NORMALIZE, NORMALIZE, NORMALIZE
Puberty is normal
Erections are normal
Periods are normal
Wet dreams are normal
Masturbation is normal
sex is normal
Just as it's important to use the correct terms for genitalia in order to reduce shame or discomfort about bodies, we need to talk about body changes and body differences casually and factually when our kids are young. This makes it less awkward when they actually begin to happen and will provide a good foundation for more difficult conversations later.
If we normalize changes that happen to boys and girls bodies, as well as talk freely about the general differences and similarities, we help reduce the "othering" or embarrassment that can occur as kids get older. And it's important to have these discussions with both sons and daughters.
Menstruating, for example, should not be gross or a mystery to girls or boys. The shame and misinformation associated with periods is breathtaking and leads to teasing, regularly missed school days and "othering" half the planet. Normalizing doesn't mean pretending periods are like nosebleeds. Marking or celebrate our daughters' periods in some way, formally or informally, can help remove or reduce the shame. (See sidebar for period kit ideas)
You can talk to your ever-curious children about the relationship between the ovaries and the testicles, and between the clitoris and the penis (Glamour Mag has some fun facts here: 5 Facts About the Clitoris That'll Blow Your Mind).
Kids tend to absorb and respond better to information when it comes up naturally. Check out the Resources and Recommendations page for shows you can watch with your children that might stimulate questions and discussion. Certainly there will be times you need to bring up a topic so consider doing it on a walk, in the car, or while playing a game. Less eye contact can often mean more communication.
Remember, your kid is reading your body language and if you're uncomfortable or embarrassed, they will be too. But don't let your (or their) discomfort shut you down. Feel free to name the awkwardness by saying something like, "I'm uncomfortable too but that's okay because it's important for you to know this stuff."
Don't wait until body changes begin to start talking about them! Puberty is a huge transformation both physically and emotionally, and if kids aren't prepared for the changes it can feel more disruptive to the whole family.
Listen, Listen, Listen
The deeper and more actively we can listen to our kids without reacting, the more we create space for open communication. This is especially important once they become teens.
If you can listen and reflect back what you're hearing when they come to you with their thoughts and confusion, they'll be more likely to come to you when they have questions or concerns about birth control, STDs, or their sexuality (see Sex Positivity page). You want them coming to you first. The teenage brain, with its developing frontal lobe and flooding hormones isn't...let's just say....at it's most impressive when it comes to decisions-making. Their friends have those same developing brains and may not give the best or most accurate advice. That's not to say you have to have all the answers. Tell them you need to learn more about it and then go check out (with them or alone) Scarleteen.com, a clearinghouse for all things Sex Ed. Or talk to your pediatrician or a counselor.
For more about talking to your kids about sex, visit the Sex Positivity page
Period Kit Ideas
when your daughter gets her period consider presenting her with a DIY kit including:
A variety of pads and tampons in different sizes
A period wallet like this
A pill box (cute of course)
A microwaveable heating pad (cute of course) like this
Tips and tricks sheet