“Mommy, how did the baby get in your stomach?” “How did I get born?” “Am I going to have a baby, too?” You may be caught by surprise as your child begins asking questions about sex and childbirth.
You may wonder how much to tell your child and when to tell her. Some books and specialists advise parents to give young children all the facts about sex and reproduction, but young children are unable to absorb and comprehend such information. Learning about and understanding reproduction is a gradual process that continues through the childhood years.
Young children have their own ideas about how the human body works, based on their observations and experience. Before you talk to your child about pregnancy, ask what she thinks so you’ll know where to start the discussion. “How do you think the baby got inside of me?” Many children believe that eating too much causes pregnancy and that a woman gives birth in the same way she has a bowel movement. A child who’s heard that a baby starts from a special seed might think that pregnancy comes from eating seeds. Parents may discover that their child is afraid of pregnancy, since children often fear things they don’t understand and things they imagine.
Before you offer your child the facts about pregnancy and birth, wait for her to ask questions. There’s no need to volunteer information if she’s not yet curious about the subject. And when she does ask, don’t overwhelm her with information. Start with simple explanations: “The baby grows in a special place inside the mother.” Wait for her to ask for more before you continue your discussion; don’t feel that you have to tell all the facts at one time.
If you do explain too much too soon, your child may become confused, frightened, or upset. One five-year-old girl, after hearing the details of childbirth, declared, “That’s disgusting. I’m never going to have a baby.” A three-and-a-half-year-old, who had been enrolled in a sibling childbirth class where he heard all the facts about birth, still believed, “Mom’s stomach unzips so the baby can get out.”
If your child seems curious about pregnancy and birth, explain the facts in simple terms that you think she can understand. “You grew inside mommy’s tummy.” “Doctors and nurses help when babies are ready to be born.” “When the baby is big enough it comes out through a special passage in mommy’s body.” Don’t put pressure on yourself to come up with the right words. Just keep it basic and simple, and satisfy your child’s curiosity without overwhelming her. When she’s older, she’ll have an easier time understanding, cognitively and emotionally, the facts about pregnancy.
Talking about sex and pregnancy is naturally uncomfortable for many parents. However, it’s not just explanations that teach your child about sex and intimacy. Throughout your child’s life, she’ll learn about relationships by watching the way you and your spouse treat each other. If you show each other respect and warmth, she’ll become respectful and warm in her relationships as she grows. Those lessons can sometimes be more powerful than “the talk.”