I started this series last week with why you should talk to your toddlers and teens about reproductive health. Check that out here! This week I want to share what to talk about. Let’s dive right in.
Four Topics to Cover
Topic One – Anatomy & Biology
Toddlers vs. Teens
For toddler parents, keep it simple and start with the external anatomy. We teach our toddlers basic body parts; arms, ears, nose, elbows, fingers, toes, and fingers. I recommend naming only the external genitalia at this age. For males, that consists of three parts; the penis, testicles and scrotum. For females, it is the vulva. The vulva refers to all of the external genitalia (labia minora, labia majora and clitoris). Keeping it simple, just call it a vulva.
If you are a toddler parents can stop here until your child(ren) become an adolescent (9-10 years old).
As your child becomes a teenager and they have the capacity to learn more, you can share with them the internal parts of the male and female reproductive system. By this point they have likely learned about the heart, lungs, muscles, bones, etc. and understand that there are internal organs. They also understand that each part of the body has a specific role. You can review simple concepts like how our bones give structure to our body so we can move, without our bones, we’d be in a pile on the ground.
Below is the vocabulary list that I use in my classroom. Each part plays a specific role in the reproductive system. Get yourself familiar with these terms so you feel confident in teaching it to your child(ren).
Diagrams are your friend! Don’t fear them. Without a diagram it can be confusing. With a diagram it helps our children understand how all of these parts work together.
Take note of how your child is responding and if they seem confused or overwhelmed you can pause and come back to it later, or ask them if they have questions. You also don’t need to teach about both systems at the same time. You might want to teach them about their anatomy first, and the other reproductive system a little later.
Topic Two – Consent
I am teaching my boys (11 months and 2.5 years old) consent right now. I’m teaching that no means no and stop means stop.
Whether that’s with verbal or nonverbal cues. When Cyrus (2.5 years) asks me to stop something, I stop. And no, this isn’t about him getting his way all the time. I’m also teaching him that when I say stop, it means stop. It is a two way street. Consent can be taught long before it becomes anything sexual.
Let me give an example for reference. If they are asking you to stop taking their pajamas off to change them into their daytime clothes, stop. This happens often in our house and I’ve found that if I stop and explain to Cyrus that we need to change into our daytime clothes he will usually allow me to help him. Or, I’ll ask if he wants to do it or if he wants my help. Or, I’ll ask him which shirt, pants, undies, socks, etc. he wants to wear. Somehow we can usually get distracted enough that he will get changed. We find ways to make it work.
Teach them that their words matter and that others should listen to their words. We need to model what this looks and sounds like to our children so they know that others should listen to their verbal and nonverbal cues as well.
Topic Three – Inappropriate/Unwanted Touch
Talk to your child about physical touch. Lead with the fact that human touch is a way to show love and care for someone. It can be comforting and wonderful as long as both people want that. On the other hand, it can be harmful and hurt someone. Below is a guide on how I teach types of touch in my classroom.
You might be thinking that this isn’t important or it seems like common sense. I can assure you that it is not. Every single year I have a student come to me and report some type of unwanted touch. Every. Single. Year. Do not assume that your child understands when you haven’t explicitly told them about unwanted or violent touch.
Topic Four – To ask questions.
Teach your child(ren) to ask questions. I can promise it is better for them to ask you than Google.
If you as the parent don’t know the answer, that is okay. Tell your child that you don’t have an answer right now but you’ll try to find one.
Beyond asking you questions, guide them on how to ask questions to others (health care providers). Our children will need to become their best advocate when we can’t do it for them anymore.
Last bit of advice
Become familiar with reproductive health yourself. Take some time to learn and understand how wonderful and complex our bodies are. It is quite fascinating once you start learning. As you become more confident, it will be easier to talk about. You got this!