October is Let's Talk Month, a national campaign devoted to helping young people and the trusted adults in their lives have meaningful conversations about sex and sexuality. We know that parents are their children's most important resources for information and values about sexuality, sexual health, and relationships. We also know that, when discussing these topics with your child, finding the right words can sometimes be half the challenge. That's why we're sharing some key phrases to help you keep the conversation going in any scenario.
If your child asks you a question related to sexuality in a public setting or at an inopportune moment, you could say: "That's a good question. I don't feel comfortable answering that just this minute –– let's talk about it more when we're (at home, back in the car, etc.) and it's just the two of us." Calmly expressing when you're feeling uncomfortable helps your child learn how to express his or her feelings as well. If you're not sure what your child is asking or where their question is coming from: "I really want to make sure I'm answering the right question and that I understand what you mean –– could you ask that question again?" Sometimes parents assume that, if their teen starts asking questions about sex, then their child is sexually active. That's often not the case, so try not to jump to conclusions about where your child's questions are coming from. Asking your child to restate the question can help provide clarification. If your child asks a question that feels too personal or touches on a part of your past that you don't want to discuss (ex: how old were you when you started having sex?): "It's okay that you're curious, but I feel a little funny answering that question. I've learned from all of my experiences in life, and those experiences have led me to believe (express your values on the topic)." If you feel like sharing some basic information about your past experiences with your child, that's okay, but you're also entitled to your privacy. If you choose to set boundaries with your child about your past, stay calm, let your child know that you're not upset with them for asking, and try to reframe the conversation to talk about your current values. If you want to share "teachable moments" but don't want to discuss your own past, it's okay to share true stories about lessons you learned from your peers (ex: I had a friend in high school who felt pressured to have sex...) If your child asks you a question to which you don't know the answer: "I don't know the answer to that off the top of my head; let's research it together tonight." Parents gain credibility when they acknowledge that they're still learning about these topics too. If you think you may have mishandled a conversation with your child: "I've thought a lot about our talk the other day, and I feel like I could do a better job answering that question. I'd like to try again..." None of us are perfect, and part of the process of continuing the conversation with your child involves learning from past talks. "Do-over" conversations send the message that it's normal and healthy to acknowledge missteps and that you care about getting it right.
For additional tips on how to start or continue the conversation with your child, click here.
For more guidance on communicating with your child, learn more about our adaptable parent workshops here.