How to talk to kids about sex from birth to age 2

How to talk to kids about sex from birth to age 2

Talking to your kid about sex can be daunting. So we asked the experts how and when to cover everything from sex and puberty to gender identity and consent.

With that in mind, we’ve put together this age-specific guide to help you learn how to talk to kids about sex

Three years ago, while Lisa King* was pregnant with her first de fascinated with her growing belly. “He’d ask, ‘How did the baby get inside your tummy?’ and ‘How is the baby going to get out?’” When King left those inquiries with her nephew’s mother and grandmother, “Words like god and magic were thrown around,” recalls King. She told herself that, when it came to how to talk to kids about sex, she would be open and honest. Now a mom to a 10-month-old and a two-and-a-half-year-old, King wants to keep that promise. There’s just one problem: “I need some basic guidance, an outline perhaps, of what to talk about and when,” she says.

King’s uncertainty is hardly unique, says Nadine Thornhill, a Toronto-based sex educator and mom to an 11-year-old. “This is what I do for a living and I still struggle to have these conversations with my own child.” She notes that, while it’s normal to feel awkward and nervous, it’s important to focus on being honest. “There’s more risk with not telling them enough than telling them too much,” she says, adding that it’s OK to admit that you don’t have all the answers. Just before you tackle any of your child’s sex-related inquiries, Cory Silverberg, sex educator and author of Sex Is A Funny Word: A Book About Bodies, Feelings And You, suggests you first ask a clarifying question such as “Where did you hear that word?” in order to give an appropriate response.

While pop culture likes to portray teaching kids about sex as just one big “talk,” experts agree that sex is something kids should always be learning about. They recommend weaving sex into everyday discussions, layering in more information over time and introducing certain concepts at specific ages.

“The process of talking about sex should start before they’re verbal,” says Silverberg. That means incorporating the proper names for genitals into everyday activities like bath time. While Silverberg isn’t against also using cutesy names, “Penis, vulva, vagina , clitoris, bum and nipples are all terms that every toddler should know,” he says, explaining that they need these words to communicate health issues or injuries.

Teaching your baby the anatomically correct terms for her genitals might sound daunting, but Thornhill says to be casual and treat those terms as you would the word “arm” or “ankle.” She also recommends avoiding connecting sexual biology to gender. For example, drop the idea that all boys have penises and all girls have vaginas. Instead say, “People with penises” or “People with vaginas.” Thornhill explains that by watching your language now, you set the groundwork for easier conversations about gender roles and identities later.

Closer to age two, you can start talking to your kids about when and where it’s appropriate to explore their bodies. If your toddler has the tendency to touch his genitals-which is perfectly normal-use it as an opportunity to explain how that’s something we do in the privacy of our bedrooms. “You want to be really gentle,” Thornhill says, explaining that you don’t want your child to feel like he’s doing something shameful.

How to talk to kids about sex when they’re 2 to 5 years old

A major focus for this age group is learning about boundaries and what is and isn’t appropriate when it comes to touching-or being touched-by other people. “This is fundamental to consent,” says Silverberg who explains that it’s crucial that even young children learn to ask before they touch someone else. Lessons around sharing, touch-based games like tickling, and asserting your own boundaries, such as telling a child when it is and isn’t OK to climb onto your lap, all help to create a more intuitive understanding of consent.

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