Is my kid ok: Is my 9-year-old daughter ready for ‘the talk’?
Q: My 9-year-old daughter has started asking questions about her body and how babies are made. I try to answer her honestly and simply, but sometimes I feel that her questions are not quite appropriate for her age. I think the subject is just too advanced for her. I try to carefully monitor what she sees on TV and the music she listens to, but she has older cousins and friends with older siblings. I realize that she will hear things from others and that is just life. But some of the things she is hearing are just too mature for her. How do I address those issues?
A: Around age 8 or 9, children begin to become curious about their bodies in relation to other people, and parents begin to get worried about when they need to have “the talk” with them. However, one thing that has been recognized in the past several years is the importance of body/sexuality education on an ongoing basis, rather than one stumbled-through conversation. Remember that sexuality is not simply about sex; it’s about self-image, healthy relationships and personal decision-making.
Much to parents’ chagrin, sexuality education really begins when children are very young — toddlers even. This is when parents apply labels to body parts and set rules for their child about those body parts. It’s also a prime time to teach children about good touch and bad touch. If these topics are covered early, children do not have as much embarrassment about their bodies and they feel comfortable talking with their parents when they have questions as they get older.
The fact that your daughter is asking you these questions is, although uncomfortable, a wonderful thing. It shows that she values your input and that she feels comfortable with you. The No. 1 way to keep this communication going is to be honest and try not to let your child see your discomfort. We take cues on how to feel about our bodies from how other people feel about them or how they feel about bodies in general. This is a critical age for your daughter as it is — and, brace yourself — the age when many girls begin puberty.
I recently had the opportunity to teach a values-based healthy sexuality class to children ages 10 to 14. Some of the things these kids had been told about sex are ridiculously untrue. The class was not particularly comfortable for the adults or the children, but they learned a lot and they also seemed to gain confidence.
So, what do you tell her? You may first want to start with puberty education. Ask her if anyone in her class has started to change. You can discuss the changes she may see in them and herself in the coming years. This also gives you an opportunity to teach your daughter about your family’s values in regards to bodies, relationships and sex. If your daughter wants to know point blank where babies come from, remember to begin with what you would expect to be age-appropriate, such as that it takes a man and a woman to make a baby. Let her questions guide you from there. If she is asking about it, she may be more ready than you think.
There are some wonderful resources for kids and parents on this topic. My personal favorite for girls is the American Girl series “The Care and Keeping of You.” The first book is recommended for girls age 8 and up. “What’s Happening to Me?” is a comparable book for boys and is recommended for ages 9 to 12.
No matter how you choose to approach the situation, remember that the topic does not have to be scary. In fact, it can bring you and your daughter closer. As she ages, she will be able to come to you with questions that are increasingly personal. This conversation may be difficult, but it is essential to give your child the correct information and lessen the mysterious allure of sex and sexuality. In the end, that’s what most parents want.
Regina Alexander is a licensed clinical social worker. She works as a counselor at Cone Health Behavioral Health Hospital. Submit your questions to “Is My Kid OK?” by emailing email@example.com.