Posted in parenting

the sex education of a 4-year-old

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“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?

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Author:

I'm a stay-at-home mum to four kids between 1 and 6, and was formerly a teacher. I blog about living life as a disciple of Christ whilst coping with the demands and excitements of having small children. I've been battling an addiction with chocolate for many years. I'm generally winning, but my teeth are not.

5 thoughts on “the sex education of a 4-year-old

  1. You did pretty well. Sex education isn’t a once only lesson, you give them what they can handle a bit at a time, according to what they can understand and what’s (as you say) appropriate. With our boys it started much later and while they now understand the how, they don’t yet realise the why – I expect that conversation to happen in the next 3 years!
    It’s interesting to consider why we’re embarrassed to talk about sex, if it’s such a beautiful God given gift. Maybe because it’s too personal – we want to keep our sex lives a private thing between us and our spouse? A bit cringy that they now know what their parents get up to after they’re in bed? Or (theology alert) an inevitable outcome of the Fall? It shouldn’t be this way…

  2. spot on, Lucy! We have three daughters and 5 granddaughters and we have all discussed at different times. Once you are over that first hurdle and they know you arent embarrassed, and your to be trusted to tell the facts they will come to you rather than listen to tittle tattle. Easier, I suppose, if there is more than one cos they tend to talk together about it as well.

  3. Sounds like you’ve done a good job. I can’t say we that have a winning strategy that we’ve used, but honesty is certainly a good start, and simple answers to simple questions (rather than assuming they’re asking a much more subtle, complex question than they actually are) is the best way.

    I also picked up a copy of “God Loves All of Me” ( https://www.amazon.co.uk/God-Made-All-Me-Children/dp/1942572301/ (other retailers do exist) ) by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb, which helps talk about some of these issues, particularly with a view of preventing abuse.

  4. Well done Lucy – sounds like you handled being put on the spot in ninja-like fashion! I feel the same way as you about this – while I recognise that the emotional maturity to understand sex doesn’t come till much later (I’d argue it comes later, even, than what is the legal age of consent in this country) I’d nevertheless rather tell my child the truth, using vocabulary he can understand at whatever age he is at the time of the conversation, thus fostering the ‘close and communicative relationship’ that you mention. When it comes to sex, I was never put on the spot like you(!) but about six months ago after attending a parenting course I bought him a book called “Who Made Me?” https://www.amazon.co.uk/Who-Made-Me-Malcolm-Doney/dp/1859855997 . It definitely has the right vocab even for four or five year olds, and it is written by Christians so it points to our creator God too. Gosh, actually that book basically had the conversation for me. I’ll show it to you next week when you’re here. I think this is the easy part compared to when he’s a teenager!

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