Sex Ed and the four-year-old

Guest post by Katie

Don't let the face and the halo fool you!
Don’t let the face and the halo fool you!
One summer evening, I piled the kids into the car for a pre-bed ice cream run. As we’re waiting in an impossibly long drive thru line, my 4 year old pipes up from the backseat, “Mommy, turn this music down. I need to talk about things.”

I cooperate and turn the radio off, asking what she wants to talk about.

“Let’s talk about babies.”

“How do the babies get out of their mommy’s belly?”

“Well, remember we talked about this before? The baby grows in the mama’s belly, and when it’s ready to be born the mama pushes with her tummy.”

“And then she goes to a hospital?”

“Sometimes sweetie. But sometimes, like when your brother was born, the mommy decides to stay at home.”

“Oh.” She pauses for a minute to think. “But how does the mommy push the baby out?”

“Um, she uses her tummy muscles. Kind of like when you go potty.”

“But where does she push?”

“Um, well….she pushes with her tummy (here, I take a rolled up tube of fabric I have in my car and place it in my palms, then web my fingers together around one side of it) and the baby moves. Pretend this (gesturing to fabric tube) is the baby and my hands are the tummy muscles. They tighten and push and the baby moves down (I mimic this with my hands and the fabric). See?”

“That’s cool!”

“Yeah, it is pretty cool.”

“So then the baby comes out through her tummy?”

“Sort of.”

I interrupt this story to explain how we feel about having these kinds of conversations with kids. My husband and I decided long ago that we would always tell the truth about these types of issues, but that we would try not to over-explain (see Parenting 101: Don’t Overthink It). In other words, the last time Luca and I had this conversation, I was able to avoid directly explaining the anatomy and physiology of giving birth and making babies because she wasn’t really asking about that. She was happy with a vague explanation that matched the reality of images she’s seen of birth. If she’s not asking the question, I don’t need to try to answer it just yet.

But when she does ask the question? I owe it to her and I’m only being true to myself and my husband and how we choose to raise our kids, if I answer her in an honest but age-appropriate way.

“Actually, the baby doesn’t come out through the mommy’s tummy, Luca. It lives there while she’s pregnant but when it’s ready to be born she pushes it and it comes out her vagina.”



And then, from both of us, a moment of silence. I turn the radio back on.

“Mama? Turn the radio down again. How does the baby get in the mommy’s tummy? I wanna know the WHOLE story mama. Don’t skip any parts.”

By: Hey Paul StudiosCC BY 2.0

The way I figure if we talk about it all along she not only will feel more comfortable talking and asking questions as she gets older, but we’ll also have time to ease into being comfortable with these conversations.

For a second I considered not really answering. I mean… the girl is FOUR. Does she really need to have that much information? But then I thought about it a different way. She doesn’t need to know it all at four, but I also don’t want to be having this conversation when she’s 11 or 13 and wishing we’d been talking about it all along. The way I figure if we talk about it all along she not only will feel more comfortable talking and asking questions as she gets older, but we’ll also have time to ease into being comfortable with these conversations. Plus, at four she has no idea that her questions might make people uncomfortable — and I’d rather she get the answer from me than ask others who might not know the right way to answer.

“The daddy’s body makes something called sperm and the mommy’s body makes little eggs. When they want to make a baby, the daddy puts some sperm in the mommy and it meets the egg and then grows into a baby.”

“Oh. That’s really neat, mama. I want to see how that happens someday.”

“I hope you will, sweetie,” I answer, silently saying to myself “When you are at least 25.”

I know it’s not the most eloquent explanation, and it definitely glosses over the finer details. But she was satisfied with the answer to that one as well. I really never knew a kid her age could be so observant of her world and so inquisitive. I love it, especially how she warns us not to bullshit her and to be sure to give her “the whole story.” Here’s hoping our approach doesn’t mess her up forever!

Comments on Sex Ed and the four-year-old

  1. So I just have to chirp in and say that I was that kid who first had the birds and the bees talk at age 13. It was so awkward, I applaud anyone who is honest with young kids. Keep it up!

  2. According to my my this sounds exactly like the conversation she and I had when I was 2.5 a few months before my sister was born. I grew up knowing I could talk to my mom about my body, sex, and she would always tell it to me straight. I hope to give my son the same gift.

  3. Once, when I was 16, I was babysitting a 3.5 year old boy and we were on the bus to the library together. He said to me “How did the baby get into mummy’s tummy” (his mother was pregnant) and I just froze. I said “I’m not sure, how about you ask your mum when she gets home from work”. Obviously I knew how the baby got in there, but I didn’t want to give too much information and the parents would be mad at me, or tell him some nonsense about storks.

  4. I know a guy who, when he was about 3 or 4, was learning about the whole thing because his mom was pregnant again, and he was asking lots of questions. But when he found out that only girls can have babies, he got REALLY upset, and they explained to him that he can find a girl and they can have a baby together, but he wanted the baby to grow in HIS tummy, and was very upset about the whole thing. Through-out his mom’s pregnancy, he walked around with stuffed animals under his shirt, and swore that someday HE would have his OWN baby. And yes, his mother told this story at his wedding last year. 🙂

  5. I’ve been following the development of this book, scheduled for release in June (I think)

    It’s written by a sex educator and is intended to help explain to kids how babies are made, but they cover all types of families: straight, gay, single parent, adopted, surrogate, etc. From what I’ve read about the project so far, it’s going to be amazing.

  6. I have always been extremely grateful for my mother’s straightforward answers to these questions. By the time I was 4 years old I had asked enough questions and been given enough answers to understand that Grown Up Ladies sometimes have ‘periods’ which is a thing their bodies do automatically just like going potty because her body was getting ready for babies to grow inside her. And that if they wanted babies, they could let Grown Up Men put special seeds inside them and then a baby would grow. Just like the farmers plant seeds in the ground to grow plants. And that if no baby grew, then the period happens.

    This explaination evolved very naturally over the years. There was never “the talk.” I don’t even remember learning those things, just like I don’t remember learning that cows moo and that ducks swim. It was always just part of how the world worked, and not some secret or revelation.
    (Oddly, I remember being really upset when I learned what Time zones are at age 4. Biology was easy, but time zones put me in a foul mood.)

  7. Although I was the guinea pig being the eldest child, and didn’t get things quite so straightforward at such a young age, by my sixth sibling my mom wasn’t going to bother dancing around questions like this anymore… so one night during bathtime when my then 5yr brother began asking questions that began about his anatomy and then continued regarding why and what it was for, she told him everything… he handled the knowledge well, but at the end of it he asked, slightly alarmed, “Uh, will my wife know all this?! Will she be okay with this? Are you sure??? Can you write this down for me so I don’t forget it when I’m married?”

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