This past week I was meeting with a mom with small children and I joked about doing a blog on teaching preschoolers about sex, and to my horror, she said that that would be an excellent idea! Ack! Well on this historic day I am going to give you a dad’s take on teaching a preschooler (plus a few years) about the birds and the bees. I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert in early childhood education, in fact my credentials would be limited to merely parenting a bunch of them (previously and currently) and not having them die on my watch. No, my “expertise” is more of the middle school variety, and even those theories are being put to the test with my own son these days. I actually enjoy teaching middle schoolers about purity because I know how incredibly important it is today, plus at that age it is still a pre-emptive move in many cases. One of my chief goals in raising our boys has been to normalize and hopefully remove some of the anxiety surrounding puberty and sex talks in school (or at home for that matter) and so far I think I have been successful, as it has not become a taboo issue in our home. So, the goal of this blog is to convince you of the importance of being pre-emptive and to lay a foundation for a healthy and godly view of sexuality as your child grows.
Where to begin. First off, it is very important to remember that we are not talking about teaching anything particularly specific about sex to little kids (that would be ridiculous) at some point you must decide whether you are going to figure out a way to explain how that baby got into and is going to escape mommy’s tummy or divert your kids’ attention or lie to them to avoid what YOU feel awkward about communicating. Remember the younger the kid the less awkward they are, at that age they still think you can steal their nose! And that’s an important point! They will believe what you tell them! They will believe you if you tell them a stork delivered their little brother. They will believe you if you say babies pop out of mommy’s belly-button. But they will also believe you if you tell them about how God built a mommy and daddy’s body so that they can make and have babies.
I am a proponent of honesty. Now I do use silly slang for body parts. I haven’t always been that way, for some reason I thought it was exceptionally important with our first son to have him say the anatomically correct term when referring to his ding-dong, but I realized that “penis” sounded weird coming out of a four-year-old’s mouth so I ditched that for humour instead. That being said the concepts surrounding sex can be traumatic to children so we have been very careful about what we say and when we say it.
For example, if at four our son had asked us where babies come from, we would have probably said that when a mommy and daddy are married and in love God allows them to make a baby and left it basically at that. While thus isn’t strictly true (you don’t need to be married to make babies), it’s true enough and will lay the foundation for an important truth. When my son was six however, he started asking more specific questions and that warranted more specific answers. Being a youth pastor I researched what Christian developmental experts were saying and I took literally the first paragraph of the first chapter in a book and used it for my teaching moment.
I started by asking him where baby chicks come from, eggs obviously! Next I explained that not all eggs hatch into chicks because something is missing and that part comes from a rooster and if it isn’t there the egg won’t become a chick. So both a mommy and daddy are important for chicks to be born. Then we talked about how all animals are actually born from eggs and sperm but that not all eggs are on the outside of the body, for many animals the egg stays on the inside. I could see that the wheels were turning a bit and then he asked the kicker, “How does the sperm get to the egg if it’s inside the mommy’s body?” Great question. And I explained in VERY simple terms the mechanics of sex, including why boys have penises and girls don’t, which he thought was very weird and then he went back to whatever he was doing and promptly forgot what I had told him. In fact I asked him this year whether he remembered that conversation and he doesn’t which means that it WASN’T traumatic and in my books that is success!
Incidentally, there was a reason why I needed to talk to him about sex when I did; he had asked. This is so important. For some kids you need to watch them to see if they are keeping any questions inside because they are afraid or ashamed to ask (or just don’t know how to put them into words) but in my son’s case, he just came right out and asked one evening. Tara and I didn’t answer him that first night though! We told him that this was great question but a conversation for another day and then we waited to see if he would ask again, which he did. This suggested to us that he was genuinely interested and not just asking a question out of the blue. If your child is not remotely interested in these questions don’t answer them until you feel they will pick up the information elsewhere.
In addition to teaching kids about sex we need to make sure we teach them about being appropriate. We told our son that we would tell him about where babies come from but that this was a conversation that he would have with mommy and daddy but not with other people and he wasn’t supposed to tell his friends about it, that was the job of their mommy’s and daddy’s. We also took the opportunity to talk about who is a safe adult and who is not. Like mommy and daddy sometimes need to help out in the bathtub and a doctor might have to touch us to make sure our body is healthy, but no one else ever is allowed to see or touch our private areas.
Finally, we always ALWAYS emphasize God’s plan for sex within marriage from the youngest age. That has led to some tricky conversations surrounding people we love who have chosen to have children outside of marriage, but our answer is always that God’s plan is that children have a mommy and daddy who are married but that sometimes people don’t follow God’s best plan.
I don’t want my children to be ashamed when it comes to sex and purity but I also don’t want them to be too open about it. Remember if parents don’t prayerfully talk to their kids at key developmental stages, kids will be educated elsewhere and that can have horrible consequences. Why not take a minute or two right now and ask the Lord whether your kids are ready for a talk about sex. Ask Him for a strategy to make the conversation normal but truthful and clear. If you feel uncertain, remember kids often ask candid questions at their young age, so you can always wait for those!
If you want more resources in this area there is a great set of four books by Stan Jones that are available to read to kids at various ages right from preschool up to early teens. Here is a link to the first in the series.