Tag Archives: parenting

Having the Sex Talk with your Kids

This is an old newspaper column from about 11 years ago when I was writing about parenting for the Missoulian.

                                                  Everything You Already Knew About Sex

(But were afraid to talk about)

                                                             By John Sommers-Flanagan

I’ll never forget the night my older sisters saved my life. I was 12 years old. My sisters were babysitting me while my parents went out. They said, “Sit down, we’ve got something serious to talk about.”

I was a compliant little brother and because my sisters enjoyed dressing me up like a girl as I sat down, I was silently hoping that I wouldn’t have to do the girls clothing thing again. To my surprise, their serious topic had nothing to do with girls’ clothing and everything to do with what’s underneath girls’ clothing.

They pulled out a gigantic book. In our family, it was called the DOCTOR book and we only got it out when someone was sick. I started to worry . . . mostly because I wasn’t feeling sick.

They opened the book and showed me anatomically correct pictures of naked men and women. Then I started feeling sick. While looking at various body parts they explained the relationship between male and female sexual organs. I remember thinking “There’s no way this is true.” My sisters, one 16 and the other 14 suddenly looked like the wisest people in the world and I eventually realized they had more knowledge in their little toes than I had in my entire brain. They explained: “Mom says it’s Dad’s job to tell you about this sex stuff. But Dad’s too shy to talk about it. So tonight, we’re telling you everything.” And they did.

At some point in their explanation that night, I understood several school jokes that everyone had been laughing about the week before. But more than anything else, I remember them saying: “Sexual intercourse is very special. You only have sex with someone you really love!”

Sex education in America is like a crapshoot. I got lucky. I learned a big lesson about sexuality from two people who deeply cared about me and whom I respected. Not everyone gets so lucky.

If you’ve got children, you should directly discuss sex and sexuality with them on an ongoing basis. If you don’t, you can bet they’ll learn about sex anyway, indirectly and from other people. Given this choice, most parents decide, despite their discomfort, to talk about sex with their children.

Direct discussions about sex are easy to avoid. So, before you drop this essay and rush off to talk to your children about sex, take a moment to mentally reflect on your answers to the following questions.

1.         What did you learn about sex from your parents and family?

2.         What did you learn about sex through school sex education?

3.         What did you learn about sex from friends and peers?

4.         What did you learn about sex from television, magazines, and the movies?

Now. . . if any of you are still with me, you’re probably realizing you didn’t learn the same sex lessons from your parents as you did from your friends or from television. Many people learned (from parents) not to talk about sex. In contrast, many people are learning today (from television) that they should constantly think and talk about sex. Hardly anyone learns consistent and reasonable lessons about sex. Most people learn about sex in extremes. . . either you avoid it or you’re bombarded with it.

Sex is exciting and confusing. One way that many soap operas and sitcoms keep us tuned in is by keeping us wondering who will be sleeping together. When, on “That 70s Show,” Kelso tries to grab Donna’s breasts even though her boyfriend is one of Kelso’s best friends, young viewers undoubtedly feel twinges of both excitement and confusion. Sex makes for great comedy. Unfortunately, great comedy is usually poor sex education.

Teaching children about sex should begin early. There are many natural opportunities for discussing sex with your children – including television, magazines you see at the grocery store, and occasionally, our local and national politicians. Other opportunities occur around ages four or five, when young children begin talking, sometimes excessively and inappropriately, about poop, pee, penises, and vaginas. Although addressing such topics with your children can be uncomfortable, you should begin this process while your child still respects you. About 10 years later, when your child returns to thinking about these topics with rapt interest, he or she may be less inclined to listen to a wrinkly old adult.

Of course if you’d rather not deal with the issue, you can always use the approach my parents used. Give me a call. I’ll put you in touch with my sisters.

Advertisements

A Parenting Homework Assignment on Natural and Logical Consequences

In anticipation of the benefit workshop on “Working Effectively with Parents” coming up this Friday, below you’ll find a sample Parent Homework Assignment adapted from the book: “How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen” (John Wiley & Sons, 2011) by John and Rita Sommers-Flanagan. If you want to attend the workshop, call Families First at 406-721-7690 to register.

The Beauty and Power of Natural and Logical Consequences

            Life is not easy and children (and adults) learn through struggles, failures, and disappointments. Your goal, as a parent, is to create a reasonable, consistent, and loving home and then let your child struggle with the demands of life. These demands include very basic things like:

  • Not getting to watch television after a certain time
  • Participating in housecleaning
  • Not getting attention 100% of the day
  • Having to get ready and get to school on time
  • Having to wait your turn to get served dessert or to play with an especially-fun toy
  • Not getting to eat your favorite food for every meal
  • Having to tie your own shoes

As you might gather from the preceding list, even little things in life can be hard for a growing child. . . but to learn, children need to directly experience frustration and disappointment.

Natural or logical consequences are a necessary part of learning. They help your child get better at surviving disappointments in the world and in your family home. Natural and logical consequences are always related in some way to the misbehavior and are not given out with anger or as “punishment.”

Here are some examples:

  1. Your children leave toys in a public area of the house, even though they’ve been told to put toys away when done playing. Logical consequence: Use a “Saturday box” or put the toys in time-out. This involves picking up the toys and putting them in a box and storing them away until the next Saturday (or whatever day) when they’re given back. This logical consequence avoids the over-reaction (“If you don’t put your toys away, then I’ll give them away to someone else”) and the attention-giving lecture (“Let me tell you about when I was a child and what would happen if I left my toys out . . .”) and instead provides children with a clear, consistent, and reasonable consequence.
  2. Your children argue with you about a consequence or about you being unfair. Logical consequence: You let your children know, “I don’t feel like arguing about this” and leave the area. You may want to go to the bathroom to take time away to further develop your planned response. While remaining friendly, another important message to give is, “I know you’d like things your way, but we have rules and consequences for everyone in our family.” Of course this may trigger another argument and you can walk away again and tell your children, “I know you can figure this out and not have this consequence next time.”
  3. You cook dinner, but your children don’t show up on time. Reasonable rules and logical consequences: If you cook dinner, everyone needs to show up on time and be respectful about the dinner-eating process. That doesn’t mean everyone has to eat every bite or provide you with lavish praise for your most excellent meal, but respectful attendance is a reasonable expectation. If your child is late for dinner, one reminder is enough. No drama or excess attention is needed. Just sit down and start eating and enjoying the mealtime process. Possible logical and natural consequences include: (a) your child prepares the next meal; (b) you put away foods after you dish yourself up and so the child has to get them out and serve him/herself; (c) you got there early and prepared the food and so your child gets to stay after and clean up; (d) no special rewards (e.g., eating dinner in front of the television); instead, your child eats alone at the table.

To do logical and natural consequences, it’s helpful to work on the following:

  1. Take the “punishing” quality out of your voice and the interactions. This is not about punishment; it’s about what’s logical, reasonable, and natural. You can even be friendly and positive.
  2. Prepare in advance. Because you’ll be emotional when your children are noncompliant, it’s critical that you have a list of logical and reasonable and natural consequence ideas in your head. Otherwise, you will over-react. Going to parenting classes or talking with other parents can help you identify a wider range of reasonable consequences.
  3. Use small consequences. Your purpose is to teach your child. Your purpose is not to hurt or humiliate. Learning occurs best if children are not emotionally overwhelmed by large consequences. Small consequences provide plenty of feedback.
  4. Use mirroring and encouragement. Reflect back to your children what they’re feeling (“It’s very upsetting that you can’t play with your toys for the rest of the week”). Let your child know that you think things will go better the next time around (“I know, if you want to, you’ll be able to remember to put your toys away next time”).
  5. Don’t lecture or shame. Let the small consequence do its work.

The MEA Conference in Missoula

Today Rita and I got to provide a 3 hour workshop on Working Effectively with Parents to Montana school counselors and educators. It was great to see former students and to experience the dedication and talents of Montana school personnel. Our main message: Welcome even the most challenging parent comments, thank parents for their openness, reflect their core values back to them, and then once a collaborative relationship is established, use a radical acceptance frame to help them become the best parents they can become.