Have you ever felt anxious about how to respond if your child asks a question about sex? An honest answer for some is to hope they just don’t ask. However, parents know it is better if we do, so that we can be the ones educating them instead of Google or one of their friends.
Even so, we would all like a few pointers for responding to a child’s curiosity about sex, so this blog will attempt to give a few. Here are three ways to speak into a child’s curiosity; two that are proactive and one that is responsive.
1. Get Ahead of Children’s Curiosity
Teaching children about sex protects them from inaccurate and inappropriate ideas about sexuality. When children are educated on God’s design for sex they will be able to spot a counterfeit. Educate to protect.
Children need information about sex at younger ages than was necessary in the past. Pornographic idea surround them. Sooner is safer. Here are two ways we can educate children.
Here are a few books that teach God’s design for sex to consider:
Preschool: God Made Boys and Girls: Helping Children Understand the Gift of Gender, by Marty Machowski.
Preschool: God Made Your Body, by Jim Burns.
Age 6-8: How God Makes Babies, by Jim Burns.
Age 8-10: The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality, by Luke Gilkerson.
Ages 10-12: Changes: 7 Biblical Lessons to Make Sense of Puberty, by Luke & Trisha Gilkerson.
There are a wide array of illustrated encyclopedia-type books for kids on the human body. Many of these have child-appropriate images of the human body that could also be helpful for some families. These go in and out of print too fast to list any by name. You would have to check a local bookstore to find one you feel is right for your family.
When using any of these books, go through them first with your child, asking them if they have any questions as you do. After you have read it with your child, put the book with the other children’s books in your house. Tell your children they can read them any time they like.
Children need more than one reading of a book to fully grasp new ideas. Keeping these books with all the others portrays the idea that God made our bodies and our bodies are good, not something shameful that has to be locked away.
Bodies are not the only aspect of sexuality kids are curious about. Your child will hear a wide array of sexual terms and slang phrases that they will want to understand. There are some you may want to teach them rather than wait for them to be exposed to by someone else when you are not around.
Which words you choose to teach are up to you. One pastor I spoke with said when he was only eight his father taught him the meaning of every sexual slang word, including curse words, that his dad could think of. The dad wanted his son (who eventually became a pastor) to have that discussion together, not with other kids on a playground somewhere.
This pastor told me he was very grateful to his father for doing this. He was grateful that he could learn those words and what they really meant in a non-sexualized context. He said it was helpful to hear them in a discussion that also included how we should honor God and each other, rather than hearing them embedded in a sexual joke. The pastor said it helped him avoid inappropriate sexual talk as well as pornography as a child because he understood the greater context of sexuality and how these words did not reflect or honor God.
I am not suggesting you do the same as this pastor’s father. You know your child better than anyone and know what words they may need to learn from you first. The point of this story is to show that learning what words mean, even “bad” words, can be a protective measure if done correctly by a parent.
2. Responding to Questions
It is good to get out ahead of a child’s questions as outlined above, but there is no way to anticipate all the questions about sex a child will have. The hope is a child will to bring these questions to us, not Google or the older kids down the street.
Ask Me Anything
When we read a book about sexuality or have a conversation about sex, you can end with, “If you every have any question about sex at all, I want you to ask me. Any question at all. You will never be in trouble for asking questions.”
Some kids are innately shy and have a hard time asking questions like this out loud. If your child is like this, create a blank parent-child journal for you and your child. Ask your child to write his or her questions about sex (or anything else that is personal) and leave the journal somewhere for you to respond to later.
That is the easy part. The hard part is responding well when children ask difficult questions about sex. It is not uncommon for children to ask questions we never expected. Here are some examples of real questions kids have asked in Christian homes.
6-year-old child, “What is oral sex?”
9-year-old child, “What is 69?”
9-year-old child, “What is masturbation?”
teenager, “What is sodomy?”
I will be the first to admit it is difficult to remain calm when children this young ask those kinds of questions. However, keeping calm is very important. How we react will determine if our child comes to us with future questions.
I was the 9-year-old child who asked my mother what masturbation was. Unfortunately, my mother did not react well. She became very agitated and refused to look at me. I don’t recall what she said, I only remember how upset my question made her. I never asked either of my parents another question about sex and went to older teenagers I knew instead. The education I got was very inappropriate and damaging.
Perhaps we need to practice answering this kind of question with our spouse or another adult. We need to be ready to smile and say, “I’m so glad you asked me,” when our kids ask us difficult questions about sex. We want to reward them for coming to us instead of someone else.
3. Drawing Questions Out
Even when we do everything right our children do not always think to ask a parent the questions they have that are rolling around in their heads. Parents should draw their children’s questions out on a fairly regular basis.
Every once in a while, more often as our children get older, have planned conversations about sex. Here are some tips to making those more effective.
Create a Judgement Free Zone
The term, “Judgement Free Zone” actually came from teenagers when Be Broken surveyed a group of Christian teens. The survey was to discover what parents can do to make talking about sex feel safer at home. Teens told Be Broken that they want a “Judgement-Free Zone” to have those conversations in.
So, parents can start a conversation about sex by saying, “We are going to have a judgement free zone. During this time I will not judge or punish you for anything you say or ask.” This gives our kids a sense of safety.
Ask About Others First
Even in a Judgment-Free environment kids may feel unsure how parents will react to difficult questions about sex. One way to help is to show them how you will react. Give kids a way to see how you will react to information about sex.
Start by asking what they are seeing and hearing other kids say and do. This is safer because you are not asking about them. Then let your kids watch you react to what they say about their friends before they have to ask their own questions.
You could ask:
“What have you heard other kids talk about related to sex?”
“What do you see other kids doing related to sexuality?”
“What do you think about that?”
If we can remain calm and thank them for sharing, this will prove to them that we are safe people to ask difficult questions about sex. Then we can ask, “What questions do you have about sex, or any of the things you see other people doing?”
We also have to watch our kids for signs of curiosity. This could be a child staring at an advertisement of scantily clad people, a look of confusion when they see something slightly sexual on a show or movie, or even while at the beach.
When we see our child looking confused or curious when confronted with anything that could be considered even slightly sexualized, we should ask them about it.
We might ask:
“You look confused/curious. What are you feeling?”
“Does what you are seeing bring up any questions?”
“Do you want to talk about what you are seeing?”
“What do you think about what you are seeing?”
I know I often had the tendency to want to hurry past rather than press into any questions my children had in those instances. I have found it rewarding, however, when I dared to pause and ask my children what questions they have.
Overall, simply keep in mind that your children will have curiosity about sex at all ages. View them as continually curious. God made them this way, so there is no need to worry about their curiosity. Instead, be there to help them work through their curiosity in a safe, God-honoring way.