Every parent pauses when they hear the big matzoh ball question, “Where do babies come from?” I am about to delivery our fourth baby and so all things “baby” have been part the regular conversation at our house. Naturally, how you answer each of these questions is entirely related to the age and maturity of the child asking the question.
- Be short and direct. Avoid the big long explanation at first. Don’t be afraid to fish for what your child is looking for answer-wise. The child may be content with a short answer and enable you to avoid telling a child more than he/she is developmentally ready to hear/know. My two- year old is perfectly content to hear, “…from mommy’s tummy” or “Heaven.” My six-year old (who is inquisitive beyond her years), isn’t content with these sorts of answers and wants the details. I told her that women were born with all the eggs they were ever going to have. I simply told her that when they join with the daddy, that a baby forms. She didn’t ask THE follow up question of “how,” so I opted not to tell her (she’s still young). She thinks it is super cool that she has little eggs that could be her own babies one day. My ten-year old knows how that baby got in there.
- Be honest. Avoid answers like “the stork” or “baby factories.” Kids need to know that they can rely on you to tell the truth.
- Build on knowledge your child already has. You may answer a question by starting with something like, “As you know, boys have a penis and girls have a vagina…”
- Don’t laugh or squirm. I know this is easier said than done. Your child will use your reaction to gauge their own reaction. If you are very simple and matter of fact about how it works, you will be surprised at how accepting of the knowledge your child will be. Don’t be surprised if it is days later when you get follow up questions (after your child has had time to digest it).
- Reiterate the private/sensitive nature of the topic, especially if your child is young. If you have just told your young child (6-10 years old) the whole story of how the baby got there and is formed, make sure and tell your child about the sensitive nature of these topics. I usually say something like, “Now, I have told you the truth. You know more than most of your friends about this. Many of your friends’ parents haven’t had a chance to tell them yet. Let’s give them a chance to talk about it first, especially since it involves private body parts. So DON’T talk to your friends about it. Do you have any questions?” This little reminder can save you a lot of heartache later when you get called into the principal’s office because your second grader is telling everyone where babies come from, or you’re fielding angry phone calls from other parents.
Kids often learn best when you introduce a new topic by relating it to something they know. For this reason, as I talk about body parts, pregnancy, periods, sex, and where babies come from with my patients and own children, I will use a phrase they can remember. First, introduce the correct anatomical part (e.g., literally tell your child that girls have a vagina and boys have a penis). Then relate it to something the child will remember.
- Vagina—“the baby shoot.” As we have talked about the baby coming at our house, my kids know that the baby will either come out the baby shoot, aka, vagina or be cut out (C-Section) if there is a problem and she has to come out quicker.
- Uterus—“the baby sack.” I am always very careful to clarify that the baby is in her own sack. Mommy’s stomach is where the food goes. Mom’s bladder is where the pee is. The baby has her own special sack to grow in. Inside that sack, there is a bag like a balloon or water bed filled with water. We’ve discussed that when the bag pops (and the water comes out) the baby will be done growing and ready to come out.
- The cord—“the tube that connects the baby to mommy.” Simply explain that it is through the cord that the baby gets food and what she needs from mommy. It is fun to point out to the kids that their belly button is what is left to remind them of that connection to their mom.
You know your child best and are best equipped to understand his/her unique perceptions, developmental readiness, and likely responses. While these conversations can be uncomfortable and intimidating, it is better coming from you than a misinformed peer. As I see it, I’d rather have my kids hear about these sorts of sensitive topics from me, where I know the information is factually correct and I can add in little plugs for my own personal values at the same time (e.g., in addition to telling my child where babies come from, I’ll tell them when I think a good time in life to have a baby is).