“The (On-Going) Talk” (Talking With Your Kids About Sex, From Birth to Age 2)

I recently shared my answer to the question, IS IT BIBLICAL TO TEACH OUR KIDS ABOUT SEX? …and it was so good to hear from you readers. Many of you shared your experiences, and many offered specific questions and suggestions for what should be included in this series. (By the way… do you have more questions/ideas on your mind? Please share them in the comments!) 

The notion of having “the talk” in one large heap of data dumped on your child, when it has been a previously un-discussed topic, is one that I completely disagree with. Instead of one big “TALK,” we approach this topic as part of a continual, childhood-long conversation with our children. This on-going discussion moves at age-appropriate levels, and engages on the issues that are affecting them, or very soon will affect them, at any given stage.

This article is all about the “how to” of talking with your kids about sex, from the beginning. Let’s talk about how to lay a strong foundation for this on-going discussion in your home.

The (On-Going) Talk // Talking With Your Kids About Sex From Birth to Age 2 // jessconnell.com

 

BIRTH TO AGE TWO 

I thought about starting this series with ages 2-5, once they’re talking and understanding more, but then it hit me that some things are communicated to our children about their bodies even in the first years of life. This isn’t in-depth talking with your kids about sex… but these things set the stage for future discussion.

Here are some things you might consider in these early years:

  • Consider what you will call the genitals. We have opted for a generic word (“privates”) to refer to everything in general terms when they are little like this. Once they begin naming body parts and are curious in the bath about their particular parts, we use medical terms. Some parents prefer cutesy names. Obviously I have reasons for why we use real terms (1-they can be specific about what is hurting if there is a problem– especially in future conversations with a doctor, and 2-we do not want to encourage silliness about private things), but I don’t think there’s an absolute right/wrong here. Choose what you will be comfortable with, but do consider how this will play out over time… not just when they are a toddler.
  • Do not make jokes of private things. It should not be laughed at when a child streaks through the living room. Sometimes you have to force yourself not to smirk or look away, but over the long haul, we don’t want to encourage inappropriate behavior, or attention-seeking in this area. So, from the beginning, yes even by age 2, encourage modesty about private areas. Don’t allow “coarse joking” about body parts– start how you mean to finish.
  • Be factual and pleasant about private areas. Do not give your children the sense that there is something “wrong” or “bad” about their private parts. In the bathtub, if they notice, name their private body parts like you do with toes or chins. You can say simple factual things like, “that’s where your pee-pee comes out.” Even if it feels weird to you to talk about these things openly, it doesn’t feel weird to your child. They are taking their understanding about these things from your words and attitudes. You get to instill a healthy sense, based on fact and God’s Word, of what privates are and, over time, why God made them the way He did.
  • Don’t encourage kisses for non-family members. Your child may hug a church nursery worker or snuggle up by someone visiting your home. But even from birth, they should be learning appropriate levels of interaction with various people. You can smile and say, “oh, save your kisses for Mama!” If you’ve read about “grooming” behaviors (actions taken by older children or adults to slowly break down appropriate interaction between themselves and a child in order to prepare for future abuse/molestation), you know that part of what sexual predators do is begin with small measures of affection and slowly amp up the intimacy of their touches. By not encouraging over-affection with non-family members, you are teaching your child discernment and self-awareness in the area of how we healthily interact with others.
  • Be positive about marriage, pregnancy, and babies. Remember that you are laying a foundation for how they will understand these things that are interlaced with the topic of sex. So, smile when you see babies, and purposefully teach your child to be gentle and loving toward smaller babies. If a friend has a growing belly, or is breastfeeding, talk positively about it. The little moments in life are often “big” moments, where we’re passing on ideas and attitudes. So make the most of it!
  • Don’t over think this, or sexualize everything. Your child won’t be permanently damaged because you say, “Whoo! Shooie! That was a STINKY diaper!” In fact, they may giggle and it could make diaper-changing a little less like a war zone. :) Your child won’t be scarred for life and immodest when she’s 22 because grandma giggled once when she ran through the living room naked after bath time. It doesn’t mean someone is trying to finagle their way into your child’s trust for later sexual abuse because they kiss your baby’s cheek.

Let’s not be anxious, churning women; instead let’s be wise and purposeful. 

CONSIDER THIS A FANTASTIC OPPORTUNITY!

God has made each of us as spiritual AND physical beings. This is a wonderful chance for you to begin laying a foundation in the life of your child for the way they will understand themselves, their bodies, their future spouse, and the reasons why God makes us the way He does.

By treating this as an on-going area for continual growth, conversation, and infusion of your wisdom and guidance, it takes the pressure off! It also gives you time to get more comfortable with these words & topics over time, rather than throwing it all “out there” all at once.

You don’t have to (and shouldn’t try to) do everything perfect in one “BIG” conversation when they are hitting puberty, or beyond. Instead, you are privileged to, over time, share biblical truth and purposeful teaching with your child about something that will affect them for their entire lives.

What a wonderful opportunity you have

(beginning now, when your little one is small)

to instill basic ideas about why God has made them! 

 

You can do this, Mama (and Daddy)!

Start now to have this (on-going) talk with your child, and lay the foundation for a biblical understanding of God’s purposes for their bodies.

 

IN THE COMMENTS:

  • Share your reaction! Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you…

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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23 Responses

  1. Rebecca Z says:

    This may be kind of a side issue but Do you have any tips on how to talk about nursing a baby? My 4 and 2 year old see me nurse. The four year old talks about “milk milks” and she sometimes pretends to nurse her stuffed animals -once I said they were called breasts and only mommies made milk but I’m a little worried about her saying something innappropriate to another woman (like “do you have milk? Or “is there a baby in your tummy?” When there isn’t…)

    • Jess Connell says:

      Not off topic at all!!

      I have told my kids (usually 4 & up by the time they can understand) that they’re not to ask other women if/ or talk about whether they have a baby in their tummy unless we have already talked about it and they know that she does. As they get older, I’ve mentioned that it’s considered rude to ask that unless you know.

      What you’re describing with your four year old imitating you breastfeeding is 100% normal. My daughter did, and my mom told me I did. (In fact, some of my sons did too, until I told them that only mommies get to nurse babies, LOL!)

      The main thing is, keep talking… keep directing their understanding toward truth & toward confidence in God’s good plans!

  2. Emily Jensen says:

    This was great! Thanks for starting at 0-2, because that is where we are at right now.

    How do you handle seeing a parent or sibling naked at this age? Sometimes my oldest son (2.5) finds his way into our room after I take a shower or he opens the door when I use the restroom. So far he hasn’t asked any questions about our ‘differences’ and he seems completely unfazed / unaware of anything awkward. At what age do you start to make a bigger deal about ‘privacy’ and does this only apply to opposite gender or the same gender?

    I really enjoy reading your blog, and appreciate the practical instruction you give.

    • Jess Connell says:

      Emily,
      Different parents feel differently on this point. Some are comfortable with none, and some are comfortable with more than I am. I can tell you where my husband and I fall.

      I don’t make a big deal about anyone under 4 walking in while I’m changing. But around 4 is when, in our experience, kids begin becoming actively aware of differences and seem to have an innate sense of modesty/sense of wanting a bit more privacy for themselves and others. So around 4… sometimes earlier, sometimes a bit later depending on the kid… is where Doug & I start teaching the child to knock before entering, to turn around and face the wall if they walk in or need to be in the room while we’re changing, etc.

      By 5/6-ish, I definitely expect and enforce modesty & privacy more purposefully. Until then, I’m training toward those things but less serious about it.

      Let me share, too, what has informed our opinions about this, because I’ve seen articles lately on this issue. We have heard enough from young men that still have images of their moms in their bra, changing clothes, in a skimpy towel, etc., well into the teenage years. They are not encouraged or informed by those images; they are grossed out and the images stick with them in a negative way.

      Unlike what some of these articles have purported, I don’t believe my preteen and teen sons need to see my naked form, or my partially-clothed form, in order to form healthy images of what normal, post-baby bodies look like. They hug me tight. They feel that my tummy squishes. They see me in clothes alongside their clothed 14-year-old peers and, ya know, since they have eyes that function, they can easily tell the difference. :) We talk about how men’s bodies grow and how women’s bodies grow, and how God has made our bodies for different things. There is no need for them to see me naked in order to have a “healthy picture” of female form, just as there is no need for them to see porn in order to have a wrong picture of the female form. One day, I pray, their wife’s naked form will be what forms their ideas about health and beauty, and they don’t need my size 14 post-baby frame or a porn star’s size 2 pre-baby frame to form additional images in their minds.

      Phew. I’m apparently more opinionated on that subject than I realized. :)

      But those are my general thoughts. If YOU feel uncomfortable, or when you start to notice that your child is noticing and showing signs that would indicate that greater modesty/privacy should be enforced, those are the sort of signals that preempt our action on that part.

      One other thought: when in my own home, with my own family, I am not a cover-up-while-nursing person. I don’t mind if my sons (even older ones) happen to walk in and notice that I am nursing. They are all taught from a young age that that is one major/important function of the breasts, and that it happens, and that they’re not to stare or make a big deal about it.

      I hope this helps you sort out how you’ll do things in your home.
      Jess

      • Evie says:

        Thanks for the comment about breatfeeding. We have a 3.5 yr old and he sees me nurse his younger brother, but if we have more children, there is a chance my oldest will be much older and still seeing me nurse. I wasn’t sure if it was okay (or normal) for a mom to nurse uncovered while at home. The way you explained it is helpful. I generally don’t want to cover while I’m at home.

        • Jess Connell says:

          You know, it’s funny, up until this last year (when I wrote the above comment) I have never covered while breastfeeding in my own home.

          But in February of this year, I had our 7th child, and with him, now having 13 & 11 year old sons in the house, for the first time, I began regularly covering up while at home. So I guess this is more of a fluid thing for me than I thought. Adapting to the kids we have. If my nursing infant pulls at the cover and my teen/preteen sons notice, I don’t freak out and neither do they, but in general, now, because they are older and of an age where they are growing to be young men, this is the path we now take.

          I pretty much cover up while nursing all the time now. And you know what? I’ve noticed two big advantages in this:

          (1) he doesn’t get as distracted while nursing, like all of my other babies have done. He’s really able to focus and nurse for a nice long stretch, even if others are walking through the room, talking, etc., which almost never happened when I nursed uncovered
          (2) he’s not annoyed by covering when we’re out in public, because he’s used to it at home… which was always an issue with my other 6 children.

          SO… :) live and learn I guess. And be willing to adapt when/if things change.

  3. Katie says:

    How do you suggest responding to family members (extended) or even friends who may want to kiss your child that you are not comfortable with? Many people (even strangers) seem to think that physical affection/touch is acceptable at times that I do not, but I do not know the best way to discourage this.

    • Jess Connell says:

      There have been times I’ve been caught off-guard by this too, and I even had one experience where I was completely baffled & didn’t know how I should have responded until hours later. So all that to say, sometimes weird things happen that catch you off-guard.

      But in general, some simple phrase like “oh, that’s sweet but we save kisses for mommies and daddies and spouses” or something like that could be helpful. In our home, biological grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and close relatives also cheek- or forehead-kiss and snuggle babies & toddlers, but that stuff gradually dies out over time.

      If I felt uncomfortable by something, or could tell that my child did, I would talk it over with Doug and he would probably say something directly to the adult, unless it was to a female friend or something (at which point, I’d be the one to address it). I can imagine us saying something like, “We’re trying to teach little Jimmy to have healthy boundaries, and we don’t want him to kiss and snuggle up to people that aren’t close family members. Would you help us enforce that by giving high-fives or a quick hug when you see him, but not being so physically affectionate?” The other options would be purposefully moving between the child and the person, perhaps telling your child, “ok, time to go play” or something like that to give them a reason to move away, OR if they’re old enough, coaching them to physically move away and not stick around for extended hugs.

      Sometimes, if someone gets too close, and it’s just a quick encounter with a stranger (say, a grocery clerk leans in too close to your child’s face and asks what Santa is getting them for Christmas), that’s an opportunity to just teach your child. Sometimes I’ll do “post-game analysis” in a situation like that: “Boy, that was weird wasn’t it? We don’t lean in that close, to people’s faces that we don’t know. That was just strange.”

      Each situation is so different; it’s hard to give generalities, but… If it was just awkwardness (as in, a “close talker” or someone who just lacks general social skills) that’s different to me than someone who is clearly crossing lines. I would definitely shoot a look or even say something to the person or their supervisor, depending on the situation, if it was a stranger that did something inappropriate.

      Does this help? Is there a particular form of affection/touch that you’re asking about, so I can be more specific?

      • Robin says:

        On a similar note, I personally don’t believe in forcing children to give hugs (it’s just not quite conducive to teaching them boundaries, in my opinion). I usually step in and offer an alternative (“It’s okay, Emily. You don’t have to give hugs if you don’t want to, but it’s not okay to be rude, so how about a high-five or a handshake?”), which works well since my only child of relevant age right now isn’t comfortable hugging most people anyway, but what do you suggest saying to the persistent adult??

        • Jess Connell says:

          (“It’s okay, Emily. You don’t have to give hugs if you don’t want to, but it’s not okay to be rude, so how about a high-five or a handshake?”)

          I missed this before… but great point.

          As far as persistent adults, for me that would depend on the person. Is it grandma? Well, I’d actually encourage the child to hug grandma (“go give her a quick snuggle; then you can go play”). That’s an entirely appropriate person to be affectionate and give hugs to.

          But if it was a persistent adult that was not a family member or someone they rarely see (Uncle Joe who lives in Kentucky that they see once every 3 years and they aren’t comfortable around him yet), I’d just state the obvious, “, tell Uncle Joe, “thank you for dinner” and then you can go play blocks.” Once she left to do that, I’d say something like, “I guess she’s still getting to know you. Let’s give her time and see if she warms up.” (Smile, pass the bean dip.)

  4. Evie says:

    Thanks for the practical advice. These are topics I think about but I don’t find very specific real life examples in women’s blogs or books usually.

    So, someone’s gotta ask, and it may as well be me :) Not sure if you are addressing this in a future post. My boy is Two and a half years and I just had a second son so I am a little worried about how to address the curiosity boys have in touching their private areas. My toddler thinks it’s funny and will at times grab at himself when I’m changing his diaper, or he’ll point to it and ask “is it?” (what is it). I use the real word, and I tell him that is where is pee comes out, and I leave it at that. Sometimes after a bath he thinks it’s funny to press himself up against the mirror or wall and laugh. When he tries to touch or pull on it more than I’m comfortable with, I say “no, we don’t play with that.” Is that instilling shame? Like you said I don’t want him to think his parts are bad. That is the extent of my instruction at this point, but I have no idea how to address it when he is older and tries to “comfort” himself as I see some of my friends’ little boys doing! I also don’t buy into the “it’s okay as long as you do it in private” teaching that I’ve read from some sources. I don’t think it’s okay but I have no clue how to talk about it in a positive way, except – like you said – to teach WHY God made our body parts the way they are and what they will be used for later.

    • Jess Connell says:

      Thanks for the honest question, Evie. You’re right; lots of people deal with this, and I hadn’t thought to include it.

      Like you, I have friends who see nothing wrong with doing it in private, but that’s not how we’ve approached this. We handle that like we do picking the nose. However you feel about it ethically, it’s simply not something that’s OK, socially. So, I treat it the same way I would with picking the nose or biting fingernails. With that I say, “finger out of your nose” and then physically pull the finger out of the nose if they don’t stop, taking time to discipline & train as I would anything else. So for this, I say “hands out of your pants,” and physically move their hand. It’s not instilling shame to teach proper behavior about it. Think about your voice, and purposefully do it pleasant and matter-of-fact.

      I also address it with questions like: “do you need to go potty? is something itchy?” Sometimes there is a physical issue happening, and I don’t want to overlook that. Cleanliness & whether they’re peeing often enough can be a culprit for this. But in general, if it’s just a touching/playing/exploring thing, I just treat it like nose-picking. Simple commands, with obedience expected. “Hands out of your pants, and then go wash them with soap please.” You could also redirect to other activities if it just seems like boredom/habit. This is an opportunity to help them stop the undesirable behavior, and start something new.

      So the progression could look like: “Hands out, bud. Go wash them, and then go snag the bucket of pattern blocks & I’ll get the book out for you and you can play with those for a bit.” Etc. Redirecting to positive things you do want to do, without shame or embarrassment on anybody’s parts. Just straightforward instruction with direction toward a desired behavior.

      Others may disagree, but that is my approach & perspective. Does that help?

      • Evie says:

        Yes that helps a lot – thanks! He’s not really gotten into a habit yet. Mostly just when he is unclothed he finds it amusing. But during diaper or clothing changes a couple times he seemed to enjoy the exploration a bit more (if you catch my drift!), and I know that is going to have to be addressed more later on. Another topic for another day :) My husband reminds me that he doesn’t really understand what he’s doing yet. Some other mommies I’ve heard had to put their toddlers back into onesies to help them keep their hands out of their pants! Eek! We are not at that point but just wanting to talk about it without ignoring it or acting awkward. Thanks for the input!!

    • Jess Connell says:

      Oh and I also say things like, “no, we don’t play with that” if there is touching/pulling beyond a simple touch like they might do to their toe or elbow. So that sounds like a normal response to me, without it being shaming or condemning. Just matter of fact and moving on with life.

    • Robin says:

      Thanks for asking this question! My son is only nine months old but already doesn’t miss a beat when I get his diaper off. I’ve wondered the same thing . . . how to discourage the behavior without installing shame.

  5. Vanessa says:

    I love this series. (I have to leave some kind of comment, just to get follow up comments) !

  6. Amanda says:

    Thank you so much for the wise council on this subject! I have been so grateful for this series. My question sort of goes with Emily’s: I have an almost 4 year old daughter, and an almost 2 year old son. My daughter has recently started asking lots of questions about anatomy, why she is different than her brother, etc (also, I am 8 months pregnant with our 3rd, which presents lots of natural curiosity about how ladies’ bodies work). At what point do you start separate bath times for different gendered siblings, enforcing closed doors during potty breaks, etc? I have run into instances of my daughter “explaining” things to her younger brother . . . “See? This is where the pee pee comes out. That’s how you go potty!” Which is sweet in the context of trying to show her brother (who is in the early stages of potty training) but also presents a bit of a conundrum for me in privacy/not talking to others about our private parts, etc. Any thoughts?

    • Jess Connell says:

      How did I miss this question? I guess because I was in month 9 of pregnancy, haha!

      So- I don’t know if you’ll see this answer, but I would also address this matter-of-factly. “Mama will teach him how to go potty. Privates are not something you need to help him with, just like he should never help you in that. Mommies and daddies are the ones who help and teach about things involving our private areas, baths, and going to the potty.”

      This is an opportunity for you to instill a healthy sense of normality in your daughter, and your son.

      Just in case there are others with this question, I’ll throw it out: I do this same thing even with same-gendered kids. For example, my big boys all stand up to go potty, but we teach little ones to sit down. I just tell them, “you can cheer them (the younger sibling) on as they learn to go potty, but mommy and daddy are the ones who teach about going potty.”

      As far as separate bathing, I’ll handle that in this month’s mailbag question, because someone else just asked me the same thing in a comment.

      Thanks for your question & I”m sorry I’m just now answering it. We’ll chalk it up to end-of-pregnancy-brain-fog. :)

  1. December 1, 2014

    […] The On-Going Talk (Talking With Your Kids About Sex from Birth to Age 2) […]

  2. April 11, 2015

    […] The (On-Going) Talk (Talking With Your Kids About Sex, From Birth to Age 2) […]

  3. May 25, 2015

    […] The (On-Going) Talk: Talking With Your Kids About Sex, From Birth to Age 2 […]

  4. October 1, 2015

    […] THE (ON-GOING) TALK: TALKING WITH YOUR KIDS ABOUT SEX FROM BIRTH TO AGE 2 […]

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