University of Illinois Extension

Sex: The Dreaded Talk

Janice McCoy, Family Life Educator

Talking with children about sex is one of the hardest conversations for grandparents. We live in a culture that has attached embarrassment to almost any topic that includes the word sex. Yet, it may be one of the most important subjects that you discuss with your grandchildren.

We are all sexual beings. Our sexuality includes our bodies and how they work, our gender, and our values about life, love, and people. Helping children understand their sexuality can prepare them to cope with their feelings, peer pressure, and relationships.

A good understanding can also protect children from sexual abuse, early sexual activity, and teen pregnancy. Children are concerned about different issues at different times in their lives. Talking with them about sexuality should be an ongoing process and should not be limited to "the talk."

Try these ideas for making hard conversations a bit easier:

  • Young children may not need detailed answers to their questions - very simple answers are usually sufficient.
  • Some children ask the same question more than once. Be prepared to give the same answer in more than one way until they understand.
  • Check your reactions at the door. Save your anxiety, embarrassment, or anger for later. For instance, if your young grandson is using graphic obscenities, find out what he thinks they mean and then explain why he can't use those words. Getting angry will only frighten him and possibly close off future conversations.
  • Start difficult conversations early. Use correct names for body parts. Also explain your family values.
  • Monitor TV time. Watch TV with the children and use it to start conversations.