the sex education of a 4-year-old


“Mummy, how do you make a baby?”

It’s a question we all expect – but I was expecting it later. Certainly not at age 4.

However, I need to explain something about Missy. She is baby-obsessed, and has been for three-quarters of her life. All her dollies get breast-fed. (And, I have to say, her positioning is spot-on.) The double buggy she requested for her birthday has fully adjustable seats and handle – you would be amazed at the amount she ‘needs’ to adjust them. Last year she frequently asked to view Google images of mummies “with six babies in their tummies”. (The multiple-birth obsession led to me and her praying for twins and…well, be careful what you pray for, folks.)

So I guess I knew the question would come. And that I couldn’t fob her off.

The thing is, we’ve all met a small child who has an obsession with trains or dinosaurs, and they know All The Stuff. Small details that we will never, ever know about the workings of an engine, or the dimensions of a stegosaurus – these are the things that this particular small person will rattle off to us while our eyes widen in amazement.

What is the difference if a child has an obsession with babies? There are two, I think. One is that grown-ups do know the detail – and the second is that some details are largely considered to be less appropriate to hear at a young age. My daughter does not have the emotional maturity to understand, or cope with, the complexities of sex and the plethora of tricky issues surrounding it.

And yet the basic mechanics of sex she can understand. Why shouldn’t I tell her? This is, after all, her specialist subject.

I take a deep breath. “Well…the mummy has an egg and the daddy has a seed, and the egg and seed create a baby…isn’t that amazing?” I reply, hoping the sense of awe and wonder will distract her from further questioning. There is indeed awe and wonder. For two seconds. Then:

“How does the seed get to the egg?”

Oh. Er…

Bear in mind we’re having this exchange in the car, me trying to watch the lights and navigate the route, whilst feeling the weight of her questions. What if her view of sex is permanently scarred by my answers?

I opt for the humorous approach. “Through the daddy’s willy!” Well that word always dissolves my kids into fits of giggles, so fortunately that’s the end of it – for today.

(An aside: I know that the professionals would frown at me for using slang terms for genitalia, but sex is so ‘other’ to your average 4-year-old, that I feel that to use the proper words at this stage would simply alienate it further. My kids know the correct terms, we just choose to use the words they’re comfortable with.)

Did I give the right responses? On the one hand, I don’t want to get sucked into an area which I don’t feel she’s ready to discuss yet. But on the other, there’s no point telling her fairy tales about a stork, only for her to have the facts ‘changed’ in a few years’ time. I want to foster a close and communicative relationship with all my children, and I realise that there’s no time to start this apart from straight away. Above all, I want her to trust me, which is why I couldn’t lie to her.

A few weeks later, I get the sequel. “How do daddy’s seeds get to the egg?”

What do I do? A short, succinct sentence: “The willy goes inside the mummy’s vagina.” (OK, I’ll admit, we don’t use slang for that one.) Do you know what? She and her brother just laughed and laughed at the preposterous notion I’d set before them (and, presumably, that I’d said ‘willy’ again), and that was it. That was the end of the questioning. Sometimes we freak out with the difficult questions, but actually our kids aren’t wanting a whole lot of answer – one sentence can be enough. OK, it was a pretty heavy sentence in this instance, but I don’t regret saying it. I told the truth, but managed to avoid telling her what happens up to that point, how the seeds come out of the willy, or how they get to the egg.

Just because our culture creates a taboo out of sex doesn’t mean that it’s right to go red at the mention of it. Sure, it may be inappropriate to discuss the intimate details of our sex lives with others, but the objective facts are not something about which to be ashamed or embarrassed. Moreover, if I’m a Christian, then I need to hold sex in high regard because the Bible does. It is, after all, God’s design. Avoiding the subject with my daughter doesn’t communicate this message. It is as if I’m ashamed of something God created to be good – and that isn’t healthy or wise.

What would you have done? Or what have you done? Any advice?