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Tips from the pros:
By Laura Scholes
What to say, how to say it
When it comes to sex, the best strategy is to let your child lead the discussion, rather than giving her a full-blown, lengthy presentation.
"In the very early ages, parents need to focus their efforts on really listening to their children and answering their questions truthfully," says Saul. "At first, using the child’s own language to describe body parts is a good way to make kids comfortable; then you can teach them the actual names — penis, vagina, womb — as it becomes appropriate."
Schwartz agrees that parents should let kids take the lead. “The best approach with all kids is to only answer the question they ask," she says. "One of the really beautiful things about young children is that they’re incredibly inquisitive. They have such a tremendous level of curiosity that you really don’t have to worry that they’re going to forget to ask. As they’re ready for the information, they will probe for it.”
So when the questions start coming, give as brief and as honest an answer as you can and know that when they’ve learned enough, they’ll tune out — and that’s fine. Be prepared by having some age-appropriate books on hand before your child starts asking questions. Robie Harris recommends reading through the books by yourself first, to make sure you agree with the information and the way it's presented. Books can help neutralize a charged topic; they also give your child the opportunity to do additional research on her own.
Kids are resilient
Don't worry if you flub the sex conversation the first time — or even the second.
"We all make mistakes,” says Schwartz, who has stumbled on the topic of sex with her own kids. “Don’t freak out if you don’t get things right. Remember: over the years you'll get plenty of chances to 'practice' giving good information. Besides, lucky for us, kids are amazingly resilient."
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