Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Talks with kids about facts of life should start early

I recently wrote a column on facing tough questions about Santa.

Readers with children slightly older than mine have since told me that if I think telling the truth about Santa is hard, wait until my kids press for the full story of how babies are made.

"In this day and age, kids know a whole lot more or at least think they do than we did growing up," said Peggy Johns, supervisor of Health Education with Pinellas County Schools. "You need to answer their questions as they grow. It may be they find out about (intercourse) at 8 years old."

The school system teaches kids about reproduction, growth and development in the fifth grade. But if parents wait until then to broach the subject with their kids, their friends and classmates will beat you to the punch by a couple years, Johns said.

When parents do address the topic, it shouldn't just be "the talk" and then you never mention it again.

"If you make it seem so forbidden that you will only talk about it once, then they may not come back to you when they have more questions along the way," Johns said. "If you talk in small bits along the way, then you can form a good relationship for when your child is a teen."

We can start laying the groundwork when they are toddlers. Instead of saying babies grow in a mother's tummy, tell young children that the baby is in Mommy's uterus, which is a special place where babies grow.

A few weeks ago, my 7-year-old daughter asked: "Why does Wade look so much like Daddy when he came out of Mommy's tummy?" (Of course, I've never mentioned the word uterus.)

I said something like, "I'm not really sure. He looks like both of us. What do you think your grandmother is sending you for your birthday?"

Johns said that would have been a fine opportunity for me to tell Olivia that Wade grew inside an egg that Daddy helped make. But then Olivia would have wanted to know how he helped make it, I told her. Then maybe she's ready to know the full story, Johns suggested. But maybe I'm not ready to tell her.

"A good time to talk is when you are in the car," Johns said. "You don't have to make eye contact. Neither of you can get away, but it's probably going to be a short amount of time so you can't go on too long."

I asked around and found other parents have told their kids some or all of the facts of life between the ages of 5 and 10. My friend's husband told her boys the summer before they entered second and fourth grade. She remembered her 7-year-old's response after hearing the whole journey of how the egg is fertilized: "You mean we're like chickens."

Carolyn Schafer, mother of three boys, remembers telling her first son when he was 10. She asked him if he was sure he wanted to know and he said he was. When she was finished he quipped: "Couldn't you have just said, "I'll tell you later?' "

Robin Glenn, a friend of mine with three sons, said she wanted to tell her oldest "about intercourse before someone else did, and I sensed he was getting to the age where he was ready to know." She wanted to start talking bit by bit about it so those lines of communication would always be open.

When he was in second grade she tried to read a book to him, but he didn't want to hear about it. She let him look at it alone, but then he didn't want to talk about it to her.

He did go to school and tell a classmate about it, however.

"He did to someone else what I didn't want to happen to us. I felt so bad. I told him this was something for families to talk about," she said. Meanwhile, her second son was eager to talk about where babies come from. She told him when he was 6{, and he is very comfortable with the topic. So her older son, who is now in third grade, gets the info he needs when her middle son brings up questions.

As with anything, children will have different reactions to learning about reproduction and development. Some will ask everything, while others may have a strong interest but not want to broach the subject. That's why we need to start conversations with them around age 8 or 9 if they haven't asked us, Johns advised.

Here are a few guidelines the school system offers to parents for talking with their kids about sex.

+ No child gets the information he or she needs at precisely the correct time _ err on the side of too early. If your child isn't quite ready to understand the information, he or she will most likely overlook it.

+ It's wrong to force a discussion. Respect your child's discomfort and need for privacy and try again another time.

+ Events depicted on TV and in the paper are happening to other people, not to you and your family. Seizing these "teachable moments" when the opportunity arises to discuss sex can help you cover a lot of ground in a comfortable, non-threatening manner.

+ Sometimes responding with questions of your own _ such as "Why do you think people have sex?" _ can help you find out what your child really wants and needs to know.

+ Puberty can be a difficult time for kids. Above all, your children want to know _ and can't hear enough from you _ that they are "normal."

+ + +

There will be free car seat safety inspections Feb. 7 at the rest areas at either side of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Safety inspectors will be on hand to check for defects and fix problems due to improper installation and improper use of seat belts. You can spin the Chick-fil-A wheel to win a prize and pet a Chick-fil-A cow. The event lasts from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Call 1-800-756-7233 for more information.

_ You can reach Katherine Snow Smith by e-mail at; or write Rookie Mom, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.