Having a chat with your child about sexual consent and healthy relationships is a normal part of every young person’s development.
Of course, it’s natural to want to avoid the topic in the hopes that it will preserve your child’s innocence for longer.
However, because young people are going online a lot younger, you need to be sure that you’re giving your child appropriate, factual information from credible sources.
Here are a few things to think about before talking to your child about sex:
Make sure you have emotional support
You want to encourage open and ongoing conversation about sex and relationships so it’s important that you feel comfortable and supported to do this.
Chat to your partner, spouse or a fellow parent about what you’re going to say and to reassure yourself that you’ve got all bases covered.
Also, make sure you feel ready and confident about how you want to share the information.
Pick the right time and location
If you tend to get tired or irritable in the evenings, try to have the chat in the morning or during the day so you’ll be better able to deal with any issues that may arise.
Sitting your child down for a ‘big, serious talk’ isn’t the best idea. Instead, why not chat to them while walking on the beach, unloading the dishwasher or driving in the car so they don’t have to make direct eye contact if they find it a bit embarrassing!
Do it one-to-one
If you have more than one child that you need to speak to, it can be tempting to talk to them both at the same time.
However, no two children will react the same way and if one doesn’t understand something or wants to ask a question they may feel ashamed or afraid to ask in case the other child teases them about it.
Use a safe example
Books are a popular way to bring up the subject of sex but another way is to use a storyline from a film or TV show you’re watching as a segway to start a dialogue.
Alternatively, if they come to you because something happened to a friend or classmate, use the occasion to further the conversation.
Ask their opinion
Before you give them facts, statistics or advice, ask them what their opinion is or how much they already know about sex.
This should inform the way you talk things through with them, depending on their age and maturity.
One of the most important things you can do during a chat with your child is listen to what they have to say.
If they have a view of what intimacy or a healthy relationship looks like that has been influenced from social media, don’t tell them they’re wrong.
Instead, ask them where they heard about it or who they’ve discussed it with already.
Be prepared to answer their questions
Some children will want to exit the room as quickly as possible when you start talking about sex.
Others will have questions and some might be awkward for you. Try to prepare as much as you can and if you don’t know the answers, be honest with them.
Say you’ll find out and talk to them when you know more.
Have regular chats
The ‘sex’ talk does not have to be one giant lecture!
In fact, your child will most likely retain more details of what you say if it’s broken down into several shorter chats.
Hopefully, this will set a precedent and encourage them to open up to you more in their teenage years.
Help them feel safe and accepted
Let your child know that even if they don’t want to talk about sex right now, you’re always there for them when they’re ready.
Explain that you understand that it might be awkward and if they would prefer to talk to another trusted adult, whether it’s your partner, their aunt, uncle, teacher or grandparent, that’s okay too.
They can also contact Childline by phone on 1800 66 66 66, through live chat on childline.ie or by free texting 50101.