Top tips on talking to your kids about the birds and the bees

Sperm and egg
As a parent it’s not always easy to know where to start when it comes to your children's sex education. To help ease into the subject, try our top tips.
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Growing up with an awareness of the facts of life can help your child in years to come. Although it is tempting to avoid the subject, the way you handle talking about sex can affect how your child feels about it for the rest of their life.

“If you don’t answer your children’s questions about sex, they will think there is something wrong with them for asking,” explains Suzie Hayman, a counsellor and spokesperson for parenting charity Parentline Plus. “This can lead to future problems with body image, self-esteem and relationships.”

Why is it so important?

In the UK we have the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe and young adults aged between 16 to 24 account for over half of STI diagnoses. So we clearly need to be teaching our children more about sex.

It is best not to rely on your children learning about sex at school, as it’s only compulsory to teach the basic biological facts, and each school decides whether to cover the subject in any more detail or not. So it’s up to parents to make sure their children are getting the facts and not just learning about sex from playground gossip.

“Educating your children about sex is very important and the earlier you start the better,” says Rebecca Findlay from the Family Planning Association (FPA).

“By the time children are eight they should know what sex is, where they came from and the right names for their body parts, for example the penis and vagina. This lays a good foundation for the next stage of growing up,” she adds.

Top tips for talking to your child

  • Don’t have a ‘big talk’ about sex. Instead answer questions truthfully as they come up.
     
  • For younger children use books to help explain about sex. A good example is Where Willy Went by Nicholas Allan (£5.99, Random House).
     
  • Use the stories in the news and on TV to kick off chats with older children.
     
  • Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers – arm yourself with the facts from websites such as www.fpa.org.uk.
     
  • Don’t assume your child will learn about sex at school. Check what they will be taught and support those lessons at home.
     
  • Admit it if you feel embarrassed, but answer questions anyway.
     
  • Use the proper words for body parts and sex, as avoiding them can be confusing and make children feel there’s something to be ashamed of.
     
  • If you can’t answer a question immediately, always answer it later.
     
  • Earlier is better when it comes to talking about sex; the more they learn from you the less misinformation they will pick up later!