Talking To a Three Year Old About Sex

If you read my post from yesterday than you know Gus is obsessed with having a sibling. What makes it even harder is that he’s convinced you can go to a baby store and simply buy a baby. We fall into the baby store discussion whenever I try to explain the reality of what it is actually like to have a sibling beginning with how long it would take for the baby to get here. But like most things, he is sure he knows better than me.

“But mom.” He uses his exasperated voice like I am clearly not very smart. “You just go to the store and pick out a baby. That’s all.”

It doesn’t matter how many times I tell him that no such baby store exists. He’s sure I’m mistaken. He believes in the existence of superheros and Santa Claus so is there any reason why he shouldn’t believe that we can buy a baby?

Last week during our baby store argument which happens at least once every few days he provided a missing piece of the puzzle. “But mom, yes you can. You can go to the baby store. I saw it on Blue’s Clues.”

Apparently, there’s an episode where the characters go to the baby hospital to pick out a baby. Thanks, Blue’s Clues.

This week during our baby store argument (I told you he was obsessed), he switched to his other favorite topic about babies: How they are made.  He already knows he grew in my stomach and he knows I pushed him out. And yes, he knows exactly where I pushed him out of. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, Gus asks A LOT of questions and he demands real answers. The explanation of you grew in my stomach no longer suffices. He wants to know how he got there in the first place. I’ve run out of soft answers. So, I give him the hard truth.

I tell him that inside my stomach there are teeny, tiny little eggs. Daddy has sperm and he puts the sperm inside of me. The sperm goes to the eggs and mixes together. Once it’s mixed together, a baby starts growing.  I drew pictures starting with a dot and gradually getting bigger and bigger until I had drawn a baby. He was completely fascinated. He didn’t ask how daddy put the sperm in me. I’m sure that will come next, but for now he’s satisfied.

In case any of you have to talk to your little ones about sex in the near future, here are two of the biggest tips I give parents:

1. Tell the truth.

If you don’t tell your children the truth about sex, someone else will. And that someone else is usually a fellow peer or an older child who will most likely not be providing accurate information. Which is fine if they tell you about it and you’re able to run clean up, but sometimes they won’t. Sometimes you won’t find out about this misinformation until years later when the damage has already been done.

2. Use the correct medical terms.

This means say vagina and say penis. Don’t make up any cute, fluffy words.  I can’t stress this enough. The reason why it is so important is because you want anyone to be able to understand what your child is referring to.  If someone is sexually abusing your child, you might not be the one they tell. They might tell someone else and you want to be sure they are not misunderstood.

For example, one of my fellow therapists tells the horror story of a first grade boy who was being molested by a fellow classmate. He told the teacher that the classmate was making him play with his “little bird” and the teacher admonished the little boy about the importance of sharing. True story.

So, I repeat. Just say vagina and call it a penis. Even if they are only three.


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4 Responses to Talking To a Three Year Old About Sex

  1. Rach says:

    We had that discussion with Lily when Ellie was on the way. Then, we had ANOTHER discussion when she witnessed a rather…um…*intimate* moment. Doh!

    We’re always honest and upfront and use the appropriate terms and give her just the amount of information she needs at that moment.

    When she walked in on that embarrassing scene (that was in no way embarrassing until she witnessed it…), she asked why I would do such a thing. I said simply that that’s one way adults can enjoy each other and that it feels good. AND, that we were all embarrassed and going to pretend like it NEVER happened. 😛

    Kids appreciate straight shooting and honesty. Lil gave her preschool class an anatomy lesson when she was 2 1/2. So what? They’re penises and vaginas (or, in her case, “baginas”), people!

    Good luck with Gus and the baby situation. That can be so tricky.

  2. Danielle says:

    I went through the same thing with my 4 year old (now 5 1/2). But I didn’t have the guts to call it a vagina (penis was no problem, he has it, he knows what it’s called). It’s simply not something that is talked about in his day care and I was mortified by the thought of him talking to his teacher about it…

    But later I repented and mentioned vagina a few times. I don’t think he grasped the name, though.

    He did get around to asking how daddy gets sperm into mommy, but accepted that “daddy gives the sperm to mommy”. Pretty soon I’ll give him a more thorough explanation – next time the subject comes up, probably :)

    Thanks for the advice! You made me feel so much better about explaining “grown up stuff” to him :)

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