"The" Talk

Dear Parentworks,

Ok, so we knew this would eventually happen but I can't believe the time seems to finally be here. My daughter keeps asking questions about babies and where they come from and what we meant by we "tried" to have a baby for a long time. She's only 8 but she doesn't seem to be giving up. We tried the ol' stall tactics of "under the cabbage leaves" or "the stork" but she's not buying ANY of it. I don't think I'M ready for this but I'm not sure how long I can keep her at bay.

- Batty over the Birds and the Bees

Dear Batty,

Don't you just love these rites of passage? Some of our children's stages are more fun to experience than others; sitting up, talking, going off to school but talking about the facts of life often gives parents the chills. But it's inevitable just like their learning of all the other thousands of other things they ask you about. At 8 years old, it is quite typical for a child to express their natural curiosity with these questions. While we may think of 10-12 as prime years for children to BEGIN thinking about sexuality, in reality some girls these days may actually begin getting their period around 9 years old. So if you try to think of this conversation just as though it's as simple and easy as all the others you've shared with your child you'll be helping yourself out a lot as you begin this process. Practice ahead of time what you want to say and how you want to say it - be sure to include your spouse in this process. Your child needs to know that you parents are a untied front in sharing this information - it's not critical that you're both Present at "the talk" but she needs to know that daddy knows you're telling her these things. If you have sons, let you husband take the next round.

It is important to be as accurate in how you label body parts, give them the correct names and purposes. Stay calm and try not to convey embarrassment - your attitude will go a long way in how your daughter perceives the information she is hearing; if she gets the impression from you that it's shameful or distasteful that will have a strong influence on her. This is definitely the time to convey your values; loving, committed relationships, marriage - whatever you want her to know about the emotions that attend the physical aspects.

If the thought of going this alone seems daunting, I recommend a book called "Where Did I Come From? The facts of life without any nonsense and with illustrations" by Peter Mayle. (Yes, as it turns out it's the Peter Mayle who later wrote of all the living in Provence, France stories.) This book was originally published in 1977 but reissued in 1995 and the sense of good humor and honesty in his other books are present in this one as well. The title is very accurate, so know that there are indeed illustrations and when the time comes he does describe how the man and woman love each other they want to be as close as possible and describes how that is done. If your child has been used to reading and getting lots of information from books, this may be a good way to jump start the conversation because the beauty of books is that they can be referred to again and again. I would leave it available, after the talk, for her to look at and know that you and your husband are available to answer any other questions she ever has.

A final reminder is to put some limits around the conversation by letting her know that, in your family, you've decided to share this very grown up information with her because she asked and is growing up herself.  Remind her about private parts of the body and the rules about appropriate touch. If you have younger children make sure she knows that they are not ready to hear this information and that it's up to you, as the parents, to choose when you tell them. Extend this to letting her know that it's a private thing to talk about too and that it's up to her friend's parents to decide when the right time to have this conversation in their house. You may want to privately touch bases with her teacher at school and any parents of kids she's especially good friends with just to let them know, in case they do hear increased curiosity chatter from the kids. And congratulations to you! You've just reached another milestone in your child's healthy growth and development. The next big ones are dating and driving and you don't even want to go THERE now so count your blessings.