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5 Tips For Having 'The Talk' With Your Kids

05/12/2015 05:24 pm ET | Updated May 12, 2016
Visual Ideas/Nora Pelaez

There's been a lot of press and controversy about a new sexual education curriculum. I've reviewed the content and the changes in my area and honestly, I'm OK with it. There's nothing in there that I haven't already talked to my kids about.

My kids will never have "the talk" because I've chosen (on purpose) to make it an ongoing dialogue in our house. We never have only one talk about anything! Kids learn through repetition and they need reminders every day to help them make good choices. So, why would I treat something as important a sex any differently?

We talk about sex, sexual health, appropriate and inappropriate touching (and everything else!) all the time around here, and we have since my kids were very little. Maybe it's the 10+ years of social work and coaching I've done and the 10+ years of seeing the very real consequences of parents not being able to push past their own discomfort to find a way to communicate openly with their kids, but I honestly believe there's no conversation that can't be made age-appropriate. My hope is that this approach will limit (or eliminate!) the embarrassment and secrets and shame that can get attached to sex and anatomy, because my kids have always been able to ask me whatever they want and get a straightforward answer.

And, there are lots of ways to have conversations about respect and boundaries and permission and appropriate touching that have nothing to do with sex, but they still set the groundwork for positive body image, healthy sexuality and self awareness.

1. We use proper names for everything, including body parts. I learned this lesson early on when my oldest had a meltdown at daycare because they couldn't understand the nickname he used for BBQ sauce when he asked for some (he called it "blop" and we thought it was cute, so we didn't correct him. Oops.) So much needless frustration for everyone involved, I can't even imagine if that had been about an actual emergency or safety concern.

2. Now that they don't need help with toileting anymore, my boys know that no one is allowed to touch them without asking permission first and they are always allowed to say no if they feel uncomfortable. This teaches them about personal space ("Do you want me to tickle you more or do you want me to stop?") and choices (they can politely say no, thank you and walk away if they choose to when someone is trying to hug them, pet them or pinch them... this happens a lot, sometimes with strangers... I have seriously adorable kids.)

3. Without ever mentioning sex, we've had lots of talks about how, other than our immediate family, grown-ups should never ask a little person for help, special favors or to keep secrets. Grown-ups help other grown-ups and secrets are never OK. They know the difference between a surprise and a secret and they know to immediately tell a parent if something like this happens (I do get a lot of stories about the word "secret" in song lyrics and people mentioning secret recipes, but I'm totally OK with that)

4. I check in with them regularly to see if they're feeling safe and comfortable at school, with babysitters and whenever I'm not around. I encourage them to tell me about any confusing or upsetting moments in their day; this helps me help them process their feelings, problem-solve and find out very quickly about any inappropriateness or when something needs to change (this includes bullying on the playground, when their shoes are getting too tight or when someone has asked them to do something that goes against our family rules.)

Sex is literally everywhere -- in cartoons, billboards, magazine covers, song lyrics, everywhere. I know my kids see it, I know they have questions. Why wouldn't I want to give them the information they need to make their world make sense?

5. When sex itself does come up, I tell my kids that sex is what happens when two grown-ups give each other permission to touch each other's private parts. And that it's never OK for a grown-up and a little person to do this because it makes things very confusing and sometimes scary. Just like there are grown-up words and grown-up movies, there are some choices that are only for grown-ups.

Talking about sex is only a big deal if we make it a big deal. There are so many teachable moments every day. When you start looking for them, you'll find lots of opportunities to fit these five tips into regular conversations.

Christine Marion-Jolicoeur helps busy parents find the joy in everyday moments so they can raise healthy, connected kids. She's an Amazon #1 bestselling author, published in Huffington Post and elephant journal and creator of the Joyful Parenting ecourse. Download fee gifts for parents at ChristineMJ.com/freegift