Savvy Welcomes Barb Steinberg on Talking to Preschoolers About Sex

Nicole Basham
May 16, 2009

It's a rough world out there. Disease, death, poverty - the list goes on and on. As an adult, it's hard enough to deal with these issues, but as a parent, we must walk a fine line between sheltering our children and talking about the tough stuff. 

My preschooler is currently firmly in the "why" phase. Although I have not yet received the "Where did I come from?" question, it can't be far away. I asked Barb Steinberg, a clinical social worker who recently produced a DVD for parents and schools linking teens' self-esteem to sexual choices, for advice about how to start talking about sex now. As a therapist and also mom to 4 1/2 year old Jack Emerson, Barb shares this great list of tips.

So, you are the parent of a preschooler; why on earth would you be thinking about sex now? We live in a sexual world. The questions will be here before you know it, and you need to be prepared!

Is there such a thing as giving too much information? No. Information does not encourage kids to be sexually active. It helps them to make better decisions.

What if you are uncomfortable talking about sex? That's okay. Many parents feel this way. Be honest and tell your kids that even though you are uncomfortable, you want them to come to you.  Be open and available.

When is the best time to start? Now!

For our babies:

  • Help them to feel secure and safe by the way that we hold, touch, feed, wash and diaper them and with the tone of our voice.
  • All babies explore their bodies. This is natural. Allow it. If we discourage it and shame them, they will continue to do it but feel guilty and won't come to us later to discuss sex.

For our toddlers and preschoolers:

  • Talk with them about the different sex organs for boys and girls like you would other body parts (noses, elbows, penises, vaginas, etc.). Use the correct names.
  • Toddlers are curious and may want to look at other's bodies parts or play "doctor". This is normal. It won't help to shame them for being normal.
  • It is common for them to touch themselves for pleasure. Teach them that this is to be done in private.
  • They are curious about where babies come from. Keep answers simple: "Babies grow inside the mother." You can add details as they can comprehend more.
  • As they enter primary school, they may become shy about asking questions. They still have them. Use teachable moments, like listening to music lyrics or watching television shows, to bring topics up and discuss them.  


Keep talking, but most importantly, keep listening!

From the Parents

  • Parent # 1

    I have a son 3yrs old and a daughter 5 yrs old. They were taking a bath together, I left the bathroom for a moment to come back to see our son laying over our daughter with an erection. He said he was playing mum and dad. I told our daughter to say stop to our son. She said she did but he didn't follow her Stop. How do I stop the playing of Mum and Dad in a sexual way? I told them brothers and sisters do not lay on top of each other and never to do that again.

    over a year ago


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