Hi Dr. Meg,
Tonight I overheard my 7-year-old daughter singing a song with the lyrics “I’m so sexy and I know it…” I immediately turned around with the classic look of parental astonishment and asked, “What did you just sing?”
I proceeded to have the “Who? What? Where?” conversation with her. I am fairly confident that I did NOT do this all that well, but I told her that those are grown-up words and kids do not need to be talking like that.
The thing that has me completely baffled was how the conversation ended…her asking me, “Daddy, what does sexy mean?”
After picking up my jaw, I said what every dad says in that situation: “I think we need to go ask your mother that one.” I did try to weasel out of it by getting her mom to intervene and the stall tactic has worked (at least for now) since she forgot about it, but I am left trying to figure out how to define “sexy” to a 7-year-old.
My wife and I were talking and she had a great point that it is my job to define it and her job to be a healthy example of it. I want to set the correct tone early, and I went back to your book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, but nothing jumped out at me for this specific question.
Can you please give me some advice on how to define this to her in terms that will be accurate, appropriate and helpful to a 7-year-old girl?
What you experienced with your seven-year-old daughter singing about being sexy is, unfortunately, very common. Our young ones are constantly exposed to adult language and themes even when we try our hardest to keep them shielded from them. The most important thing to do when a young one says adult words is to try and react with concern but not humiliate them. The reason this is important is that 99% of kids don’t know what the words mean and they are simply parroting what they hear.
It sounds like you did a great job. When you hear inappropriate words out of your precious child’s mouth, no parent can help but gasp.
Here’s how I think it is important to handle these tough situations. First, calmly stop what you are doing and tell your daughter that you need to talk about what we say. Then, tell her that there are many words that are grown-up words that she hears but shouldn’t repeat. Be firm, but don’t act as though they are dirty (unless they are). When she asks what they mean; for instance, what does “sexy” mean, you use simple but accurate information. Tell her that “sexy” means when a man or woman acts in a way to make the other want to kiss her a lot. That’s enough for her young mind.
When kids ask what certain adult words mean, it’s important to use simple but accurate information.
As she matures and wants to know about sexual activity (which by the way usually happens in second or third grade), then you need to tell her what intercourse is and remind her of your earlier conversation about being sexy.
It really doesn’t matter whether you or your wife have the conversation with her. Both of you are going to be uncomfortable, so the one who is least uncomfortable should do the talking. When your daughter hears you talk about sex and grown-up things, she’ll act very embarrassed. This is completely normal. Make sure at the end of your conversation that you tell her that she will hear many other grown-up words, perhaps see grown ups doing things that only Moms and Dads should do and that she won’t understand. She may also hear kids talking about these at school. So, when she does hear these things, she should always come to you or her mother to ask about them because you (unlike her friends) have the right answers. Make sure that she knows that you are the go-to person when it comes to discussions about sex.
In the midst of a culture that constantly seeks to define us by appearances and accomplishments, this is also a great opportunity to affirm her character and remind her that’s where a person’s true value lies.
You can do this. Great job!