It’s always the right time to communicate openly and honestly with your kids.
The timeline + tips* below were developed to help you build a foundation of trust and mutual respect with your kids. Explore this interactive resource to support your ongoing conversation with your kids as they develop and grow.
Connection + Discovery
- Role model healthy relationships -- your child is learning about love, safety, and how to trust others.
- Positively acknowledge your child’s exploration of their body. Discuss that this is a private, not public, behavior.
- Always use correct terms to refer to your child’s body parts.
- “You have many body parts. They all have a purpose. They are wonderful, and you are wonderful.”
- “I love you. I am always here for you, no matter what.”
- “You are special!”
- While changing diapers, teach your child the body part names, including genitals. Use the proper names for genitals. “These are your legs. This is your tummy. This is your penis, this is your vulva,” etc.
- Choose some age-appropriate books like What Makes a Baby from our resource list and read them to your child at bedtime. Ask them to point out different body parts and name them.
- Teach your child about good and bad touch. For example, if your young child pulls someone’s hair, warmly but firmly say, “No, no, that hurts” and pull their hand away. Then take their hand and show them how to gently stroke your hair, give a big smile and say, “Yes, that’s nice, I like that – thank you!” Repeat these responses and feedback regularly.
- Children at this point of development may not fully understand key messages, but sharing them lets your child know that you love and accept them.
- All body parts are body parts. If you talk about genitals without shame, your child will learn to feel good about all parts of their bodies.
- Understanding and modeling consent can help your child be safe and have healthier relationships in the future. If your child seems uncomfortable in a particular situation, such as receiving a hug from a family member, be their advocate. Bring your family member’s attention to what your child is verbally or non-verbally communicating and ask them to try again later.
- Visit Advocates for Youth - Parents’ Sex Ed Center for information and resources about early childhood development and talking
- Get tips for every age at Teaching Sexual Health – the Parent’s Role
- Visit Planned Parenthood – For Parents for information in English and Spanish on how to talk to kids about their bodies, social skills, safety, and identity.
- As your child’s gender identity develops, encourage them to respect themselves and others.
- Let them know they can talk to you or other trusted adults about anything.
- Teach them about appropriate touch and how to say no to unwanted touch.
- Be ready to give a simple description of where babies come from.
- “People have lots of body parts in common. But these body parts can look different on different people. All bodies are special.”
- “If anyone touches your penis or vulva, or does anything to your body that doesn’t feel comfortable, be sure to come tell me right away.”
- “Babies need to grow inside a uterus for about nine months before they come out into the world. Even though it looks like they grow inside the tummy, the uterus is a separate part.’”
- Read any of the recommended books for this stage together. Ask questions to reinforce what’s in the book.
1) “What do you notice about this person’s body vs. that person’s body?”
2) “Do these body parts look like yours or are they different?”
3) “What do you like about your [body part]?
- Provide positive messages about children’s and adults’ bodies. End with messages that all bodies are different, and all bodies are wonderful. For example, a parent can say, “I have curly hair. That person has straight hair. We both have beautiful hair.” Then ask your child to compare similarities and differences with someone they know. Then add “you both have wonderful ___”
- If your child has screen time, watch TV or a video together. If you notice a gender stereotype, pause the show, and point it out. Ask your child what they think. Provide clear messages that they can be or do anything they want, no matter what their gender is.
- Encourage your children to play with whatever toys they enjoy.
- Kids at this stage can express interest in “how babies are made” or “where babies come from.” This is normal. Don’t be afraid of answering the question. Provide basic answers in terms they can understand ie. Babies are made with bodies. Babies grow inside a uterus, which is part of the body.”
- Begin to introduce the idea of germs through hand washing. Remind your child to take care of their body.
Reproduction + Privacy
- Be prepared to answer more mature questions about reproduction.
- As children become more independent, remind them of the importance of open communication in your family.
- Explain puberty and what to expect. Share resources early and often.
- Promote healthy body image.
- “Everyone goes through changes when they start growing from a little person to a big person – that’s called ‘puberty.’ Puberty is a normal, exciting part of growing up. People go through puberty at different times, and that’s normal, too.”
- “Your body is your body. You get to say whether, when, and how people touch you. If someone touches you in a way that you don’t like, tell them to stop. If they don’t stop, tell me/us, or another adult you trust. That includes if the person who touched you was also an adult. You cannot touch someone if they do not want to be touched.”
- “For pregnancy to happen, you need three things: an ovum (egg), a sperm, and a uterus.”
- Print our “What’s Going On Here?” worksheet and work with your child to complete the questions. Discuss the questions and answers.
- Talk with your child about how you and your partner/spouse would want them to be able to speak with you about just about anything – but that there are other adults in their life they can talk to. Discuss the kind of things they should think about when choosing who to tell important information to. Print the “Who Would You Tell?” sheet and ask your child to complete it. Then discuss their answers.
- Grow a flower – get a small disposable cup, some soil, and some seeds from a plant store or online. Have your child put the soil into the cup, plant the seed, and then water it. Watch over the coming days and weeks as it grows. Explain this is similar to how babies grow inside people and other living things.
- Practice and role model consent with your child. If you would like to give your child a hug, fix their hair, or wipe something from their clothes or face, take a moment to ask them for their permission to do so first. Encourage your child to do the same. They can ask you or other people in their lives for a hug or cuddle when they want one.
- During this time, children should be learning that people have rights. They have the right not to have their body touched when they do not want to be touched. They should find parents or other trusted adults they can tell if they are feeling uncomfortable. They will also be learning about bullying and teasing and what to do if they or someone they know is getting bullied or teased.
- At this point, children have a much clearer sense of their gender. They are mostly aware of two genders and will be curious about kids who are a different gender than theirs. Gender identity is not the same thing as sexual orientation. This has to do with their maleness, femaleness, both, or neither. It has nothing to do with who your child will be in relationships with in the future. Support your child's gender expression at home, at school, and with family and friends.
- If you are partnered or married, talk with your partner or spouse about how you interact with each other in front of your child. Model healthy behavior in a relationship such as communication, compromise, respect, support and healthy boundaries. If you are a same-sex couple, point that out as an example. If you are a male-female couple, talk about the things each of you does that fulfills the gender stereotype, and the things you do that aren’t stereotypes.
- Visit Advocates for Youth - Parents’ Sex Ed Center to learn more about physical, cognitive, and emotional development at this age and check out the section “10 Tips For Initiating Conversations About Growth, Development, and Sexuality”
- Learn more about puberty, human reproduction, anatomy at the Sexuality Resource Center for Parents
Puberty + Preteen Development
- As your child goes through puberty, emphasize that all bodies develop differently and at their own pace.
- Reinforce that masturbation is natural and healthy, but should be done privately.
- Share personal experiences or use examples from popular media to discuss what healthy relationships look and feel like.
- Discuss your family’s expectations and values about dating and sexual activity.
- “It’s important to take care of all your body parts, Your body’s natural chemicals, called ‘hormones,’ are working really hard right now to help you grow. This means your body will both look and smell differently. This is all normal and it’s important to know how to take good care of your body as it changes.”
- “Sometimes people are clear about their gender identity, and sometimes they aren’t. Same with sexual orientation and identity. It’s fine if you know for sure, and fine if you come to discover these identities when you’re older.”
- “You might feel like your body is a little out of control while it’s growing, this is normal and means your body is doing its job to help you grow! If you feel funny about how your body is growing, that is ok. Don’t forget – your body is amazing and will feel more normal as you get used to it.”
- Suggest your young person check out one of the videos about body image and other topics at https://amaze.org/age-guide. You can watch it with them, or ask them if they’d prefer to watch them on their own.
- Teach your child the difference between communicating passively, aggressively and assertively. Give examples. Print this “Conflict Situations” sheet and discuss the examples given. Then ask what they think the characters should do in each example and/or what they would do in similar situations..
- Print the worksheet, “What Would You Tell Them To Do?”. Ask your child to complete it and talk about the advice they’d want to give someone in any of the situations listed.
- There are many resources available online to share with your child about puberty, body image, and adolescence. You can use them as a starting point for a conversation with your child or allow your child to explore them on their own. Check out our resource list to find some examples.
- It is very common to see a significant increase in a child’s desire for privacy. A parent should respect these boundaries. Parents should knock before entering a child’s room and ask their children to do the same.
- Many parents and caregivers are concerned if they talk about sex or anything else related to sexuality that it will encourage their children to be interested in and have sex earlier than they would have otherwise. A lot of research has found that when parents talk with their kids about sexuality, their kids make better decisions around sex and relationships.
- Visit Advocates for Youth - Parents’ Sex Ed Center for information and articles about sexual development and talking about sexuality with your kids.
- Watch these videos from Amaze Videos that use digital media to provide medically accurate, affirming, and honest sexual health information to children and parents.
- Check out Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US – For Parents for resources in English and Spanish about puberty, the media, and sexual orientation.
- Discuss and reinforce the benefits of delaying sexual activity.
- Promote birth control and STD prevention to help them reduce risk and protect their health if and when they become sexually active.
- Encourage your child to evaluate their relationships. Reinforce that healthy relationships are built on trust and equal power.
- Ensure that they know how to say “no.” Explain what mutual consent means and why it is important.
- Share where they can access sexual and reproductive health care services in your community.
- “You can always come talk with me if you feel you or anyone you know is in an unhealthy relationship. If you or they don’t feel you can come to me or another trusted adult, go online to "Break the Cycle.”
- “The only 100% effective way of avoiding an STD or avoid getting pregnant when you don’t want to be is by not having unprotected, vaginal, oral or anal sex. If you do have sex, using internal or external condoms can really help reduce your risk of getting an infection and using birth control can reduce your risk of getting pregnant.”
- “Technology and social media are fun, great ways of being able to communicate and share things with other people. It’s never okay, though, to forward private texts or photos to other people without someone’s permission. If you send partly or fully naked photos of yourself to someone – even a romantic partner – you may have broken the law. And you may have opened the other person to breaking the law because they have possession of those photos.”
- “You should never do anything sexual with another person you don’t want to do. It doesn’t matter if you’ve already done it before, even with that person. You should never force or pressure another person into doing something sexual they don’t want to do. If they are hesitant, assume they really don’t want to, and stop. And remember, you can only give consent if you and the other person are sober and not under the influence of drugs or alcohol”
- If you are watching a movie or TV show with open homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, or unhealthy behavior, point it out. Talk about why that’s wrong, comparing it to other prejudices that are also wrong to laugh at. If you get pushback from your teen, you can remind them of something they might have experienced themselves and remind them that just because something is a joke does not make it ok.
- Print the worksheet, “My Boundaries”. Ask your teen to complete one and complete one yourself, then compare your answers.
- Talk with your teen about what they’d consider to be abusive vs. healthy behaviors in a relationship. Ask them to complete the “Is It Abuse If…?” worksheet, and complete one yourself. Discuss your answers, especially the situations under which you might consider changing your answers.
- Go to the doctor or health center with your teen and ask them to have some one-on-one time with the healthcare provider. This will help your child prepare to visit the doctor on their own. You can also show them where to find a clinic on our clinic map and help them make an appointment to go on their own.
- Instead of asking your teen what they are doing or thinking about doing sexually, ask about others or whether they’ve heard of a particular behavior or trend. For example, “Who of your friends are in relationships now?” or “Are kids starting to have sex, or not yet?” “I heard something on the radio today about teens taking other people’s phones and texting porn videos to other people. Is that really happening?”
- You can keep or encourage your child to keep condoms on hand. Young people can find free condoms near them at our free condom map. Studies have shown that keeping condoms on hand does not encourage sexual activity but allows someone to be prepared if or when they decide to have sex
- Make sure you talk as much about what not to do to others as you do about what they should do if someone harasses or assaults them. Talk about not being just a bystander, but speaking out if something happens to someone else.
- Talk to your teens about digital safety including what to avoid posting online, the consequences of sexting, and cyber bullying.
- Give your teen “The Facts”, a downloadable and printable resource for young adolescents that can help you start a conversation about sexual health
- Check out and then share TeenSource with your teens. They can find a clinic near them, find free condoms, and sign up for The Hookup (a weekly health or relationship tip shared via text message).
- Visit the Power to Decide for tips in English and Spanish on how to talk with teens about preventing pregnancy.
- Visit Adolescent Health: Think, Act, Grow – for Families for tips and resources for parents on how to promote comprehensive health.