Telling kids where babies come from

Posted by David Beard, Globe Staff  March 7, 2009 06:56 AM

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The following query came during a Boston.com readers Q&A with Child Caring writer Barbara Meltz, who takes questions again at 1 p.m. this Monday:

Question: Hi Barbara, I'm wondering what age you think is appropriate to have the "where do babies come from" chat. I have a 10-year-old boy who is asking a lot of questions. Yes, I let him watch PG-13 movies, but that only involves kissing. With all the Viagra commercials on and everything else on TV -- I'm thinking I'd better have a conversation with him before he hears it from someone else.

He has told me that other kids talk about this at school. BUTTT, then I'm worried he'll tell his friends at school what we told him and that will cause a problem. Yes - this has happened to someone I know. Other parents then wouldn't allow any play dates with the boy who shared the birds and bees story. Any suggestions you could provide would be great!!!!!!!! Please and THANK YOU!!
--Gogreen

Barbara Meltz
: Gogreen, your son is way overdue for this conversation. Your silence on the subject means he's getting his information -- or should I say, misinformation -- from his peers. I suggest you get a book to read together -- my favorite is, "What's Happening to Me? An Illustrated Guide to Puberty" by Peter Mayle. He may be too embarrassed to read it with you, or to even admit that he's interested; just leave it out where he can have access to it.

I would also have a SHORT conversation with him sometime when the two of you are in the car (so he doesn't have to make eye contact). The first time you bring the subject up, your goal is simply to let him know you are approachable on the subject: "I know you must be having some questions about where babies come from, and boys and girls, and changes in your body. I know we've never talked about anything like that before, but I just want you to know that if you have any questions, I'm happy to try to answer them." Then let it rest. The first question will come when you least expect it!

Agree with Barbara's advice? Have some of your own? Let Boston.com know in the comments section.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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15 comments so far...
  1. I was talking to my 5 year old girl recently about a family with 4 kids and mentioned that we only wanted to have 2 kids while other families obviously wanted more or fewer kids. She looked at me perplexed and said, "I don't understand how _wanting_ kids make them come!!" I was floored at what I saw to be a very perceptive comment. I tried to just gloss it completely over, but to no avail.

    So, with no talk of anatomy at all, I talked briefly about how there are seeds and eggs and that they came from dad and mom. Therefore, mom and dad could decide if and when they would have kids by deciding whether or not to put the seeds in the eggs. I tried to make the plant analogy as we've talked a lot about fruit being seeds, etc, though I appreciate that the analogy was not 100% accurate as I portrayed it. Again, I did not discuss in any way how one might accomplish this task, and my brief explanation was enough to satiate her for now. I am sure it will not be the last conversation, but certainly surprised me given her age. At 10, I imagine much more detail will be needed.

    Or they could just learn it from the 13 year old behind the back of the school at recess like the rest of us! ;)

    Posted by bv March 7, 09 01:54 PM
  1. A book I found helpful for my boys at this age was "What's the Big Secret?" by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown (of Arthur fame). It's a good basic book on anatomical differences between boys and girls and where babies come from.

    Posted by Cordelia March 7, 09 03:34 PM
  1. Do not tell him anything. Let him to be better educated by his peers. It is absolutely clear that the way you are going to approach the conversation will reflect all the problems you have in relation with sex that the message could be cognitively clear but emotionally will be a disaster. Although you should have been, please consider that you are not the best one to do it. Just buy the books and let him to read them and talk with the person your son wants.

    Posted by manny March 7, 09 05:56 PM
  1. My question is, how did he get to be 10 and not know this already?

    We read the classic "Where do babies come from?" with the kids when they were 5 and 6 and asking questions. Our kids are adopted, and had a lot of questions about how getting married does not necessarily equal having kids, so we had to get into some of the technical details. We did it in a matter of fact way, answering them with as much detail as they needed at the time, and no more. We didn't show them R rated movies at age 3 (or at all yet), but we also didn't ignore their questions. I am sure this will be revisited again and again as they grow, but the foundation has been laid. They know they can ask us these questions and get honest answers.

    Posted by BMS March 7, 09 07:12 PM
  1. My mom sat down with my brothers and I and the "baby book"....a Better Homes and Gardens book on child rearing which also had docs and diagrams of the child in gestation. I was FIVE. You don't need to get graphic, but you should explain that perhaps mildly it happens when a Mommy and Daddy lie close together.

    I believe a child should be told no later than 7. By then, plenty of info is floating around as is from other kids--often most it wrong (I remember my best friend thinking that babies were pooped out). No need to get graphic, but be honest! Geez people! This is why we have teens going around getting pregnant--suck it up and TALK.

    Posted by Issy March 7, 09 08:15 PM
  1. Long ago, when my children were in preschool, I decided to begin discussing these matters with them early. Since I had a boy and a girl very close together in age, who often took baths together as toddlers, the anatomical differences were obvious, and it was easy to talk with them about that. Their school (an independent K-12 day school) took up the question of where babies come from with children in kindergarten through third grade. A pregnant mother volunteered to come in over the nine months of the school year to let the children watch the stages of her pregnancy and ask questions about it. At the time her baby was due, a public health nurse came in with a plastic model of a uterus with a fetus in it and a birth canal through which the fetus could be drawn. After the nurse had carefully described and demonstrated how labor leads to the baby's descent down the birth canal and out into the world, she wound up with, "And that's how all babies are born." "Oh, no, it isn't," said my then-seven-year-old son, who proceeded to give the nurse and the audience of children and teachers a complete and accurate description of a caesarean section, the means by which both he and his sister had been delivered.
    As for the matter of the seed and the egg, my children at the same time had a copy of The Time-Life Pop-up Book of Sex and Birth, which illustrated graphically but very tastefully exactly how conception occurs. They read and re-read the book and told their friends about it. I had warned them not to attempt to explain this material to their peers themselves but to ask whether the other children would like to borrow the book--with the knowledge and permission of their parents. The book circulated widely and became the first volume in a library that took my children through puberty and adolescence. (Our copy of the first edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves was practically worn out before my daughter left for college.) Always we discussed what they were reading in their books, and as time went on more and more of our books circulated among their friends--again, always with the knowledge and permission of the parents. I also made sure that my adolescent children had a physician they could consider their own, not my doctor in any way, who would see them and answer their questions about sexual matters.
    I highly recommend talking about reproduction and then sex early and often with your children and using carefully chosen books to be sure the information they have is accurate. A child who knows he or she has correct information not only will be comfortable with what he or she knows but can also help keep other children from falling for the silly or frightening stories about sex and reproduction that are passed around among young friends.

    Posted by CSF-1 March 7, 09 09:01 PM
  1. Only in America do people have such ridiculous personal lives and emotional problems. Americans won't have a healthy, normal conversation about human sexuality with their children, but will stare at Internet porn for hundreds of hours instead. What a country!

    My only advice is to treat sexual topics as normal human behavior, because they are. Telling children that babies come from the stork or Santa Claus is disfunctional nonsense. Be honest with you kids and they won't have reason to call you a liar. Don't cop out by buying them some absurd book and thinking that constitutes sex education either.

    Be a parent and stop hiding the truth about life from kids. People have sex, people divorce, people die, and people shoot each other with guns. This is the real world and your children are in it. You brought them here, so don't run away from doing your job.

    Posted by Ralston March 8, 09 07:37 AM
  1. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I know the stock market says it is the 1930's but wake up! "Keep it short", "No eye contact", yes these Puritan ideas on sex have done wonders for previous generations! And when you talk about the dangers of drugs and alcohol you can actually believe that he/she won't have to deal with these things until the age of 30 anyways, umm woops. How about a real conversation to educate your child? Where the mother and father both sit down and support the child, and don't give a damn what other other parents think, because they are doing what is best for their child - raising an educated, confident person. "I know we have never talked about anything like this before", problem #1 maybe? Talk to your kids.

    Posted by jcant March 8, 09 07:53 AM
  1. I was about 7 or 8 when my mother had the "talk" with me because I was asking questions. We read the book Where Did I Come From? and she answered other questions. Nothing too detailed, but she didnt gloss things over. She called the body parts by the proper names so it wouldn't seem so taboo. My son is 3 and I call his "private parts" by the proper names. He is at a stage where he likes to say the word, but so what? I just teach him that its not appropriate to yell it in public. DO NOT listen to manny, its not an easy conversation for anyone and if he listens to his friends he is going to hear all the misconceptions that they have overheard from older siblings or other peers.

    Posted by Heather March 8, 09 08:34 AM
  1. Not to be too blunt; but your 10 year-old son has already been told these things. When I was given "the talk" I had been given the whole story by older kids, in the neighborhood, and at school. You should definitely clear the air; and give your son the accurate facts; but as far as breaking it to him goes, that shipped has probably long since sailed.

    Posted by john stratton March 8, 09 05:15 PM
  1. A matter of factly sort of scientific explanation is the best way to go (I think from experience) so it won't be taboo when he fully understands. My son's almost 5 1/2 and quite familar with the human anatomy especially the reproductive organs and that we're made up of cells since he was 2 (thanks to Slim Goodbody PBS videos my son pretty much absorbed everything from the circulatory system to the endocrine system) and the idea of mating isn't a mystery to him since he's seen and heard it on TV or video with birds, dogs, monkeys, lions, & just about every animal he knows up to the graphic birth of baby animals. He's basically familiar with the idea of copulating that one day out of the blue he asked "mama, did you and daddy mate so I can be born?" I almost lost my composure but I quickly answered yes. He followed with "how do humans mate? like the animals?" I told him pretty much the same as his favorite animals and followed it with a simple graphic illustration of "humans do it this way" & using the words he's quite familiar already although I always remind him that in public we use the big word "male reproductive organ" (luckily he loves to repeat big words & even prefers to call it that). Convinced with my quickie illustration he asked "and why am I a boy?" I thought quick & told him because he's an XY chromosome and showed him a diagram from a medical book nicely pointing that the Y comes from Dad's sperm cells & the X came from mama's cells. These days he's proud to tell his kindergarten classmates why he's a boy and that he's an XY chromosome and not an XX. One time when I picked him up from school he said "Mama, thank God I'm not an XX chromosome otherwise I 'd be wearing a skirt like Kathrine because she's a girl and I don't like to be a girl, I only want to be like Dad".
    mamaathome

    Posted by mamathome March 8, 09 05:19 PM
  1. Ten years old and no "talk"?! "Don't make eye contact??? This poor kid has already gotten the message that human sexuality is taboo, wrong, and something we don't discuss. Should be great when he starts having sex in a few years, doesn't know thing one about birth control and std's, and thinks he's doing something "wrong". You chose to be a parent, grow up and talk to your child! As for being excluded from play dates, I teach Kindergarten and a number of my kids have gotten the (age-appropriate but pretty detailed and accurate) talk at home. Their parents explain to them that everyone has this talk with their children at different ages, and that it's not appropriate for them to relay the information. I've seen these kids literally biting their tongue while other children talk about "when I was in Mommy's tummy". If it were to happen? I would notify the other parents that they are now due for "the talk"! They really can't be too young to start discussing respecting their bodies, but ten? Too, too old.

    Posted by Beth March 8, 09 11:17 PM
  1. Wow, you guys are crazy !
    Kids ask these questions at 3 or 4 years old...
    There are plenty kids book that show baby in the mom...
    He don't have to know about sex...
    But that the dad plant the baby inside the mom, that all it's needed...
    Only that baby comes from the mom tummy...
    No need to talk about sex...
    But when he was 10, my brother stole the notice of use of my mom tampons...
    He bringed it to school to laught with his friends.

    Posted by Aude March 17, 09 02:32 PM
  1. hi i think yes because if they learn earlyer then they will know when they gett older or have kids early . my child stole my sex book on trying to reproduce a baby it was called mom and dad produce, the kids all laughed at the school, i knew when my daughter came in from school and told me i was very mad with him he was grounded for a week .but you can talk about sex wwhen it is not to strong talk to him about strong sex about 11-12 that when i told my girl about it she is not that kind of girl who would tell poeple and laugh about it she is 15 now and has had sex 12 times now all because i told her early of course if you dont want him to start early then it is your choise not mine but a lot of kids start early so they can make more children before they are to old to reproduce again better younger than older ok bye. bethany hope that helps . xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    Posted by mrs bethany marie thompson March 21, 09 04:49 PM
  1. This is the reason I read www.boston.com. Nice post.

    Posted by Rae March 11, 10 06:41 AM
 
15 comments so far...
  1. I was talking to my 5 year old girl recently about a family with 4 kids and mentioned that we only wanted to have 2 kids while other families obviously wanted more or fewer kids. She looked at me perplexed and said, "I don't understand how _wanting_ kids make them come!!" I was floored at what I saw to be a very perceptive comment. I tried to just gloss it completely over, but to no avail.

    So, with no talk of anatomy at all, I talked briefly about how there are seeds and eggs and that they came from dad and mom. Therefore, mom and dad could decide if and when they would have kids by deciding whether or not to put the seeds in the eggs. I tried to make the plant analogy as we've talked a lot about fruit being seeds, etc, though I appreciate that the analogy was not 100% accurate as I portrayed it. Again, I did not discuss in any way how one might accomplish this task, and my brief explanation was enough to satiate her for now. I am sure it will not be the last conversation, but certainly surprised me given her age. At 10, I imagine much more detail will be needed.

    Or they could just learn it from the 13 year old behind the back of the school at recess like the rest of us! ;)

    Posted by bv March 7, 09 01:54 PM
  1. A book I found helpful for my boys at this age was "What's the Big Secret?" by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown (of Arthur fame). It's a good basic book on anatomical differences between boys and girls and where babies come from.

    Posted by Cordelia March 7, 09 03:34 PM
  1. Do not tell him anything. Let him to be better educated by his peers. It is absolutely clear that the way you are going to approach the conversation will reflect all the problems you have in relation with sex that the message could be cognitively clear but emotionally will be a disaster. Although you should have been, please consider that you are not the best one to do it. Just buy the books and let him to read them and talk with the person your son wants.

    Posted by manny March 7, 09 05:56 PM
  1. My question is, how did he get to be 10 and not know this already?

    We read the classic "Where do babies come from?" with the kids when they were 5 and 6 and asking questions. Our kids are adopted, and had a lot of questions about how getting married does not necessarily equal having kids, so we had to get into some of the technical details. We did it in a matter of fact way, answering them with as much detail as they needed at the time, and no more. We didn't show them R rated movies at age 3 (or at all yet), but we also didn't ignore their questions. I am sure this will be revisited again and again as they grow, but the foundation has been laid. They know they can ask us these questions and get honest answers.

    Posted by BMS March 7, 09 07:12 PM
  1. My mom sat down with my brothers and I and the "baby book"....a Better Homes and Gardens book on child rearing which also had docs and diagrams of the child in gestation. I was FIVE. You don't need to get graphic, but you should explain that perhaps mildly it happens when a Mommy and Daddy lie close together.

    I believe a child should be told no later than 7. By then, plenty of info is floating around as is from other kids--often most it wrong (I remember my best friend thinking that babies were pooped out). No need to get graphic, but be honest! Geez people! This is why we have teens going around getting pregnant--suck it up and TALK.

    Posted by Issy March 7, 09 08:15 PM
  1. Long ago, when my children were in preschool, I decided to begin discussing these matters with them early. Since I had a boy and a girl very close together in age, who often took baths together as toddlers, the anatomical differences were obvious, and it was easy to talk with them about that. Their school (an independent K-12 day school) took up the question of where babies come from with children in kindergarten through third grade. A pregnant mother volunteered to come in over the nine months of the school year to let the children watch the stages of her pregnancy and ask questions about it. At the time her baby was due, a public health nurse came in with a plastic model of a uterus with a fetus in it and a birth canal through which the fetus could be drawn. After the nurse had carefully described and demonstrated how labor leads to the baby's descent down the birth canal and out into the world, she wound up with, "And that's how all babies are born." "Oh, no, it isn't," said my then-seven-year-old son, who proceeded to give the nurse and the audience of children and teachers a complete and accurate description of a caesarean section, the means by which both he and his sister had been delivered.
    As for the matter of the seed and the egg, my children at the same time had a copy of The Time-Life Pop-up Book of Sex and Birth, which illustrated graphically but very tastefully exactly how conception occurs. They read and re-read the book and told their friends about it. I had warned them not to attempt to explain this material to their peers themselves but to ask whether the other children would like to borrow the book--with the knowledge and permission of their parents. The book circulated widely and became the first volume in a library that took my children through puberty and adolescence. (Our copy of the first edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves was practically worn out before my daughter left for college.) Always we discussed what they were reading in their books, and as time went on more and more of our books circulated among their friends--again, always with the knowledge and permission of the parents. I also made sure that my adolescent children had a physician they could consider their own, not my doctor in any way, who would see them and answer their questions about sexual matters.
    I highly recommend talking about reproduction and then sex early and often with your children and using carefully chosen books to be sure the information they have is accurate. A child who knows he or she has correct information not only will be comfortable with what he or she knows but can also help keep other children from falling for the silly or frightening stories about sex and reproduction that are passed around among young friends.

    Posted by CSF-1 March 7, 09 09:01 PM
  1. Only in America do people have such ridiculous personal lives and emotional problems. Americans won't have a healthy, normal conversation about human sexuality with their children, but will stare at Internet porn for hundreds of hours instead. What a country!

    My only advice is to treat sexual topics as normal human behavior, because they are. Telling children that babies come from the stork or Santa Claus is disfunctional nonsense. Be honest with you kids and they won't have reason to call you a liar. Don't cop out by buying them some absurd book and thinking that constitutes sex education either.

    Be a parent and stop hiding the truth about life from kids. People have sex, people divorce, people die, and people shoot each other with guns. This is the real world and your children are in it. You brought them here, so don't run away from doing your job.

    Posted by Ralston March 8, 09 07:37 AM
  1. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I know the stock market says it is the 1930's but wake up! "Keep it short", "No eye contact", yes these Puritan ideas on sex have done wonders for previous generations! And when you talk about the dangers of drugs and alcohol you can actually believe that he/she won't have to deal with these things until the age of 30 anyways, umm woops. How about a real conversation to educate your child? Where the mother and father both sit down and support the child, and don't give a damn what other other parents think, because they are doing what is best for their child - raising an educated, confident person. "I know we have never talked about anything like this before", problem #1 maybe? Talk to your kids.

    Posted by jcant March 8, 09 07:53 AM
  1. I was about 7 or 8 when my mother had the "talk" with me because I was asking questions. We read the book Where Did I Come From? and she answered other questions. Nothing too detailed, but she didnt gloss things over. She called the body parts by the proper names so it wouldn't seem so taboo. My son is 3 and I call his "private parts" by the proper names. He is at a stage where he likes to say the word, but so what? I just teach him that its not appropriate to yell it in public. DO NOT listen to manny, its not an easy conversation for anyone and if he listens to his friends he is going to hear all the misconceptions that they have overheard from older siblings or other peers.

    Posted by Heather March 8, 09 08:34 AM
  1. Not to be too blunt; but your 10 year-old son has already been told these things. When I was given "the talk" I had been given the whole story by older kids, in the neighborhood, and at school. You should definitely clear the air; and give your son the accurate facts; but as far as breaking it to him goes, that shipped has probably long since sailed.

    Posted by john stratton March 8, 09 05:15 PM
  1. A matter of factly sort of scientific explanation is the best way to go (I think from experience) so it won't be taboo when he fully understands. My son's almost 5 1/2 and quite familar with the human anatomy especially the reproductive organs and that we're made up of cells since he was 2 (thanks to Slim Goodbody PBS videos my son pretty much absorbed everything from the circulatory system to the endocrine system) and the idea of mating isn't a mystery to him since he's seen and heard it on TV or video with birds, dogs, monkeys, lions, & just about every animal he knows up to the graphic birth of baby animals. He's basically familiar with the idea of copulating that one day out of the blue he asked "mama, did you and daddy mate so I can be born?" I almost lost my composure but I quickly answered yes. He followed with "how do humans mate? like the animals?" I told him pretty much the same as his favorite animals and followed it with a simple graphic illustration of "humans do it this way" & using the words he's quite familiar already although I always remind him that in public we use the big word "male reproductive organ" (luckily he loves to repeat big words & even prefers to call it that). Convinced with my quickie illustration he asked "and why am I a boy?" I thought quick & told him because he's an XY chromosome and showed him a diagram from a medical book nicely pointing that the Y comes from Dad's sperm cells & the X came from mama's cells. These days he's proud to tell his kindergarten classmates why he's a boy and that he's an XY chromosome and not an XX. One time when I picked him up from school he said "Mama, thank God I'm not an XX chromosome otherwise I 'd be wearing a skirt like Kathrine because she's a girl and I don't like to be a girl, I only want to be like Dad".
    mamaathome

    Posted by mamathome March 8, 09 05:19 PM
  1. Ten years old and no "talk"?! "Don't make eye contact??? This poor kid has already gotten the message that human sexuality is taboo, wrong, and something we don't discuss. Should be great when he starts having sex in a few years, doesn't know thing one about birth control and std's, and thinks he's doing something "wrong". You chose to be a parent, grow up and talk to your child! As for being excluded from play dates, I teach Kindergarten and a number of my kids have gotten the (age-appropriate but pretty detailed and accurate) talk at home. Their parents explain to them that everyone has this talk with their children at different ages, and that it's not appropriate for them to relay the information. I've seen these kids literally biting their tongue while other children talk about "when I was in Mommy's tummy". If it were to happen? I would notify the other parents that they are now due for "the talk"! They really can't be too young to start discussing respecting their bodies, but ten? Too, too old.

    Posted by Beth March 8, 09 11:17 PM
  1. Wow, you guys are crazy !
    Kids ask these questions at 3 or 4 years old...
    There are plenty kids book that show baby in the mom...
    He don't have to know about sex...
    But that the dad plant the baby inside the mom, that all it's needed...
    Only that baby comes from the mom tummy...
    No need to talk about sex...
    But when he was 10, my brother stole the notice of use of my mom tampons...
    He bringed it to school to laught with his friends.

    Posted by Aude March 17, 09 02:32 PM
  1. hi i think yes because if they learn earlyer then they will know when they gett older or have kids early . my child stole my sex book on trying to reproduce a baby it was called mom and dad produce, the kids all laughed at the school, i knew when my daughter came in from school and told me i was very mad with him he was grounded for a week .but you can talk about sex wwhen it is not to strong talk to him about strong sex about 11-12 that when i told my girl about it she is not that kind of girl who would tell poeple and laugh about it she is 15 now and has had sex 12 times now all because i told her early of course if you dont want him to start early then it is your choise not mine but a lot of kids start early so they can make more children before they are to old to reproduce again better younger than older ok bye. bethany hope that helps . xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    Posted by mrs bethany marie thompson March 21, 09 04:49 PM
  1. This is the reason I read www.boston.com. Nice post.

    Posted by Rae March 11, 10 06:41 AM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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