Mother and father having a conversation with their young daughter abut where babies come from

It’s a question all parents are going to have to answer at some point, but the thought of having to explain how babies are made to your young child might make you feel anxious or uncomfortable. Author and child behaviour guru Tanith Carey offers her expert advice.

When they’re about 6 or 7 years old, children start to hear from their friends about how grown-ups make babies, and where babies come from. Be ready to explain sex in a sensitive, age-appropriate way, so your child doesn’t get confused or worried.

Scenario:

Your child has heard from his friends about how mummies and daddies make babies. He wants to know if it’s true.

What is he thinking:

I’ve heard people say that the daddy puts his willy in the mommy and they make a baby. But that can’t be true.

You might think:

He’s too young to know about anything so grown up. I don’t want to say the wrong thing.

What’s going on in your child’s head? 

At this age, children are now curious about their place in the world and where they came from. If they don’t get the facts, they may use “magical thinking”, which means they make up a story to explain what they don’t yet understand. For example, they may imagine that when someone wants a baby all they have to do is go to the hospital and ask for one.

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You may feel nervous because you want to get the wording right first time and you don’t want to scare your child. You may also be uncomfortable about revealing an intimate side of yourself to your child and feel embarrassed they will work out this was how you conceived them.

Your child is now more aware of the differences between boys and girls. What he has heard may sound bizarre or even disgusting to him. He may be asking for reassurance that the truth is not as strange as it sounds. But, at this stage, he can only handle an introduction to the simple mechanics of reproduction.

How to respond:

In the moment…

1 Ask your child how much he knows. Ask him where he thinks babies come from. Once you understand his level of knowledge you will be able to respond with the right words and clear up any misunderstandings.

2 Give the basics. Use straightforward language you are comfortable with. For instance, say: “A special type of seed, called sperm, comes out of a daddy’s penis and swims up a mummy’s vagina to find her egg. When they meet, a baby can start to grow.”

3 Stop at the right time. If your child reacts with a “yuck”, laugh along and says it’s what grown-ups sometimes do to feel close and show love. Stop the conversation if there are no more questions. It means they have enough information and need time to process it.

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In the long term…

1 Keep talking. As your child gets older, let the topic come up naturally again so you can add more context, such as how sex is something nice for adults who love each other. Say you understand if it sounds confusing, but assure your child it will make sense as he gets older.

2 Use other resources. If you find it hard to find the words, use books specifically written by experts to educate children about sex to guide conversations and discussions with your child.

Taken from ‘What’s my child thinking? Practical psychology for modern parents’ by Tanith Carey (Dorling Kindersley). Click here to buy it online.