Don’t wait to talk to your kids about sex

My six year old asked me the other day whether men’s bodies store sperm or make it continually. She qualified the question by pointing out that she knew baby girls were born with all their eggs.

As we talked we got on to the subject of what happens once a month when an egg isn’t fertilised, how you insert a menstrual cup and why I’m not menstruating at the moment (ie lactational amenorrhea).

She wandered off, seamlessly losing interest and moving on to something else but I paused, grateful that we’re able to have conversations like these. I’m also aware that talking openly about bodies, sex and relationships isn’t standard fare for many families with younger children. Personally, I think it should be.

For a start, whether we’re aware of it or not, we communicate with our children about intimacy and physicality from birth. Asking to pick a baby up and allowing them to indicate, even if only subtly, teaches the beginnings of consent. I wish I’d advocated for my older two when people picked them up without warning, let alone without asking.

By parenting babies responsively – cuddling them when they cry, and perhaps breastfeeding and bedsharing – we prime them to expect physical touch to be positive. We’re also modelling the empathy we hope they’ll show others someday. Can you imagine a generation whose sexual experience is characterised by empathy?

As toddlers, we help them redirect from accidentally hurting others. We work at making time and space so we can respect their body autonomy around nappy changes, potty training, leaving places or getting dressed. We also talk to older children about respecting younger siblings by making sure they are playing in a way that everyone’s happy with. My three year old is very good at telling me, “It’s her body, what she says goes!” if she thinks that I’m coercing my 16 month old.

But many of us can wrap our heads around these respectful parenting practices and still balk at the idea of talking to under-10s frankly about puberty and sex. Heck, a lot of us even cringe at the idea of using anatomically correct names for genitals with our kids.

I just want to encourage you that with practise, you can comfortably use the words “vulva”, “vagina”, “clitoris”, “anus”, “penis” and “scrotum”. If it feels awkward it could be worth asking why. Is there something inherently scary or dirty about genitals, to your mind? Or is it simply a lack of practice?

This is really worth challenging in ourselves, from babyhood if possible. Using correct names tells children that these are just body parts and that we can talk about them just as we would talk about anything else, no shame attached. Yes they are private but they aren’t off limits for discussion.

It could also deter sexual predators, who are less likely to target children who use these terms. And should the unthinkable happen, children who can accurately name their body parts could more effectively aid an investigation.

A brilliant side effect of getting comfortable with using these words early on is that by the time your kids are asking, “Where do babies come from?” you may already feel a lot more comfortable talking about bodies.

To work out how to respond to a question like that in an age appropriate way, I’ve tried to follow my children’s lead. I’ve asked, “Do you want to know how the baby gets inside the mummy or how the baby gets out?” Or I might give a short answer and let them ask for more details. My saying, “An egg from the mummy meets a sperm from the daddy and that grows into a baby” was followed up by the question, “How does the sperm get there?” which gave me the opening to talk about the mechanics of sex in a very straightforward way. No “special cuddles” here.

My eldest may have been five when we had this particular conversation. She thought it was hilarious but it was all very matter of fact.

This actually wasn’t the first time we’d talked about how a baby was conceived through sex but she hadn’t remembered. In fact, I feel like I’ve had loads of these conversations with my six and three year olds, which I find pretty interesting. Any extraneous information I supply tends to get naturally discarded. So I don’t really worry about going into “too much” detail because they take hold of what they need and lose interest in the rest.

Like many parents, chats like these are new territory for us so we find reading books to the children a really helpful way to open up conversations and give us the language we need to create a positive script around bodies and sexuality for our family. We’ve read How You Were Born over and over, a sweet home birth story that talks positively about pregnancy and birth. My eldest loves it even though she knows she was born in a hospital. More recently, we’ve read It’s My Body, What I Say Goes (clue in my three year old’s refrain to me), which talks about safe and unsafe touch and trusting your instincts.

My six and three year olds just love It’s Not the Stork. It’s an extremely thorough book looking at bodies, gender stereotypes, conception, sex, safe touch – the works. There’s also a section on different families like single parent, fostering or same sex parent families. I’m reading my eldest the next one up from that, It’s So Amazing, which goes into more detail.

I think it’s so important not to wait to have “the talk” someday. It’s so much easier to create a family culture where sex is a comfortable topic when your children are young than trying to introduce it when preteens are already undergoing body changes and have possibly received misinformation from other sources. You also don’t know in advance whether your child might undergo puberty early or late. If you inadvertently communicate from early on that you find talking about sex and bodies awkward, they may find it unnatural to bring you their questions.

I am so aware that my children may not always want to talk to me about these things. I can only hope that I’m laying a foundation of trust and respect so that they feel able to. And beyond that, that I’m helping them accrue a mental library that they can draw upon. That way they can test the messages they get about sex from elsewhere as they develop their own values and make their own decisions.


12 Caribbean picture books for young children

I remember asking on a Caribbean bloggers group a few years ago for Caribbean book suggestions for young children, especially the preschool bunch. Lots of mentions of Brer Rabbit and Anansi were thrown in but nothing came up that I felt really suited kids under five.

Still, between my mother and I (she always has an eye out for Caribbean books and music, keen for her grandchildren to keep their ties with Trinidad and Tobago) we’ve managed to furnish our playroom with a few.

So, in case you’re looking for something for your own island baby or just fancy something a little different to read to your kids, here we go.

Hatch
Hatch [pictured above] follows the journey of a baby leatherback turtle called Hatch and his many brothers and sisters, starting off as eggs carried by their mother, then madly scurrying to the ocean and eventually migrating around the world.

It’s a really sweet book that was recommended to me by another Trini blogger living here in the UK, Maria of The Tiger Tales so I asked my brother and my sister-in-law to get it for Ophelia for her first birthday. Both girls have adored it ever since.

Hatch seems particularly aimed at children with Caribbean heritage who’ve ended up elsewhere but I reckon it would be enjoyable for any child. Leatherback turtles are fascinating creatures too.

Caribbean picture books for young children-12

Belandra’s Day at the Market
Belandra travels from Canada to stay with her grandmother in a tropical island (looks like Trinidad to me). Filled with lovely sketches, it details her visit to the market, a special treat with her grandmother. Laurence finds it a bit long-winded to read (maybe you had to grow up going to a Caribbean market?) but Talitha enjoys it and I can see it being a lovely one for a grandparent to read with a grandchild.

Caribbean picture books for young children-11

Yohance and the Dinosaurs
What I love about this book is that it’s not about the Caribbean. It’s just clearly set there. The plot isn’t that strong – it’s about a boy who sees dinosaurs in the clouds – but it’s such a pretty book and my own dinosaur-mad four-year-old is keen.

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Creepy Crawly Calypso
Oh my, was I excited to find this gem at Artrageous here in Bristol recently! Creepy Crawly Calypso is a Barefoot Books publication and it comes with a CD, with a genuine Caribbean voice singing a playful calypso counting bugs playing instruments you might find in a full steel band.

My mum was with me and she was equally excited to discover it so bought the girls a copy and one for her students back home. After the rhyme/song, there are a few pages giving some facts about the different bugs and instruments. We haven’t managed to learn the calypso yet but both girls love dancing to it.

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Shak Shak Tree
Following a British child from England to his mother’s homeland Barbados to visit family. He discovers lots that’s new and scary about this island, both familiar and strange, but it’s balance with much fun, excitement and beauty. I’ve been able to relate this to our visit to Trinidad and Tobago last year. Depending on her mood, Talitha will either remember the beaches or the mosquitoes!

Caribbean picture books for young children-8

Lola Tortola
I found this in the suggested reading of an EYFS curriculum unit on Caribbean Carnival. Truth be told it is so silly (which is great for the kids even if it makes me roll my eyes a little!) and the illustrations are nothing fancy. BUT the limericks are super catchy and it’s an often requested read. This book is great for learning the names of some Caribbean countries and definitely packs a punch in terms of little kid humour.

Caribbean picture books for young children-7

Jump Up Time
Jump Up Time tells the story of a preschool girl who feels envious that her big sister is “playing mas” for the first time this year. She feels left out with the family fully focused on making the hummingbird costume the older girl will wear for Carnival.

It gives a good feel for kiddies Carnival in Trinidad, where it’s set. So it’s particularly suited to introducing the festival. Talitha is mesmerised, asking for it again and again.

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Caribbean Animals

I’ve written about this one in this post:
“Ned dances us through twenty-six of the Caribbean’s animals, pausing every now and then to observe a mouse building his “house”. This sweet sub-story seemed ridiculous and out of place to me when I first read the book but it’s highly effective. Talitha is so interested in what the mouse is doing and when he’s ready for bed so is she.”

Caribbean picture books for young children-5

Tantie’s Kitchen
I’m not that keen on the cartoon style of these illustrations, however, it’s a fun rhyming book that gives a mouth-watering introduction to Trinbagonian food and dialect. I really enjoy reading it to my kids and they love listening to it. Talitha asks lots of questions about each dish. I really need to cook more of them.

Caribbean picture books for young children-4

Coconut Mon
This is such a silly but fun chant, counting down as the coconut man sells all his coconuts. I find it killing that Talitha always asks: “But why do they call the man ‘mon’?”

Caribbean picture books for young children-3

Caribbean Dream

This is such a beautiful book. Featuring captivating paintings of Caribbean scenes, it’s gentle poem is a lovely wind down before bed. I get nostalgic reading it but it holds my children’s attentions equally.

Caribbean picture books for young children

My Caribbean
This is a baby touch and feel book, pulling out images of Caribbean life. I reckon this would be such a lovely gift for any baby but even more so if there’s a Caribbean connection. It’s particularly aimed at Caribbean babies overseas, since it ends with a mirror and reads, “So much to do, so much to see. All that’s missing is me.”

Do you have any other Caribbean picture books to add to this collection? Please do share them if you do!