I think it’s time we started making reproductive health an open subject. We need to have honest, supportive discussions with no judgment. I also think these discussions need to start in the home at a very early age.
I’m a nurse, and I’ve been working in the women’s health field for over 10 years. I’ve seen every part of the women’s health care spectrum, from pediatric gynecology to oncology to menopause. I’ve specialized in reproductive endocrinology and infertility for the last 5 years. One thing I know with certainty is that there is an overwhelming majority of women who don’t know enough about their own bodies. Therefore, they aren’t able to fully advocate for their reproductive needs and rights. At the same time, these women do not know how to broach reproductive health with their children or families.
I can understand that there are families who don’t feel comfortable talking to their kids about reproduction and fertility. I was raised in a French Catholic household where this kind of conversation wasn’t common. For some people, it can be pretty embarrassing to talk about “those” body parts and how they work. I’m sure there are people who trust that their kids will get the information they need in a structured academic setting. Sexual education and health education programs in schools are becoming less available due to a wide variety of reasons, including budget cuts, lack of staff, and changing political environment. Unfortunately, by the time parents realize that this kind of conversation needs to happen early and at home, it may already be too late.
I say it’s time to change that.
My husband and I have always agreed that we need to be as open and honest as possible with our daughters about how their bodies work. That has certainly led to some interesting conversations, such as this one that another family experienced. Our goal is to make their reproductive health as important and easy to talk about as, say, their vaccinations. That way, when they get older, they’ll be better able to recognize if something’s wrong and know who to talk to about it.
I’m not expecting every parent out there to agree with me or my family’s approach, and that’s okay. I just hope that maybe the things that we do in our house can help other parents who are struggling with this kind of conversation. So, here are 5 tips for talking with your kids about their bodies at any age.
My kids have known for a few years that it takes an egg from a woman and sperm from a man to make a baby. We’ve talked about the fact that the baby grows in a woman’s uterus. They know that there’s more than one way for said baby to come out. Now that they’re 5 and 9, we’ve started talking about how periods relate to having a baby. They’re not at the age yet where we can have the “birds and bees” conversation. We’ll all be ready when the time comes, though.
Don’t be afraid of the correct anatomical names.
I feel like we’re doing our kids a huge disservice by referring to their body parts with cutesy names instead of calling them what they actually are. My husband and I have always used the correct terms for body parts. We’ve also encouraged our daughters to do the same. The girls have known since they could talk that boys have penises and girls have vaginas. It’s like Dumbledore said: “Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” Of course, he was talking about Voldemort, but you get the idea.
Use resources to help you do the talking.
There are a number of great books and toys that you can use to help start and continue the conversation. Here are a few of my favorites:
You don’t have to know every answer- you just have to be willing to listen. If you don’t know the answer, you can try to find it together. My older daughter asked me what her period would be like one day. This question led to a great conversation about how her body will tell her it’s ready to have a baby. Even if her father and I won’t be ready to be grandparents.
Be loving and non-judgmental.
Whether your kids are asking about birth control or wondering what the opposite gender has underneath their clothes, the last thing they need is for their parents to reply with fear or disrespect. Children need to know that the adults they trust will answer their questions without making them feel like they’re doing something wrong. If you can maneuver this conversation with love, gentleness, and tact, you’ll be totally prepared to address even bigger issues (like dating, or driving).
As parents, we have an infinite number of beautiful and unique opportunities to guide our children. These wonderful little people trust us, and we can do them a great service by showing them how amazing their bodies can be.