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In a recent episode of Super Nanny (a UK and US show on parenting), I noticed that Jo Frost was openly talking to the parents and older sibling of a family about sex in front of a 6-7 year old.

My parents never spoke about sex to me, so the idea of talking about sex in front of a child has always seemed like a taboo thing to me. I have a 15 year old boy and we didn't really start talking to him about sex until middle school, when he was about 12, because that just felt like the right time based on what he was starting to talk about at school with his friends. But we have to go through it all again with 4 more kids and I'm sure they'll all be ready to talk about different things at different times.

Taking into account that that different kids intellectually and socially mature at different rates, and are exposed to different things based on the culture they are surrounded by, what are some indications that your child is ready to talk about sex. What things should you keep in mind to make the conversations with your child comfortable and bi-directional?

Note: I'd prefer if this this didn't deteriorate into an abstinence vs. safe sex debate, so please refrain from your opinions on those topics and just answer the basic questions related to readiness and approach.

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Make discussions age appropriate. Scale up the detail as they get older. NEVER LIE TO THEM. Just leave out details.

My kids were all born about 3 years apart. This left ample time for each of the previous children to ask questions typical of their age group. Answering their question on the same level is always best.

An almost-3-year-old asking, "how does the baby get out of your tummy?" probably doesn't warrant details on the labors and pain of ordeal. Rather, "a doctor helps get the baby out," will suffice a typical 3-year-old.

My 6-year-old daughter was keen enough to ask how the baby gets in there in the first place. This was answered by a basic discussion of the mechanics of sex, followed by, "you have to be this tall and married." However, she has always been fascinated with biology, and wants (and probably will become) a veterinarian. So, she already had investigated things on her own accord, like development stages of the baby, knew that "moms have eggs", and asked "how many eggs do you have?" (We consulted Google -- about 3 million eggs, but only about 300 become active.) So, we answered her questions as they arose. She understood these things, but not how the whole process was initiated.

At 10-11 years old, a child should be fully aware of the maturation process, because, "weird things start happening to your body." They need to know that it's normal, and why it is happening.

Using proper names and terminology is important, too. You may need to look up the names of things (I assume you're not a physician), and/or look up some diagrams to review with them, if you deem it appropriate. After all, a picture is worth 1,000 words.

Springing the entire subject on them all at once is not a good idea. Initiating a discussion that immediately delves into the subject will make them feel awkward and/or embarrassed. Talking through the facts openly, without showing embarrassment, is important; because it shows them that sex is not a bad thing, and is a natural part of life. They will feel much more comfortable about asking their own questions, too. Setting expectations about sex is also important. Let them know your opinion of an appropriate time for them to become sexually active (no sex before marriage, etc.). Discussion your opinions of birth control should also be held.

If you feel you need to have a discussion with your child, you may try gently steering a private conversation to the subject. If they don't want to talk about it just then, don't force the issue. Do, however, attempt to revisit the topic that evening or the next day. It's important to eventually talk. Ask your share of questions, too.

With knowledge comes responsibility. Don't let them become irresponsible through ignorance.

You'll do a great job!

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+1 "Don't let them become irresponsible through ignorance." –  Amy Patterson Apr 8 '11 at 15:20
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-1 For "a doctor at the hospital helps get the baby out" -- one of my friends told her son this, and when she went into labor nowhere near a hospital, in addition to labor she had to cope with a 4yo who was panicking because he thought his mom was going to explode or die in some other way for lack of a doctor. Is it that hard to be honest and say that moms have an extra opening in their privates where babies can come out? Just be honest. –  HedgeMage Apr 8 '11 at 20:55
    
HedgeMage - Oh, no! That's not a good situation, and a very good point. We did tell her, "there is a hole that the baby comes out of." –  Mike Christian Apr 8 '11 at 21:09
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@HedgeMage: how about "usually, mummy goes to hospital and a doctor or nurse helps get the baby out. In some places, the doctor or nurse comes to your house and in others, mummy's friends and relatives help" –  JBRWilkinson Apr 9 '11 at 11:41
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I find that generalizing things helps their understanding. Children usually don't differentiate between doctor and nurse. Options on location may also confuse them. Keep it simple. "The doctor helps," is probably enough. No need to worry them about when and were the baby arrives, because they actually will start worrying about what happens when you can't be at the intended location. Generalization is not being dishonest, just a means of helping them understand things on their level. Talk to them like they talk with their friends, to help gauge things. –  Mike Christian Apr 21 '11 at 17:42
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As soon as they start asking questions or show curiosity.

Younger kids don't understand psychological aspects of sex, so wording might be different, when you talk about sex with six-year old and with a teenager. But it is perfectly OK to explain ehm... basic mechanics of sex, or pregnancy 101, as soon as the kid asks questions.

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True, true. If they are asking, they are ready to know. If you avoid answering, they WILL seek out an answer from someone else. That other person may misinform your child. Chances are they are asking because they already heard something, and want clarification or more information. –  Mike Christian Apr 21 '11 at 17:46
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I believe a wonderful reference for this question has been written by Dr Laura Berman who is a fixture of the Oprah Radio station on Sirius/XM and the Oprah Winfrey Network on television. She discusses every facet of this question including things to watch out for, specific conversations and phrasings to use, and when to start to phase in information about sexuality to raise healthy, well-adjusted boys and girls. She states it far more eloquently than I could ever hope to, so I've attached links to the materials below.

Amazon - Talking To Your Kids About Sex - Dr Laura Berman:
http://www.amazon.com/Talking-Your-Kids-About-Sex/dp/0756657385

Online (Free) Handbook On Talking To Your Kids About Sex
http://www.oprah.com/relationships/Download-Dr-Laura-Bermans-Talking-to-Kids-About-Sex-Handbook

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