The Do’s & Don’t’s Of Talking To Your Child About Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH)
Growing up in a society that approaches SRH-education with a “hush hush” attitude, it’s easy to brush the conversation under the rug and never acknowledge it. We assume that our children will grow-up and just know.
However, children always discover this information, through peers or the internet, and often, it is incorrect. Parents need to guide the conversation, before a child becomes misinformed and confused.
To start with, we have compiled a list of Do’s & Don’t’s for parents and guardians when teaching a child of any age about SRH:
DO approach the topic early. SRH-education can begin during infancy, by teaching something simple like correct anatomical terms for genitals. Treating SRH as “the big talk” and giving your child too much information at once, will overwhelm them. Start small and slowly incorporate appropriate information each year. This sets the groundwork for detailed conversations later on and breaks any ‘awkward’ barriers to help you both become comfortable with sharing. However, it’s never too late to have a chat with your teen about SRH – making an effort to approach the topic mindfully will go a long way.
DON’T wing it. Understand the developmental changes your child will experience. Chances are SRH-education was skimmed over in your high school class as well, if at all. Therefore, brush up on topics such as puberty and reproduction, to prepare you to answer your child’s questions and fulfill their needs. An unprepared and panicked response may confuse your child.
DO acknowledge where you’re lacking. Whether it is with regards to how quiet you have been on the topic or how much you know about the specific question your child is asking you – gently state that you plan on researching and addressing the question at hand. This sets the scene for conversations in the future; allows for opportunities of researching together, and reiterates the open communication between you.
DON’T jump to conclusions and interrogate. If your child asks “what is reproduction?”, ask them to clarify what they already know or have heard. Once you know where your child’s current understanding and curiosity is coming from, you can respond appropriately. That said, asking too many who/what/why/where questions may result in your child feeling threatened and cutting the conversation short. Listen more than you talk. Don’t lecture.
DO keep it short, simple and honest. ‘The talk’ isn’t the same for every child. Cater to your child’s current needs, comprehension and age. Keep the terms simple and explain any new words. Stick to what your child is asking you – don’t overshare. Remain factual and honest.
DON’T outright refuse to answer something. This will only further your child’s curiosity, and encourage them to seek answers elsewhere. If you feel your child may not yet be able to understand certain information, give minimal details and say that you’ll share more later. Outright refusal can be perceived as disapproval, unintentionally associating negativity and shame with SRH in your child’s mind.
DO be prepared for your child’s reaction to the information. Your child may walk away and make it seem as though they are avoiding having this conversation with you. Let them be. They will need time to process the information. Let them express their thoughts openly. Re-visit the conversation some time later – ask them how they feel or if they have any new questions. Be sure to reassure them that they can approach you again in the future should the need arise.
DON’T scold your child. Punishment will lead your child to believe they’re doing something wrong by asking you. They may be less likely to open up to you in the future. Maintain a level of calm, letting your child know that if they ever want to confide in you, they will be loved and supported instead of reprimanded and labelled a ‘disappointment’.
DO acknowledge your child’s feelings. Understanding that your child may have romantic attachments, particularly when they are a teenager, is crucial to maintaining communication. Disregarding their emotions as “young and foolish” and talking down to them will only make it less likely that your message is taken seriously.
DO acknowledge that it is natural and normal – not ‘scary’ and ‘bad’. A lot of conversations regarding SRH-Ed focus on all the “don’t’s”, framing reproduction as something that is “forbidden” and its consequences as “deserved punishments”. Our conversations around this topic are usually very heavy on the associated emotional and religious aspects. This cloud of “shame” around reproduction, makes children more curious and secretive about it. Keep emotions to a minimum – focus on the facts.
DON’T think having the ‘SRH talk’ means you’re giving your child permission. A lot of people assume that by exposing their children to the topic of SRH health at a young age they will “corrupt” them. However, that is not the case at all. Children are surrounded by highly sensualized media in their daily lives, without any additional context on how to process this information. Layering SRH-education in day-to-day conversations, works to educate your child in a way that they are able to understand and safely navigate the topic. This provides great opportunity for conversations about how, why and when to practice abstinence.
DO be kind to yourself. If your child is opening up to you, take that as a victory in itself. You’ve done a great job to be able to get to this point. If you still struggle with the topic, take a moment to breathe and clarify the situation to yourself. These conversations are to be small, continuing on over many years. If you or your child aren’t yet comfortable with the discussion, give it some time and re-visit it later.