Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The birds and the bees

Sooner or later, every parent has to decide how they are going to explain the big questions of life.  And they don't get much bigger than, "Where do babies come from?"  Or at least it feels like that when you are confronted with the question on the spur of the moment.

I don't know about you, but my parents managed to dodge the question almost entirely. They said nothing, I asked nothing, and by the time the "human development" unit of Year 7 science was over I guess they figured I knew it all and they were off the hook.  

But we've opted for a more proactive approach with our kids.  There's a saying kicking around that goes, "If you wait till 8, it'll be too late."  The theory being that kids are finding out the basics in the school playground by the age of 8 so if you want to be the one to tell them you'd better get yourself organized before then.  Eight?!  Are you serious? Well, I don't think by age 8 they need to know everything in detail, but I do agree that if you've said nothing at all by then you've left your run a bit late.  Discussing gender and sexuality needs to start from the time kids first work out that some of them are girls and some are boys.  And it shouldn't be one talk.  It should be lots of little talks all along the years which slowly develop their understanding of their own bodies and then of the role of sex in human life.

I think the best place to start is about age 2.  Around that age they are learning the names of the parts of their body.  We chose to use the correct anatomical names for their private parts.  I figure every kid ought to know what the bits of their own body are called.  It seems strange to me to withhold that information from them.  I know some families prefer to use nicknames for various bits and that seems fine too but at some point I would also say, "We call that  ... in our family but it's proper name is actually ....," just so they know.

Then at some point around 2 or 3, we've read this book to our kids.   Everybody's got a bottom is published by Family Planning Queensland.  It's not an easy book to get hold of but you can order it directly from FPQ or Family Planning NSW or Family Planning Vic.  It's a picture storybook about a family which includes information about the difference between girls' and boys' bodies and some really helpful ideas about privacy and self-protection.  The big message of the book is repeated as a refrain on several pages: from my head to my toes, I can say what goes.  It's a gentle way to help children to understand the concept that they are responsible for caring for their bodies and that they have the right to say no if someone wants to invade their privacy in some way.  I don't think I could have a talked with my children about not letting anyone touch them inappropriately without it coming across as very scary but this book does it brilliantly.  Bottoms are nothing to be embarrassed about but we also need to remember to wear clothes and respect each other's privacy.  If you've never used the correct names for body parts with your kids, you'll find reading it aloud a bit confronting.  But start early and hopefully you won't be blushing quite so much when you get to the talks later on.  It's not a book we keep out with our book collection.  Rather, it's a special book I bring out about once a year to sit and read together.

Where Do Babies Come From?: For Girls Ages 7-9 and ParentsAfter this stage, we've been using the Learning about Sex series from Concordia Publishing.  This series comes as a set of books that gradually builds up a child's understanding of sex through age-appropriate stages.  The first book, which comes in a girls' and a boys' version, is Why boys & girls are different and is aimed at ages 4 - 6.  Then comes Where do babies come from? for ages 7 - 9 and How you are changing for 10-12 year olds.  It very much aims to introduce the basic concepts of family, sex and gender in the context of a Christian worldview.

This series has some pluses and minuses:

* The picture-story book presentation makes it easier to read with young kids than a bunch of facts.  Reading it aloud to your children at this stage means that you are talking about sexuality together from the outset and not just leaving them to read a book on their own later down the track.  Hopefully, this will set a pattern of being able to discuss questions together as time goes on.
* Information about bodies and sex is set in the larger context of what it means to be in a family and to love each other.  Family is a huge emphasis is both of the first two books.
* Our differences and our sexuality are celebrated as part of God's creation and something for which we should be thankful not ashamed.
* The book clearly celebrates more than one type of family - adoptive families, single parent families and families with multiple generations are all included.
* The detail given steps up gently.  I think most parents know what information needs to be conveyed overall but just not how much at what stage.  A series like this takes the pressure off deciding what to say now and what to keep for a bit later on.  That said, if a kid is asking for more information I would happily discuss it with them.

* I felt there was too much padding around the main points at times and the facts did get a bit "buried" in the story.  We dealt with this by going over anything we thought might not have been clear and encouraging the kids to ask us if they wanted to know anything else or have it explained again.
* Sometimes I think they tried to include too much context.  Yes, we are part of a church family but it's not an essential idea in relation to the information parents are wanting to convey right at that moment.
* The illustrations are a bit dated and daggy in parts.  It felt a bit sugary-sweet at times too.  But that might just be my personal taste.

I am not sure if we'll stick with the series all the way to the end, but for the present it's been really helpful.  I think there are quite a number of books on the market that deal with the information around puberty but less options if you want information for younger children who might not be ready for great detail but who do want to understand some things.  I know some people like to tell their kids the full facts from the outset.  And if you live on a farm, your kids are probably going to have it figured out pretty quickly anyway.  Either way - gradual or full confession - it's better that they get the right information from you than piece it together themselves from the gossip in the playground.  And besides, I don't want my kids to get the idea that sex is something we don't ever mention.  Firstly, because I know that will make it difficult for them to find out what they need to know about their own bodies.  Secondly, because it might make it difficult for them to come and get help if someone is treating them inappropriately.  And finally because sex is not shameful but a good gift.

So, what have you done about sex ed with your kids?  Did your parents have "the talk" with you or did they duck the issue?


Tasmanian said...

Thank you thank you thank you for posting the names of these books. I will just go right ahead and order them. (My six-year-old is reading over my shoulder and she said, "WHAT? You are going to get both of them!?) She already knows about the joy of ordering books online.

Fiona said...

My mother tells me she sat me down to 'have the talk', and I squirmed away saying 'I already know all THAT'. I have no memory of this, but I guarantee I didn't have much idea. We were also given picture books to read. One was literally about the birds and the bees (and the flowers and the trees - yep, a picture book about reproduction that included a discussion on stamens and anthers), and only got to human anatomy in the last two pages. I remember this one clearly because I was fascinated with the pictures. It wasn't anything dodgy. The pictures were of photographed origami and I couldn't figure out how they had done it. I spent hours staring at the pages trying to figure it out. Looking back, my older, nastier mind boggles a the thought of origami private parts, but I was much more interested in the paper flowers and bees.

Deb said...

In origami??? That's priceless.

Karen said...

We read the Where do Babies Come From? boys' version with our older two. Well, actually, because they're boys, I got my husband to do it. It was in our local library, but I just checked and they don't have the other two books for the younger and older age groups. I didn't realise those two books existed, so I might have to look at getting hold of them.

They read it a while ago (maybe a year or so ago), so I can't quite remember now the details of their response to it, but I do remember the opportunity was offered for them to ask questions. They didn't seem to have any, but that does tend to be a bit what they're like anyway.

I've heard of Everyone's Got a Bottom before but haven't read it. I'll look it up. Thanks for the recommendation.

Petrina said...

Thanks Deb, I'll be getting these books too.

We had the 'Where did I come from' book at home, and I remember reading it myself, but not my parents reading it to me. They probably did though.

We use the correct name for body parts, and I try to answer SP's body-related questions just as I answer any other. He hasn't actually asked how the baby gets into the mummy yet though ;)

I also found 'The Chicken's Guide for Talking Turkey to Your Kids About Sex' to be quite helpful.

Deb said...

Yeah, I've heard of that book. Good to know it's helpful. I might look that one up.

Deb said...

Wow, you have a good local library! You got the Martin Pebble book as well. You've done well there!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I had to have this chat with my 3 year old after some very probing questions! I admit I used the 'special cuddle' line... Hilarious given how much I've ribbed parents for it in the past, but it seemed to help! But I also used correct terminology and tried not to get too bogged down in unnecessary detail. But he had some great questions! There was no wriggling out of it! I also like your point about lots of little chats - far more natural! J

Anonymous said...

Ahhh I needed to know the names of those books! Good one- K

Anonymous said...

YES! My mum gave me the same book Fiona. Photos of folded paper chickens etc. And I think the last page had an origami pic of a man and woman, covered by a bedspread up to their neck.

My sisters are a couple of years younger so they got 'where did I come from?' which I remember reading with great interest; much more informative than the origami chickens. I also read bits of Mum's copy of 'Everywoman' by Derek Llewellyn-Jones and remember thinking that it seemed pretty lame to just set out the biology without any moral framework.

Many thanks Deb for the book tips, VERY much appreciated. We'll order them too.

from Sally in Perth

Deb said...

Wow,Sally! More than one person had the origami reproduction book??? That blows my mind! Reminds me of the crochet body parts our birth education midwife used. Who knew such crafts existed!

Deb said...

"Special cuddle" - J, I'm laughing with you not at you!

Deb said...

No worries!

Fiona said...

OK stop - Crochet body parts? CROCHET BODY PARTS?

Anonymous said...

Oh, I spent quite a bit of time laughing at myself afterwards!!!! J

RachL said...

Thanks for the helpful post! Been getting lots of questions lately...
Have you seen the book: "The Princess and the Kiss"? It teaches about sexual purity in a non-direct way and my girls (4&6yrs) really enjoy the very feminine story line.

Deb said...

I. Kid. You. Not.

Deb said...

That sounds really interesting. I'll have to look that one up!

Mairi said...

Oh boy! How about you just come and explain it all to my kids! ;-) Thanks! I got a recommended book for my 10 year old daughter the other day which seemed quite helpful. Have had small chats over the years but nothing major! Keep meaning to do something about that! Where does time go (ahem!)! Well done you! Will be chasing up some of those books too! Can I get the 10 year old to explain it all to the 3 year old?! Guess not, huh?!!

Tasmanian said...

An update!

Thanks to your advice, our copy of "Everybody's Got a Bottom" arrived this week, and I just read it to my eldest two (6 & 4) while in the bath (appropriately.) They listened quietly, then had a big conversation with each other... about cats.

Have also ordered the "Why Boys and Girls are different" girls edition for our six-year-old.