Recently, a reader asked how to explain to her young daughter what the word “rape” meant. Her daughter heard someone say the word and clearly, it bothered her, as well it should. Some ears are simply too young to hear tough words.
So what’s a parent to do? What do we say and how do we say it?
I experienced a similar situation when my son was in the fourth grade. When he was eleven, my son was asked by his teacher to do a report on a common infection. She gave the students a list of infections and he chose AIDs. I think he did this because he heard the word on the news. He began researching the topic on the school computer and came across some concepts that puzzled him.
He was upset by the fact that some people were so sick with this infection. When I picked him up from school, he was clearly upset. I needed to make a quick stop at the grocery store and as I pulled into the parking lot he blurted out, “Mom, how do men have sex with other men?”
I found a parking spot and we never made it into the store. When a child asks questions about sex or any tough topic, they deserve answers on the spot. Talking about sex is usually uncomfortable for parents, but it’s our job. We simply need to dive in.
For the next hour, we talked about sex, love, feelings, men, women, and relationships. When I first told him about sex two years earlier, he reacted with the usual “Oh, gross!” response. He didn’t want a detailed discussion; the facts were enough. But this time, he wanted more.
IT’S IMPORTANT FOR PARENTS TO ANSWER THE HARD QUESTIONS
When kids raise these types of questions, we parents need to be there to field them; if we don’t, someone else (like a classmate) will. And the information that a classmate gives our child will probably be inaccurate.
Talking with our kids about sex is hard but when it comes to discussing or explaining infections (like HIV and AIDs) or violence in sex (like rape), it is even more difficult. Their young minds haven’t conceived of sex associated with harm, and handling this topic must be done very gingerly.
So when your child asks tough questions, I have a few thoughts.
1. DON’T SHY AWAY.
When our kids ask questions, particularly about sex, we must be the ones to answer. I encourage one parent to establish him/herself as the “go to” person when it comes to sensitive topics. Look at your child when you speak and try to act as confident and comfortable as possible.
2. BE CLEAR AND SPEAK SIMPLY.
Don’t feel that you have to use big words or be an expert on the topic. Many times parents over talk, trying to compensate for their feelings of insecurity. You don’t need to do this. Just use simple and accurate words. Don’t worry about not knowing everything.
3. IF HURT IS INVOLVED, EXPLAIN THAT, TOO.
When describing what rape is, it is extremely important to teach your son or daughter that it involves violence and it is always wrong. Tell them that it is about a man sexually forcing himself on a woman (or man) against their will.
This will lead you into another discussion about why people hurt one another. So go there, too. Tell your child that there are troubled people in the world and they do mean things to others.
4. GIVE REASONABLE REASSURANCE IF POSSIBLE.
When most kids hear about hurtful things like rape, they immediately worry that something like this will happen to them. Tell them that, sadly, bad things happen to nice people, but that your job as Mom or Dad is to help protect them from these bad things.
Let them know that the majority of girls and boys are not abused so their chances of having this bad thing happen to them is possible but unlikely. Be as truthful as you can be while giving reasonable reassurance.
Every parent wants to protect his or her child from the pains of our world, but we can’t. The best that we can do is tell them the truth in loving, reassuring ways.
Most importantly, we must always let them know that our job is to teach and help them through life. And one of the best ways we can do this is by being open and honest when it comes to tough talks.