October 01, 2003
Wondering how much is enough and how much is too much when having “the talk” with your child? Dr. Phil offers parents this advice:
Set the Environment and Tone
Make sure you have the talk with your child at a time and place where there will be no distractions. Turn off the TV and the phone. Maintain a calm and relaxed tone. If you are anxious, your children may unnecessarily read into that.
Children Under 6: Be Truthful but Abstract
Research tells us that the younger children are, the more abstract we need to be. When a child is 4 to 6 years old, you may start getting some questions, but you want to be abstract. It’s good to be truthful, but you don’t need to be graphic. If they ask where babies come from, you don’t want to say, “The stork.” Then they’ll wonder why you’re hanging out with the stork. “Kids have a hard time learning about how things work in life,” says Dr. Phil, so it’s important to “give them anatomically correct answers.” Answer kids on their level in terms they can understand with accurate information. Use age-appropriate pictures to explain how things work. Also, they may know more than you think they do. An example of being truthful and accurate while being abstract is to say, “Babies come from me. Daddy helps, and we make a baby together.” Often, you’ll find that that’s enough to say at that age. Until they’re 9 or 10 and approaching puberty, you usually don’t want to get graphic by talking about sexual penetration because it can scare them.
Children Approaching Puberty
At this stage, it’s important to introduce the concepts of love, relationships, marriage, and other things that are important in your family’s value system. Explain that sex happens within that context. It’s not outdated to have this conversation. They are going to get this information, whether it’s from you, the media or a different source.
It’s also very important at this stage that you figure out how much they know already before you start talking. Maybe they’ll ask where babies come from or something else specific. You can begin by asking, “Can you tell me what you think?”