Communicate early and often
ASHA believes that open communication and solid sexual health education from parents can delay sexual activity and avert big problems later on. Perhaps most important, we believe that good communication will help you understand your child and help you and your child become closer.
We do not believe that talking about sex or sexuality encourages sex. In fact, studies show that teens are less likely to have sex at an early age if they feel close to their parents and if their parents clearly communicate their values.
Where do I start?
You’ve already begun. Very young children learn by observing their parents. They watch how you dress and how you carry yourself. They see how you interact with the opposite sex; and they notice how you react to intimacy and affection. Now all you have to do is build on their observations.
The first real step is to understand how much your child already knows about sex. And the easiest way to do that is to be a good listener. Pay attention to what your child says to friends and siblings. Then look for opportunities in everyday life to start a conversation. Remember, while we sometimes hear about having “the talk” with children about sex and sexual health, it is really a series of conversations that happen over time. Talking about sexual health is an ongoing discussion, and you can take many opportunities to continue the conversation.
When you talk to your child about sex and sexual health, use the same open, honest communication skills you’d use when talking about any delicate topic.
- Be open, honest and available.
- Use words that are understandable and comfortable. Leave the technical jargon to the experts.
- Encourage your child to talk and ask questions. Listen to the answers.
- If your child asks a question, answer immediately, even if the timing isn’t perfect. You can always expand on the topic at a more opportune time.
- Try to determine what your child is really asking. Is he/she worried about being “normal”? Is there a moral, religious or cultural conflict? Does your child want to check his knowledge against yours? Listening–really listening–is the key to good communication.
- Maintain a calm, non-judgmental attitude. A sense of humor can relieve tension and facilitate discussion. It’s okay to talk about your own discomfort and make light of it.
- Don’t laugh at your child’s questions. No matter what, don’t laugh.
- If you don’t have a ready answer, admit it. Offer to find the answer with your child or on your own.
- Above all, remind your child that you love and respect him and will always be there for him.