Thursday, January 18, 2007

The birds and the bees and the whales...

For all you parents (and overgrown kids) out there -- it's time to swap some parenting strategies!!!

What do you tell your kids about "the facts of life"? How much and when?

I suspect it's easier for parents on a farm to cover the subject naturally, given all of the object lessons going on around them. Fortunately we have today's modern equivalent: nature documentaries!!!

One of my kids' favorite films is a documentary following the adventures of a pregnant tiger shark, and another favorite is one about whales. The shark one has made it very clear to my 5-year-old Nicolas that babies start out in mommies' tummies. (He loves to role-play all of his films, and it's super cute when he plays that he's a pregnant shark full of babies!!!) The whale film goes into a little more detail about how the baby got there...

Their whale film is educational for adults as well as children. Without it, I never would have known what it looks like when whales, y'know, do it. My favorite part is the narrator's perfect deadpan delivery as he lists off the dimensions of the whale's naughty bits, nonchalantly explaining that it's the largest genital organ in the animal kingdom.

That part always makes me giggle. I'm not sure why -- they list off the weights of a bunch of other whale body parts and I never think anything of it. I've narrowed it down to either (a) I'm just that immature or (b) documentaries about whale genitalia really are hilarious.

While I was pondering this question, my curious little Nico of course asked me "Mommy, what's that?" (pointing at the gigantic whale schlong on the screen).

Without hesitation -- without even giggling -- I replied "That's the daddy whale's zizi." (I'm getting good at this parenting stuff!!!)

He didn't have any follow-up questions. I guess since whales have a lot of body parts in common with people (eyes, mouths), it seemed perfectly reasonable to him that the daddy whale should have a zizi. (Indeed, a whale of a big zizi...)

Zizi, by the way, is the French baby-word for penis. I'm not sure if maybe I should be teaching them a more proper word, or perhaps a word in English for when we're speaking English or something. But this is working for us so far.

Regarding the differences between girls and boys, all they know at this point is that boys have zizis and girls do not have zizis. I'm kind of thinking that "what girls have instead" falls into the category of "advanced topics" since they're both boys and haven't asked about it. I'm not sure if that's the right strategy or not.

I don't really have a plan or a theory here, I'm just playing it by ear.

Anybody else out there have a theory or an opinion about how such topics should be covered?


Aerin said...

What you're doing already is the theory that I've heard. Answer questions when asked. At some point you'll probably have to explain things in more detail.

I think I've heard - don't give them the entire ocean when they just asked for a cup of water.

Whether or not this will work - I don't know. I think schools get involved at some point as well - at least they do here in the states. And at least some of their information is accurate.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Aerin!!!

I'm all in favor of sex ed in the schools, at least if it's anything like what I got in the Edina public school system. IMHO, the pace, the amount of info, and accuracy were right on the money.

As I recall, they covered animals in 4th grade, your own sex in 5th grade, and the opposite sex in 6th. Then in 8th grade they had us learn all of the STDs and the precise stats on how the various contraceptives affect them.

Whether this pace is appropriate for today's kids, I don't know, but I know my parents weren't as thrilled about covering the topic as I was, so I chronicled the excitement of sex ed from the beginning, as seen in my sixth grade journal.

For our kids, I've bought a really fantastic book called It's Perfectly Normal. I got it at Good Vibrations in San Francisco. But it's a book for older kids, and I wonder if I shouldn't also try to find something for younger kids...

On the other hand, they have a bunch of nature books that vaguely hint at what's going on. They have a nice book about dolphins and orcas which talks about the mating season and then leads into pregnancy and birth, etc., so they get the basic idea.

MattMan said...

Hey, chanson. I'm sort of faced with this same issue, except I'm not really free to explore my own ideas of openly teaching our kids about sexuality because I'm still with my turbo-TBM wife, who happens to be very repressed and repressive.

But I'll share my thoughts anyway.

I really like webmd, it has some truly great articles, IMO. Sometimes you have to filter them to be age appropriate -- at some ages, the kids simply won't "get" the more abstract or complex parts.

I think kids learn things best that they can relate to. Having a candid lesson where they see pictures, like on webmd, and then relate the abstract pictures to their actual parts can be very effective in their learning, I think.

Here is a good webmd article about the male reproductive system.

Here is a good webmd article about the female reproductive system.

For the male biology, you can your kids as models. Having your hubby join in as another model wouldn't hurt either. If you portray an attitude of this particular teaching experience being completely natural, nothing to be ashamed of, etc, it will go a long way in setting their attitude about it.

For the female biology, assuming your boys are still pretty young (like nowhere near puberty) -- and I know at least one person will drop their jaw and want to blast me over this -- I would suggest using yourself as a model. It's a biology lesson, it's not sex. Seriously. You may want to include a lesson about when it is or is not appropriate, as a member of society, to expose (or ask to view) personal body parts. :)

Getting the biology down first I think is important before moving into the sex part.

Once you get the biology parts (and proper names, both appropriate for social banter, and actual names for education), and functions down, then going more into theory for explaining facts of reproduction and how it works will be much easier. Don't worry, I'm not going to suggest a demonstration for this part. lol. But turning to the animal kingdom will make a lot more sense if they understand the biology, parts, and what their functions are -- even if they're on other animals instead of humans.

I think taking an approach like this will also put them light years beyond their classmates when they get to sex ed in school.

That's my $0.02 worth anyway.

AnnM said...

I took a child development class from a very cool psychology professor at my perpetually unnamed alma mater. He said that if your kids have not asked about sex by age 6 that you should discuss it anyway, because they have likely heard about it from other kids and probably have misconceptions (like it's a big secret that you should never ask your parents about.)

I'm a big fan of the literature method. Leave age appropriate books on the bookshelf. That will help satisfy their curiosity if they are embarassed to ask. It will also be available for reference if it comes up.

I use the actual words, so as not to communicate any shame or embarrassment. The only problem is that you have to remember not to be embarrassed when they use the word in public, which they inevitably will.

My son told me that lice have two penises, which he learned from a book called, "The Zoo on You."
"But the book called them weenies," he said, "but I guessed that meant penises."

When they learned about the corresponding female parts, all three of my boys asked to see it. (Each was preschool age.) I am just not comfortable with that, so I've said that's private. I think it's probably a good idea to teach that your genitals are private anyway, because, at least in the U.S., somebody's parents are going to flip out if they catch them playing doctor.

Lemon Blossom said...

I agree with Mattman, for the most part. Keep it simple, realistic, honest, open, relaxed, and use the clinical terms for body parts. I believe this creates an environment where kids can feel good about their bodies and feel there is open communication between themselves and their parents about this topic.

Rebecca said...

I know I heard somewhere (quite possibly from my dad, the sex therapist. Seriously) that the younger kids are when they learn about sex, the less grossed out they'll be by it. Well, as long as the parents aren't teaching them that it's gross. I was eight or nine when my parents had "the talk" with me, and I think my brothers and sisters were all younger (I think from about 4-7). As long as you don't make a huge deal out of it(like swear words - the more you tell them not to...) and don't act like it's something that's all hush-hush and no-no, then I think you're probably doing well. Give them the basics, when you want to, then let them ask the questions as they think of them. My parents told us the basics, then gave us a cartoon video to watch (not kidding). I tried to find it online, but no luck - I don't remember what it's called and I was trying to be REALLY careful with my google search words.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey MattMan!!!

Thanks for the articles and suggestions!!!

At our house we don't make a big deal about occasional nudity (in and out of the shower), which has reinforced this idea for them that boys have zizis and girls don't. But we haven't actively taught them much human biology...

Hey Sam-I-Am!!!

You're probably right. Nico turned five in September, and at the rate he's reading animal books and asking questions, he'll probably get to the point of understanding the basic idea about mating (even for people) by the time he turns six. But if he doesn't, I think he'll be ready for it.

Hey Lemon Blossom!!!


Hey Rebecca!!!

That is so cool that your parents showed you a cartoon about it!!! I wish you had found that cartoon!!!

I'm sure you're right about them being less grossed-out by the idea by learning it earlier.

Freckle Face Girl said...

Animal documentaries about sex make me giggle too. Perhaps, it is the Mormon up bringing.

BTW, I agree with playing it by ear.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Freckle Face Girl!!!

Glad to know it's not just me... ;^)

Rebecca said...

No way - you are SO not who I am referring to in the post about pretentious bloggers! I've never - not ONE TIME - felt that way about your blog. It applies to a lot of people (few of whose blogs I read because UGH), but was inspired by someone who comments on Emerging From the Ashes' blog.

Sorry - nothing to do with your post. I just can't hit 'reply' and answer you.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Rebecca!!!

I was only a very little tiny bit worried there -- good to see it was unfounded!!! :D

Sister Mary Lisa said...

Our parents pulled out the big college anatomy book of my dad's (Not "The Naked Communist," although we were always sneaking that book off the bookshelf to try to find nude pictures!) and they discussed how special and nice sex was, an actual GIFT FROM GOD, and that it feels great to do it with your SPOUSE. They told us what went where, and what happens with sperm, egg, etc. We were then allowed to ask any questions. I remember asking, "How do you know when you're done?"

"You'll know, honey, you'll just know."

Oh, and you cracked me up hard with the whale schlong bit.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks SML!!!

Wow, your parents were a lot more open about the whole thing than mine were!!!

Sister Mary Lisa said...

My dad is so anal. If we ever said "booby" in reference to our body, he'd say, "It's BREAST. Say it: BaReassst." He'd sometimes even roll the R, for chrissakes. So....we'd then go around saying "Bareaaassst" over and over and over. Drove him crazy! Yeah, he treated the whole talk as if we were a college zoology class.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of babies - did you see that we have a new first cousin once removed? Or - your sons have a new second cousin? I think it's pretty exciting.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey SML!!!

That's so funny!!! My dad's kind of the opposite -- more a baby-words and potty humor type of guy...

Hey Aerin!!!

Yeah, I just got Grandma's letter -- how cool!!!

Speaking of Grandma, did you know that Sister Mary Lisa is (or was...) in Grandma & Grandpa E.'s ward? Small world, huh?

Sister Mary Lisa said...

I still am in their ward, since I've never resigned formally. Small world, eh?

R Nicolas said...

Since my children are 13 months apart and one a boy and one a girl such questions came up rather early and often.

I always subscribed to the answer-the-qusetion-but-go-no-farther school of thought, and it seems to worked out fine.

Both my children are now teenagers who commonly tell me about some of the stupid ideas that their religious peers have about sex.

Side note: an english alternative for zizi is dork--seriously--look it up. My children have a strong appreciation for this term.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey R. Nicholas!!!

Good to hear this technique works!!!

Though -- as you mention -- the fact that you've got one of each probably helps in terms of object lessons... ;-)

For the moment I think we'll stick with zizi, but it should be entertaining to see what new words they come home with the next time they visit their cousins in the US!!! :D

m said...

sounds like my dad was just like SML's dad. Except that mine had 7 daughters to teach about the facts of life. And because of the high rape rate is SA, we got the info at a very young age.

He used a Playboy though to show me where the parts were and what they were, and what they did. And insisted on proper names for all of them. I was about 7 year old.

For the boy parts, we went to see our neighbour who had two little infant boys and she let us examine them to teach us a lesson. Because she was Jewish, I also learned the difference between circumcised and not.

My dad also taught us what is appropriate and what is not, and what to do if somebody touches us where they're not supposed to, and to never be afraid to tell him.

I really admire him for not being embarrassed, especially since my stepmother was an uptight repressed TBM.

And all this anatomical knowledge at an early age taught me not to be embarrassed and came in handy when step mom was having sis number 7 in the parking lot during a shopping trip.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I can't help be envious of some of y'all's parents (and of your kids, chanson).

When I was 9 my dad gave me the talk accompanied by graphic pictures of venereal diseases in a medical book (which up until that point we were told not to look at because of the questionable pictures in it). "There. See what can happen?"

I think I was so traumatized that I was well into my 20s before I realized what he was actually saying in that conversation.

Otherwise, everything I learned about sex as a kid, I got on the playground. Good times!

(This wasn't helpful at all was it? Sorry...)

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Montchan!!!

Wow, that's amazing!!! I can't imagine either one of my parents doing something like that. They were both pretty squeamish about the whole thing.

I remember once when I was in elementary school I asked my mom what the word "f-ck" meant, and she wouldn't tell me. She just said "A lady doesn't use such a word." I told her that I didn't ask whether a lady uses the word or not, I just want to know the definition. But as I asked her just to tell me what it means, she just kept repeating that "A lady doesn't say that."

So it took me an extra day or so to find out the definition, and I learned not to bother going to my parents for such questions...

Hey Belaja!!!

Yikes!!! That actually sonds worse than the no info I got from my parents. At least my parents left relevant books lying around the house and didn't forbid us from reading them...

Hey Doug!!!

That's cool!!!

Rabbits, whales... I think our various kids should do okay. ;-)

Anonymous said...

My mom sat my twin and I down on the sofa in our home in Rome when we were about 9 and laid it all out plain as day. We sat there very quietly taking it all in - no embarassment because she wasn't embarrased in the telling. And then after she'd explained what was what and where what went and where what it didn't went, she asked if we had any questions. I remember going "ewww, why would you want to pee in somebody?"

I obviously didn't completely get the explanation but it wasn't long before I figured it out.

I'll always be grateful to my mom that she was so open and candid about sex and that she taught us early on about the whats and the wheres. That, along with growing up with the very open and liberal attitudes about sex in Italy, well, I think I developed a really healthy sexual identity early on and benefitted from it. The rest of me is a mess but at least sexually I'm strong and healthy and know what goes where. Ahem...

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Tom!!!

It's wonderful when parents get it right!!! :D

Anonymous said...

I pretty much just wait till they walk in on my and Sister Dunn doing the nasty.

Liseysmom said...

We have a pretty open household. The kids run around naked so my son and daughter know the differences between them. They know the proper names of their body parts.

We've also just answered questions as they ask. But my son is very curious so he asks a LOT of questions. Sometimes explicit questions. And I'm tempted just to say, "uhhhhh, uhhhhh, ask again when you are older." But then I try to answer in an honest but age-appropriate way.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Pete!!!

Wow!!! Well, there's one vote for the direct approach... ;-)

Hey Lisey's Mom!!!

That sounds like a healthy way to do it. Although again you parents who got one of each have an advantage. ;-)