When I was in fourth grade, my mother had “the talk” with me. Out of nowhere, she asked me to sit down with her as she read me a very awkward book. It was the only conversation of this nature I ever had with my parents. You can probably guess where I went to further my sex education.
Now that I have my own kids and have worked with countless students over the years, I’ve realized: While “the talk” is difficult and awkward, we still need to have it. And we definitely need to have more than one talk with each of our kids. But here are 5 ways to make each talk less awkward.
1. Keep it casual.
You set the tone for how these conversations go. As I was putting my 10-year-old son to bed the other night, he complained about his knees and wrists hurting. I said, “You’re probably going through a growth spurt and getting ready to start puberty.” He asked, “What’s puberty?!” I told him his body is going to start changing, that it’s a normal part of life, that we would have more conversations about it over time—and that I would help him along the way. If you work this topic into conversation casually all the time, it’ll be much less weird for your kid when you sit down to have more formal talks. It won’t be the first time your kid hears you say the words you’ll say.
2. Pick the right moments for the talk.
Hard conversations are better when they’re set up well. When I followed up with my son, I took him out to his favorite restaurant. Prior, I told him I wanted to ask some questions about how he’s feeling and if he had “felt” any other things. I reminded him there’s nothing he can ask that’s off-limits, no topics he can’t talk about. At the restaurant, I asked a lot of questions: “Have you seen anything on the internet or heard anything from your friends about puberty or sex? Do you feel alone or think it’s weird to talk about these things? How can I help you make future conversations like this easier?” Prepping him in advance and having a fun night out made this the right moment to connect and have this conversation.
3. Be direct.
When you talk to your kids about sex, don’t use slang words for body parts, be ambiguous, or chuckle at their questions. Remember, you are informing them. They want to be informed. And you want to be the first to educate your kids on this topic. It’s best for them to hear about sex from you first. When you’re direct, you keep the conversation flowing and help your kids feel safe. When they feel safe and can trust that you’re going to be honest and clear, they’re more apt to come to you in the future if they have questions or need help.
4. Use a journal.
If face-to-face conversations are difficult or you’re anticipating some topics surrounding sex to be more challenging, introduce a journal. Let your child know you want to write to him or her and will ask a question in the journal. Ask your child to write you back within a week and tell him or her to ask you any question at all in the journal, too. If your kid writes something you truly want to discuss face to face, write back with your first thoughts and then add this: “But can you and I sit down soon to discuss in person? I promise it’ll be a great conversation.” A journal can be an excellent tool to keep conversations about sex and other challenging topics going.
5. Thank your kid for talking about the “difficult” stuff.
When we do have conversations about sex, dating, or relationships with our kids, let’s not take our kids for granted. A great way to affirm and encourage them is to thank them for taking the time to talk to you about these important topics. When we got home from dinner, I told my son I am extremely proud of him and that it means a lot to me that he would hang with and talk to me. He gave me a huge hug and said, “Thank you, Dad. I’m so glad I can talk to you about these things.” That’s what we all want to hear. So keep those conversations flowing and don’t fear the talk.
Sound off: When have you found it’s best to have the more challenging talks with your kids?
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Is there a topic you’re nervous to talk to me about? How can I make it easier?”