Monday, September 17, 2012

When it's Time to Have The Talk

From an epic slideshow by Joslyn Gray
This summer, my oldest daughter began asking me about bras. She is heading into 4th grade, the age when I noticed (sigh...) some girls begin to need one and even (gasp!) might get their period. And I freaked a little which is odd considering that I had The Talk with my little sister when she was in middle school and I'm a former HIV/AIDS health educator and used to talk to literally thousands of kids about safe sex. 

But it's all different when it's your kid. And she just turned 9. So what now? Like I always do, I asked the most intelligent and attractive women on the internet (you fine hookers - via Facebook) for advice. Specifically I asked you what books I should read and then give my daughter for part one of The Talk. I got hundreds of amazing suggestions and my friend Joslyn Gray (aka Stark.Raving.Mad.Mommy) turned it into a really great slideshow over at Babble. (The book suggestions are also in list form at the bottom of this post.)

About once a month, I go on a local TV show and chat about something that has to do with moms. This week, they asked me to discuss THE TALK (mortifying video clip to follow later this week). So here are my thoughts on the subject:
Start the dialogue a little early so you get to set the tone. Having the conversation sooner than you might be comfortable with is a good idea for several reasons:
  • You get to pick the vocabulary you want your kid to use. Are you going to be talking about penises and vaginas or using some adorable euphemisms like wang and ladybits?
  • You get in there with some facts before little Trevor on the playground gives an impromptu sex ed tutorial that includes a detailed description of the movie he watched on Cinemax last weekend. 
  • You can help them figure it all out before they draw their own (sometimes very creative) conclusions as to how things work.
Read up first, do a little research. This does three things:
  • Helps you get comfortable with the information and anticipate the kinds of questions your child might ask.
  • Gives you the chance to identify some books that might be appropriate to give your individual kid and the things he or she is thinking about.
  • If you're really nervous, you can plan out what you're going to say or use the book as a prop to make it all a little less awkward.
Make sure to keep it low key. This was next to impossible for me, despite my best efforts. I'm sure my flop sweat and frenetic stuttering made me look like a perfect sitcom mom, except coming off a meth binge. So my tips here are:
  • Avoid being like me.
  • Let your kid know that it's not a big deal and they should always feel comfortable coming to you and that you'll be cool about answering their questions. This sets the stage for the next conversation, or for when questions inevitably come up. 
  • Joslyn suggests having the conversation while you’re driving, which limits the need for eye contact and allows people to process things in their own way. 
Here is my very real fear of that scenario playing out while I'm driving:
Me: "And that's how ovulation works! You should feel free to come to me whenever you have any questions."
Three weeks later while driving to church...
Daughter: "Mommy?"
Me: "Yes? Let me just turn down the radio. What is it, sweetie?"
Daughter: "Is it true ladies put things inside their vaginas? Like penises and tampons and stuff? How old are you when you start doing that? Fourth grade or nineteen or what?"
Other children: (screaming and jumping like hyperactive primates)"WHAT?! HUH?! SAY THAT AGAIN! SAY IT LOUDER! VAGINA VAGINA VAGINA!!!"  

You don't have to say everything at once - start with what kids NEED to know. This summer, we needed to talk about what happens to girls' bodies as they start to approach puberty. That conversation has led to others and I'm sure it will lead to still more. But we needed to start with just that
  • Hitting all bases at once (heh heh) would have been totally overwhelming for my kid. A lot of people benefit from having some time to think over new things, and then later adding more information to the mix.
  • Joslyn had a great suggestion that you should start by ask your child what he or she already knows. That way you can figure out where their head is, where they picked up those tidbits of information, and if they have their facts straight. 
Warn friends/family/teachers that you're having The Talk. I told the parents of my kid's best friends that we'd discussed this stuff.  Because I expected that she might want to talk about it at some point with her buds, and if she did - I wanted those parents to have a heads up that some questions might follow.

I think I sent a text that looked something like this: "Just thought you should know that I told Thumbelina all about how periods work so tomorrow's sleep-over at your house is probably going to turn into the second coming of "Are You There God, It's Me Margaret". You're very welcome. I'm sure it will be an extremely special evening for you. xoxo, Lydia"
Give your kids some appropriate resources so they can think about it and precess it on their own. The list you see below is based on the suggestions that you gave us on Facebook in July. 
  • If you look on Amazon, all the book reviews have the same two issues: 1) This book is too mature/advanced or 2) it’s too juvenile/babyish.  So please take the time to at least skim the books before you share them with your kids.
  • I used the American Girl books as well as the companion journal and my daughter absolutely loved them, especially the book "Is This Normal?" which is structured like an advice column. 
  • Ultimately, my talk went really well  - thanks to your advice and suggestions. So thank you.
For Boys and Girls:
What’s the Big Secret? Talking About Sex With Girls and Boys by Laurie Krasny Brown and Illustrated by Marc Brown. Ages 4 to 8.

For Girls:
The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls (American Girl Library) by Valorie Schaefer. Age 8 and up.
The Feelings Book: The Care and Keeping of Your Emotions (American Girl Library) by Dr. Lynda Madison. Age 8 and up.
(Companion journals are available for both The Care and Keeping of You and The Feelings Book.)
What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Girls by Lynda Madaras. Age 12 and up.
Period. A Girl’s Guide by JoAnn Loulan. Age 6 and up.
Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret (novel) by Judy Blume. Age 9 and up.
Website: (for parents and girls age 8 to 15).

For Boys:
The Body Book for Boys by Rebecca Paley. Age 10 and up
What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Boys by Lynda Madaras. Ages 9 to 15

For Parents:
Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask) by Justin Richardson. A one-of-a-kind survival guide to staying sane through every stage of your child’s development.
Website: for Parents Explains birth control so that you can explain it, and answers questions like “How can I reassure my daughter that she’ll get her period?” and “Is it normal for an 11-year-old boy to fondle himself?” (Answer: yes.)
Website: by sex educator Amy Lang, MA. To help parents talk to kids about uncomfortable things.

(c)Herding Turtles, Inc. 2009 - 2012

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