Where did I come from?

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
When it comes to answering questions about sex, there's no danger in telling children the truth but great danger in fobbing them off, writes Ian Munro.

Ian Munro
Ian Munro
There’s an old, somewhat corny joke that goes like this: youngster asks father, "Where did I come from?" Father, who has been dreading this moment, takes a deep breath and launches into a half-hour sex education lecture. When it’s over, he asks his son if he has any questions.

"Yes," son replies. "The new boy at school comes from Scotland and there’s a new girl from South Africa. Where do I come from?"

When young children ask a simple question, they usually only want a simple answer and when it comes to questions about sex that’s generally the best and easiest way to handle it.

Some of us take an "ignorance is bliss" approach on the grounds that any sort of information will encourage experimentation.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. If we won’t address these issues there are plenty of other people with questionable ideas, motives and values who will. There’s no danger in telling children the truth and great danger in keeping secrets and fobbing them off.

The best time to start is when they ask. A 3-year-old with a little brother or sister on the way, for example, can come up with a lot of questions on the matter. We can manage this easily enough if we’re guided by their natural curiosity, treating any question matter-of-factly, making our reply as simple as possible and only giving as much information as is required to answer the question.

Some of us might feel that we don’t know enough to handle this very well, but we certainly know more than the kids at school do. And we’ve been answering hundreds of other questions expertly enough.

It’s important to avoid fobbing them off with a non-answer. If we fob them off too often, they’ll stop asking and get the information elsewhere. This then takes away from us control over what they’re told and how they’re told it.

An admission that we don’t know the answer or don’t quite know how to answer will probably satisfy for the time being.

However, there are plenty of good, age-appropriate books available and, pre-prepared, we can use this as an opportunity to say, "I’m not sure, but I think I’ve got a book we might be able to find the answer in." And read it with them.

Steer away from scare stories. In the end we’ll want our child to experience, with someone they have a loving commitment to, the delight, wonder and pleasure involved in the creation of new life.

Any undercurrent of anxieties and uncertainties caused by misinformation placed in the mind when it was young has a horrible habit of surfacing later. This can cause immense stress and anxiety in adult relationships.


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