Hudson Valley Parent

HVP March 2015

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18 Hudson Valley Parent ■ March 2015 E very parent knows that sooner or later they have to have "the talk." But given what children see and appear to know these days, they are growing up faster and crossing the threshold of the adolescent environ- ment earlier than we did. Most parents want to develop healthy attitudes about love, intimacy and sexuality in their children, but often don't know where or when to begin. Talking about sex to your child for many parents can be ex- tremely embarrassing and is usually an awkward conversation to initiate. Have an ongoing discussion Try to keep in mind as you experi- ence your discomfort that by talking openly and honestly about sex with your child, you are potentially head- ing off the multitude of problems uninformed kids have when they become sexually active, which has been starting earlier. Label anatomical parts correctly! Although it isn't damaging to a child to use pet names for body parts, it isn't helpful either. The earlier children feel comfortable with their bodies and the correct terms for their body parts, the less anxiety they are likely to encounter as adolescents. Understanding sexuality helps kids cope with their own feelings and helps curtail the peer pressure they will experience as they grow and develop. Adolescents who are knowledgeable about sex, intimacy and love will be more likely to have a positive, clear, honest understanding of the issues of human sexuali- ty. They will also be less likely to take sexual risks, be sexually abused, or become a sexual abuser. There are also themes that are endemic to particular developmen- tal stages. For example, most young children ask questions about where they came from and how babies are made. Pre-ad- olescents and adolescents are usually concerned with whether they are normal, and they may experience anxiety regard- ing peer pressure, their changing bodies, and becoming sexually active and masturbating. How do you start? Start discussions about sex and in- timacy early and don't be concerned that you're starting too early. Most kids are curious very early in life but often feel too uncomfortable to bring up the topic. Take the lead in these discussions even if your child doesn't ask specifi c questions early, and don't try to catch up if you do start late in their development. This is a developmental process; you're not helping them cram for an exam. Sometimes the newspaper, or a book, or an issue on a TV show you're both watching can provide a springboard for a "teachable mo- ment" about sex. Face your discomfort If you're uncomfortable, your child will model your discomfort regarding sex and the concomitant issues. Don't worry about looking dumb or being embarrassed. When facing the issues openly and honestly together, anxiety and embarrassment will be neutralized for both you and your child. Keep it light, and always keeping your sense of humor. Be an approachable parent Encourage your child to ask ques- tions about anything confusing to him or her. Don't develop a preachy or moralizing tone. Be calm and avoid using scare tactics about sexu- ality. Sex isn't something to be afraid of; it's something to understand Avoid having your children feel guilty or shameful about their ideas and feelings or if they have become sexually active adolescents. Being positive and realistic about an issue isn't the same as giving them permis- sion. The goals of talking about sex in an open, healthy and honest way are to help develop an understand- ing of the issues and to provide your child with good decision-making skills about sex. Listen, listen, listen! A major part of "the talk," possi- bly the most important part, is lis- tening to your child respectfully and without interruption. As parents we may think we know what our kids know and don't know, but we are often quite surprised when we really listen to our children. Kids frequent- ly know and think about much more than we realize. The more we listen to them, the more we learn about PAUL SCHWARTZ Child Behavior 'The talk': When and where to begin This is a developmental process; you're not helping them cram for an exam.

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