Camping in the park with my parents on a Saturday morning, my son chose to ask a question over breakfast. “What are those things in my sister's cosmetic bag that look like sticks?” I then had the privilege of explaining about tampons in front of my parents. Then my son replied, “So they are basically blood collectors.” Then he went on to talk about our trip to the beach as if the conversation had never stepped into stressful waters.
Kids ask the most intimate of questions in the most awkward of settings, but no matter how much they catch us off guard, it is important to avoid over-reacting. If we panic or grow visibly uncomfortable, we might say things that we don’t mean to say just to avoid embarrassment in the grocery checkout line. Much worse, our negative, embarrassed, stammering reaction tells our kids that we parents are not safe places to ask questions.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. Listen, my child, to your father's teaching, and do not forsake your mother's teaching”(Proverbs 1:7-8).
As parents we are called to teach about God’s reign over every aspect of our lives and that includes our sexuality. If we avoid freaking out when it comes to talking with your kids about sex you will be blessed with more opportunities to hear the concerns of your child's heart. You will get another chance, lots more.
Talking about sexuality is not a onetime conversation, but an ongoing dialog from a young age about God's care for every aspect of our lives including their bodies and their sexuality. If you don’t explain things perfectly, you will have more chances to build on the last conversation in the next conversation. And you don't have to explain everything from romance to anatomy to childbirth all at once. Just answer the question, simply, truthfully, and at an appropriate level.
If it's truly not a good time, praise your child for asking a great question. Tell them, "I want to give you the best answer, so let’s get back to that question when we are at home and I can give you my undivided attention." Then follow through and give them the information they seek. This honors the question and gives you time to think thoughtfully about your answer without trying to explain what the word "raped" means in front of the librarian.
Stressing out communicates that the topic is somehow shameful, instead of something beautiful designed by God. When we stress over the questions our kids ask about sex, we convey that this topic carries shame. We don’t want our kids to associate sexuality with shame and embarrassment, so it is important that we answer them calmly and honestly and at their level. We want them to celebrate sex as God’s idea and design as a blessing for our married relationships. Moreover, you want to show that your child's questions are important and valuable to you, not shame-inducing occasions for panic--it's as much about reacting positively to your child as reacting positively about sex.
God chose you. God picked you to parent your children. He equips you to guide them lovingly towards understanding about God and his world. Culture promotes a distorted sexuality that is not in agreement with God's word, but you are there to share the truth. Be clear with kids that God designed sex to be good, and he placed it within marriage for our benefit. Know that God called you to your parenting role and he will empower you to fulfill it.
Freaking out shows that we are not credible. Making stuff up or telling stork stories shows that we cannot be trusted. If you give kids honest information when they ask, you become their source for reliable information. You don’t want your kids googling their questions or asking their friends what they think; you want them to come to you as a safe place to voice their questions. They need to know that they can always come to you.
Stressing out will silence, not foster, more discussion. We want our kids to understand the amazing bodies that God made and to marvel at the beauty of God’s good creation. If we freak out over sexual questions, we discourage them from asking any questions--not only on sexuality, but on spirituality, relationships, and the big life choices they soon will face. Make sure your kids know that they can talk with you about any subject. Share with them calmly and honestly about whatever they ask.
I wondered how my parents would react to our matter-of-fact conversations about tampons over breakfast. My dad talked with me later and thanked me for being honest and direct with my kids. He also marveled at how different this was from his upbringing where sexuality was a taboo topic. We talked about the importance of communicating the message that sexuality too is part of God’s good creation.
We will not get the opportunity to teach our kids about healthy sexuality if we get stressed out every time the topic arises. We equip our kids with information to keep them safe from those who would abuse their innocence. Kids have the worst timing, so be prepared to give basic direct answers without batting an eye. God placed you in this role and equips you to face the challenges!
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster