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


  1. I've almost inadvertently had the talk with my 7 year-old at least three times (once when trying to explain why he couldn't have his "girlfriend" over for a slumber party because her mom wasn't down with it).

    I really need to remember to self-edit better! Plus, it doesn't help that he goes to a Catholic school that seems to interpret everything as possibly sexual in nature (paranoid much?). Take this recent round of emails:

    Gah! He's 7 for goodness sakes!

  2. "FIERY CAR CRASH THAT KILLS US ALL" OMG I just fell out of my chair laughing. That will be me when my son starts asking. Esp. since my hubby said his version of 'the talk' will be something like "go get 'em son." Thanks dear!!

  3. awesome! fabulous post. i have a fourth grade girl, too and i feel like we've been talking about the female body (my *favorite* subject) since she was three (when she was examining her nether regions with a mirror). ah, the joys. she might be a gynocologist when she grows up. i love your tip - "read up, do a little research." she started reading her books before i had done any research and i'm pretty sure when she asked me what exactly the fallopian tubes do i couldn't really remember. ;o)

  4. I was about 10 or 11 when my Mom sat me down for The Talk. It started with her giving me a glass of chocolate milk. To this day, I can not drink chocolate milk. I'm 41. That's a long time to go without chocolate milk. I'm SO GLAD I have boys!

  5. I found the American Girls care & keeping book to be a very valuable resource for my girls and I'm so glad they expanded into a series! No fiery car crashes here but I do turn almost every opportunity into a conversation even when friends are around because I always want that line of communication to be open, and I want my daughter's friends to know it is safe to talk to me if they are afraid to talk to their parents. It sometimes mortifies my 14 year old but she has told me she is glad we can talk about "this stuff".

  6. As I'm reading this I'm thinking to myself, "thank god I'm not going to need to have this talk in the very near future". And then I skimmed over the part where you say your daughter is 9. Damn, my kid turns 9 in two months...cue "fiery car crash that kills us all". UGH!

  7. We had to start this talk over Easter with my 5 and 7-year old boys. Not because we wanted to or they were asking questions, but because we found out they were being molested by an older child in our neighborhood. It was awful, but not as bad as I'd thought. Thankfully, they come to me with their questions. We kept it pretty low-key and basic, but I know we are going to have to start talking to my older son sooner rather than later.

    Of course, my husband keeps thinking he's got, like, 7 more years. Whatevs dude - live in denial.

  8. bookmarked for future reference!

  9. Oh Lyd - I adore "The Care and Keeping of You." Our 9 year old (in two weeks) daughter has that one and it has made for some great conversations (truly, she has asked intelligent questions for me to answer). Thanks for the suggestion on "The Feelings Book" since our attitude has been a little on the schmidtty side lately. And for the record: I just peed my pants. On my work chair. All because of this statement: "Other children: (screaming and jumping like hyperactive primates)"WHAT?! HUH?! SAY THAT AGAIN! SAY IT LOUDER! VAGINA VAGINAVAGINA!!!"

    Love y'all.

  10. Nice. My mother handled it beautifully and I was only 9 when I got my first period. I think we went to Carrows for breakfast to celebrate.
    I didn't really get it then, but I do appreciate it a lot now that I am older and see all these other girls my age who still get freaked out by bodily functions.

    And when it came time for me to have the birth control talk with her(mom), she was semi prepared for it and after her initial freak out things went rather smoothly. :)

    So don't worry, it will get better.

  11. we've had several versions of the conversation with our boys, mainly when they ask questions. my favorite response? "ew! that sounds disgusting!" they are 10.5 and almost 9. we tell them they'll think differently when they're older, but i'm not sure they believe us.

  12. My daughter, 6, has learned about fertilized/non-fertilized eggs and menstruation already. All because I was cooking eggs and she asked if they were "chicken babies." Instead of saying "yes" like a smart person, I said "well, kind of...they're *potential* chicken babies."

    But then she made me cringe/laugh because she pointed in the trash one day (post-partum pad was in there) and said "Mom! Why are you throwing away your eggs?!"

  13. I apologize to everyone in my little Sass Monkey's pre-school class... Yes, he was the one who anatomically corrected his chalk outline during playtime. It now has a penis... The teachers told everyone to make their outlines look like themselves so he did. Naked.

  14. Thanks for the post. I just have one question: James Dobson? Really? Why is an uber-evangelical on your list for helping parents prepare for this stuff? I wonder how his perspective is really helpful, especially if your child is asking questions about things he would think are very wrong or broken, like same-sex attraction. I would steer clear of him.

  15. I had to have the talk with my 12 year old neice not to long ago. Her mother tried to have "The Talk" with her, but for some reason kids have to hear it from other adults as well all the details. So, that was excellent advice about warning other adults around your kids that you are going to have "The Talk."

  16. Once "the talk" starts, it doesn't stop. My daughter has come up to me with many questions I never expected. She came up with really interesting questions such as, "How did my friend with two daddies/two mommies grow?" and my ever favorite, "Are you and dad going to have twins because you have sex so much?" Ah, love the talk.

  17. When they get to be older, like teenage years, I really really recommend . it's an amazing info site for teens titled "sex ed for the real world".

    Helped me a lot.

  18. I did use the American Girl book for both daughters but it was not a huge issue. We have a "no thought crime" policy at our house and pretty much from day one we have had very frank discussions. We always keep it age appropriate. We have rules that the teenagers (16) have to tone down the topic when the 10 year old is around but otherwise ask away. Consequently I know WAY too much about what my children are doing - like in your head screaming and trying to be cool about it. After one particularly hair raising session, my son said "Wow, you took that better than I thought you would." Life is short, teach them to make good decisions about their bodies and relationships. Always make sure they know the wisdom of the Zep "there's still time to change the road you are on."

  19. OMG, I am so happy to see "Where Did I Come From?" on your go to list....I'm 42 and it's the book my parents gave me when I started asking questions at 5. I love that book, but when I showed it to my friends in the past couple of years, they were all mortified that I would show that to my girls....I always thought it was informative and light, they thought it was just this side of porn.
    I'm very blessed in my house of three girls that their dad is not only not embarassed by the discussion, but that the girls actually will go to him and ask questions. And definitely the car is a great jumping off place (no, not off of a cliff) to start the conversation; they'll come to you again and again to finish it, but it eases up the tension for everyone.

  20. Please don't use euphemisms for Penis, vagina, ect. It teaches children to be ashamed of their bodies. It's like saying penis is a bad or dirty or inappropriate word. It's also important that children have the proper names if-god forbid- they are inappropriately touched.




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