is an act put up for entertainment

    • Teenagers have a tendency to glorify porn, so make them aware of the sexual violence and discrimination in the porn industry

 

HOW TO HANDLE A CHILD COMING OUT OF THE CLOSET?

Coming out is the process of revealing someone’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity to the society. While this process can be easier and shorter for some children, it is a lifelong journey for others. Children want to express their gender identity and sexual orientation to their parents and loved ones. To ensure their healthy development, it is crucial that parents handle this situation with care and sensitivity.

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Dos

  • Ask questions to your child to understand their personality and to clear any queries you might have

    • Parents should be observant of the child’s likes and try and expose them to those things

  • Parents should make home a “safe space” for the child where the child can explore their interests

    • They might be facing difficulties/getting bullied at school or in public because of coming out and it is important that they know that they are accepted and loved for who they are at home

    • Keep an open dialogue at home by talking about how different kinds of gender or romance/love can exist

    • Expose children to diversity via movies, books as well through conversations with adults who’ve been through the same experiences as them

  • The parent needs to look out for signs of poor mental health and ensure that the child gets medical help to prevent depression/anxiety

  • Allow the child to set the pace at which they want to talk to extended family and friends about their choices and identity

 

Don’ts

  • Do not ignore the fact that your child has come out of the closet. He/she trusted you and wanted you to know and accept them entirely for who they are, so ensure that you have constant conversations even if it is something you struggle to understand

  • Do not view their gender identity or sexual preference as an “issue” that needs to be corrected. Your role is to support your child in the journey as they discover for themselves their identity.

  • Don’t make assumptions about what your child will wear, where your child will start hanging out, or who your kid is attracted to. Instead, always ask questions