Dear Dr. Faizal,
I’m a father, originally from Iran. Back home my parents never discussed sex or how babies are made with their children. The other day, I overheard some parents at my eight-year-old daughter’s school talking about how children should be told about the “birds and bees” by their parents in as early as elementary school. Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but I always thought that parents should only discuss this topic with their kids if and when they ask parents specific questions. I mean, if they’re not asking, they’re not ready, right? Please shed some light as to when it should be appropriate to discuss sex with my daughter.
– Papa Bird
Dear Papa Bird,
You are to be commended as a father for seeking options in dealing with the delicate topic of sexual development in your child. I appreciate your question.
Historically, regardless of culture, parents tried to avoid any type of discussion associated with sex with their children. Fathers specifically left this issue to their wife, and mothers hoped that the school system would handle the topic during guidance class.
Today’s parents realize that, because of personal, familial, cultural, and religious values, it may be best that they tell their children about sex. The question that remains, then, is when, at what age, or under what conditions?
Some parents believe that if the children are not asking, they’re not ready. However, the fact is that some children, especially those from traditional cultural backgrounds, will never ask about sexually-related behaviors. Though they feel uninhibited in asking questions about sports, school, movies, religion, they become conservative in asking about their bodies and sexual health.
Other children perceive their parents’ silence about sexuality topics as a profound message that this is a taboo subject, one that is inappropriate to discuss openly. In family counselling sessions, I’ve heard children admit: “My parents don’t talk about this, so it must be bad. I’m afraid that if I bring it up, I’ll get in trouble.” With this impression, many children resort to getting information – most of which is inaccurate – from their peers or from popular magazines.
If you, like most progressive parents, would like to be the first one to tell your daughter about the facts of life, don’t wait for a certain age or for her to ask a relevant question – just tell her. Tell your child about the facts of life using age-appropriate diction, and in your discussion, make certain to base your explanations on your family’s moral and religious beliefs. Perhaps you could visit your local library and ask your librarian to recommend a few books on how to talk to children about the “birds and bees.”
Another related issue is that some parents believe that parents should only tell the child what the parents think the child needs to know at this time. Keep in mind that parents, based on many factors, usually underestimate what their child “needs” to know. In reality, you cannot tell your child too much; she will process as much as she is able to understand at that moment.
Keep in mind that your child may not understand everything the first time you explain it. Your daughter may return a few days later for clarification. Encourage her to do so. Keeping an open channel of communication is most important in this type of dialogue. By answering her questions in an open, honest, non-judgmental manner, you will be creating a relationship with your daughter that will foster communication about sexual issues in childhood and other concerns that may arise for decades to come.