HDYDI: Talking the Birds & Bees with Your Kids

Cue the eyeroll and embarrassed faces now, please.

It’s a subject that has all the makings of the elephant in the room. And, I think most of us think we’ll share the big news with our kids when “they’re older.”

Here’s a newsflash: older is now.

We’ve always been big believers in being honest with our kids, while keeping it age appropriate regarding our family and church’s views on sexuality, marriage, babies, love and the like. I mean, it’s impossible to NOT talk about that when you have a big family. Because, BABIES. But, I also think it’s a subject we should all tackle as responsible, loving, faithful parents. Here’s how we do it.

Talking to your kids about sex

1. Body parts don’t get cute names. From the very beginning, when kids are pointing to ears and eyes and noses and the like, we call it like we see it. Private parts get the same treatment. Because, really, there’s nothing to be ashamed of here, folks. It’s just a body part. I’m pretty sure when our kids were little this conversation goes down as quote of the century: “Anna-Laura, boys have penis’ and girls have pajamas!” When your kids don’t see you giggle and turn red when naming body parts then they don’t learn to be ashamed of their bodies, they learn to love them.

2. Early on, we emphasize the importance of keeping private parts private. Now, we’ve been known to have a toddler or three practice “aiming” off our second-floor balcony. Boys. There’s a fair share of naked bums around these parts. But, as kids get older we encourage them to dress and undress in their bathrooms and bedrooms instead of the open air of our gameroom balcony. We also remind them that it’s perfectly okay for Mom, Dad and our pediatrician to see their body parts. But if a mom or a dad isn’t present, the adult must ask for permission. This can be serious business. And I’ll talk about that next.

3. We don’t just send our kids to other people’s houses all willy nilly. Parents, know where you’re sending your kids and know those families. And, you also have to teach your kids what’s normal and not normal behavior when it comes to their bodies. A small child needs a bum wiped and another mom steps in because you’re nursing the baby? Ok. But, a school-aged child is in the bathroom and an adult walks in and stays? Not ok. We often ask our kids lots of questions when they return from someone’s house. On only one occasion have we forbid them to return to a house because of their answers.

4. Our kids get honest answers when they ask questions. Sometimes, when a kid asks, “So, how does the baby come out of your tummy, Mom?” my answer is, “I go to the hospital and the doctor helps me.” And then the child happily trots off to play legos. Rather than launch into the whole dissertation of how babies are made, we simply answer the question at hand. If a child wants to know more, trust me. She will ask. Don’t be afraid to answer. Which leads me to…

5. Handling the big talk. I can honestly say we’ve never had “the talk” because it’s been integrated into so many parts of our parenting strategy. One big thing we did do and I absolutely loved it, was Theology of the Body for Teens. We began with the middle school curriculum when our boys were in fifth grade which means that John Paul’s turn is coming soon. It is a beautiful curriculum and one that allows you to dive as deep as your kid is ready to handle. The thing I love most? It’s primary focus is aimed at helping your child understand and discern his or her particular calling, or vocation, in life. If you want to view it before purchasing, call your diocesan family life office and ask to borrow it. That’s what we did!

6. Because, inevitably, church teaching on a variety of issues is bound to surface – abortion, gay marriage, IVF, contraception – we focus on a bigger platform. Love. A few days after my due date, we walked down to the neighborhood ice cream parlor for an evening treat. On our way back, Will started asking me questions about c-sections and birth control and so many other things. And I was honored. Because at an age when he could’ve asked his peers or Google, he asked me. And our conversation could only be summed up with one simple word: love. Scott and I want our children to understand why we believe what the church has to say about all those things, but more importantly, we want them to never discriminate, hate or judge because of it. Too many beautiful, wonderful friends and family members are in our lives and we don’t all agree on those issues. But, our relationship is centered on love. I think it was Cardinal Dolan that said this regarding Pope Francis’ recent thoughts on the Synod:

“Pope Francis never ceases to surprise us. Just when you think you might have him figured out, he offers another fresh innovative way of looking, that talk to which you just referred at the close of the synod was nothing less than inspirational. He spoke from the heart. He spoke about himself as the Pope and the church and he challenged all of us. And it reminds me of Jesus. Always walking down the road, and never forgetting the people on either side.”

7. If you don’t talk to your kids, Google will. On a subject that is so important, so beautiful, so awesome, don’t leave it to the internet. Talk to your kids. Talk with your kids. Listen to them. Sex is a good and holy thing, it’s how you got here!

8. Form a community. Many years ago, a group of moms gathered for a Bible study by a local author. “The Five Conversations You Must Have with Your Daughter” (there’s also a son version) and I can’t tell you the invaluable life lessons and community I gleaned from that group. Ultimately, we’re in this together. This parenting gig. I can’t tell you how great it is to have another mom to call and say, “So…this happened. What would you do?”

9. Social media can destroy your kids, but it doesn’t mean you should avoid it. In an age of SnapChat and Whisper (two apps you DO NOT want your kids to have), sexting and pornography, crazy things are out there trying to warp the beauty of sexuality with your kids. Be vigilant. Be prepared. You may not have an Instagram account, but if your kid has one, you better have the password and monitor the account. As parents, it’s our job to help our kids understand how to protect their body, their images, their heart. We have to instill the moral compass and it’s up to them to practice using it.

10. And, a few practical things. We cancelled cable because those commercials are horrible. Who wants to see Cialis or Victoria’s Secret on your tv? Not me! Some friends of ours mute the commercials and I think that’s particularly brilliant because when there’s no sound, the kids just tune out. I scan the checkout aisles at the grocery store and have been known to turn around offending magazine covers. My girls do not need to see Kim Kardashian practically naked on the cover of Vogue. I’ve also asked the manager to not place those magazines near the checkout aisle. I keep dreaming of a ‘family-friendly’ lane! We refuse to shop at some stores that promote over-sexualized clothes. Our radio is usually on family-friendly stations or we listen to CDs. When a billboard or other mass media outlet gets the attention of one of my kids, I table the conversation to our dining room table. It’s practically impossible to have a theological discussion going 65 with six screaming kids. We haven’t gotten to dating yet. Talk to me in a couple of years!

Scott and I have so much to learn. But, as parents, we take this part of our job very seriously. If there’s something your family does – of if you do it differently – I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, thanks for keeping the conversation positive and constructive!

19 Comments

  1. Cindy15905 on October 27, 2014 at 8:34 am

    Just FYI- the Fred Meyer grocery stores in Newport, Oregon have “family friendly check out lanes”. I was genuinely impressed that 4 of the 10 lanes were designated this way. <3

  2. Verdina on October 27, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Kathryn, you are so wise! Did I ever tell you I want to be just like you when I grow up?

    Keep up the good work!

    God bless you!
    V

  3. Ellen That Chic Mom on October 27, 2014 at 10:39 am

    Great advice I love all of this, my oldest is in 3rd and pretty innocent and naive so her questions have been very general but it’s coming and I am definitely looking into that program for kids!

  4. Jackie on October 27, 2014 at 11:59 am

    Unfortunately, we hit a few bumps along the road with our oldest. We found out the hard way that YouTube has a safe mode. If you currently don’t use this, it is something you should think about switching to. Our son was watching MindCraft videos and it lead to a porn site. He was curious, which lead to other sites. After this, we installed software (Qustodio) on our router. If certain words are searched on, all internet activity is blocked. You are able to filter websites as well.

    After all of this, I sat my 11 year old son and had the birds and bees talk. I found a book at Barnes and Nobles and answered all of his questions. I am sure there will be a ton more as he grows.

    • Kathryn on October 29, 2014 at 3:25 pm

      Yes, porn reared its ugly head here too. But, it turned into a great learning experience for all of us. And, in a good way!

  5. Marjorie on October 27, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    I love that you posted this! Very helpful. I’m still in the early ages with my oldest being six, but he’s an inquisitive child so I’m already preparing. Definitely will be using Theology of the Body through the years.

    No cell phones till they can drive. There’s too many dangers with texting (even basic dangers like causing fights or misunderstandings with others).

    Dating I plan to take the same approach as my parents. No dating till the later teen years. Dating is to discern if someone would make a suitable spouse. It’s serious and not something that’s “just for fun” or “experimenting.”

  6. Jenny on October 27, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    familyhonor.org is an organization promoting family centered (meaning kids and parents together, in one room) chastity education. The website has resources on all topics and is updated monthly.

    • Kathryn on October 29, 2014 at 10:07 pm

      Thanks, Jenny!

  7. Stacy Woodruff on October 29, 2014 at 11:23 am

    I have such a hard time with the radio these days. I spend so much time in the car with the kids now, and I like to have something to listen to other than Old MacDonald. One thing I do not like is talk shows when I’m driving, but trying to find a station that is actually playing music in the mornings is nearly impossible. Fortunately, I like nearly all types of music, but now I have to consider what my kids are hearing. While I can sort out the good messages from the bad, my kids don’t have that ability yet. I like the beat of rap music, but the messages are so misogynistic that I almost never listen to that while I’ve got the kids. Rock has more than I care for about drugs. And the country stations tout themselves as being family friendly, but nearly every other song is about alcohol, and getting drunk. I know alcohol is legal, but normalizing alcohol abuse is not ok. I think I may have to bite the bullet and upgrade to satellite radio, so I have more choices and control.

    • Kathryn on October 29, 2014 at 10:08 pm

      LOL. CDs are your friend. Scott’s car has satellite and it’s awesome.

  8. Rachel S on October 29, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    I’m wondering if you have any suggestions for how to teach a young child who still needs help going to the bathroom what is appropriate and not appropriate. My daughter is 3.5 and is potty trained but she still needs help with getting on the potty, wiping, etc. I’m uncomfortable with her using the bathroom at church with one of the volunteers, even thought I know they’ve had background checks and have some protocols in place to try to minimize the potential for sexual abuse. Do you have any tips for how to teach a child of that age what is fine and what isn’t in that scenario? I don’t want her to be afraid or embarrassed by the help that she does need but I also don’t want her to be too trusting.

    • Kathryn on October 29, 2014 at 10:11 pm

      The only time I’m comfortable with someone else wiping a bum is at preschool/Mother’s Day Out. In that case, I’ve known the teacher’s personally, so I felt ok in that situation. And, the bathrooms were always in a semi-public area, adjacent to the classroom with the door open. In addition, the volunteers were all screened, so it was an added layer or protection.

      As for teaching my kids, I just tell them that if they ever feel uncomfortable, they should come talk to me. But, honestly, I try not to put kids that age in a situation like that that they don’t fully understand. Does that help at all?

  9. Rachel S on October 29, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Also, how do you handle nursing… particularly in front of your boys? I nursed openly in front of my daughter up until age 3 because…. hello, convenience! I hate the idea of always using a nursing cover or having to go into another room but I don’t feel as open to nurse in front of my son who will be 2/3 when this next baby is nursing and in front of my daughter as she is getting older. They are too young at this age to be left completely alone while I nurse.

    • Kathryn on October 29, 2014 at 4:03 pm

      Great question! I just nurse the same in front of them that I do everyone else. They see it as normal and we go from there. I simply have too much going on to move to another room when I nurse because I’m usually cooking dinner or helping with homework while nursing!

  10. Elise on October 29, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    So much respect for you as a mother, Kathryn. Thank you for sharing this!

  11. nicole on October 30, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    Hey K – Great post. We do many similar things, though we’ve not written them out as you have… We are fans of Passport to Purity. As Owen was the first to hit ten, only he has gone through the materials, but our goal is to move through them with each child when they hit that milestone. I’m also aware that every child will be different – some may need to have conversations sooner than others. Our family is also unique in that it has been built through adoption…that brings up other questions that some families may never have to face… We’ve also worked with the children – since they were very young – to train their eyes to ‘look away’ from things that are inappropriate. We rarely go to the mall, but when we do, the storefronts are terrible… We teach the children to bounce their vision to something else…and use a verse like Matthew 6:22 – the eye is the lamp of the body…if your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light – to memorize and refer to. Another thing…Now that the weather has turned cool here and neighborhood children are playing in our home, we have a buddy system… There should never be a boy and girl alone together – always stick in pairs. No closed doors. Etc. It’s never too early to protect the hearts of our children!!

  12. […] talking about the birds and bees with your kids […]

  13. Becky on April 27, 2015 at 8:23 pm

    My family ranges in age from 25 to 5. We have six children and have been married 28 years this July! God is good! We also are Catholic and my husband and I, as well as our two adult daughters and son in law, listen to Christian radio/music. Kid friendly even news bites are censored for little ears. It is amazing and once you’re hooked you won’t listen to anything else. The radio stations promise that if you listen for a month it will change your heart and attitude. It truly does. Favorite artist is the group Third Day. Check them out if you have a minute. God bless!

    • Kathryn on April 28, 2015 at 11:07 am

      Love me some Third Day. One of my favorite Christian bands.

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