Ever since The Great Sex Rescue published I’ve had parents ask me–how do we make sure our kids don’t grow up with the same messages about sex?
It’s funny because The Whole Story–our sex & puberty course that moms can share with daughters or dads with sons (or single parents with opposite sex children–we have some help in there for these situations as well) has been selling really quickly, I think because parents are more and more aware that we need to do a better job.
Rebecca and I, two weeks ago on the podcast talked about better messaging for teens about sex, dating, and lust. But what about for younger children? How do we help them have healthy relationships with the opposite sex and grow up well?
I actually tackled this subject back in 2012, and when I looked back on what I wrote I cringed a bit. Well, I cringed a lot. I still recommended some resources (like Secret Keeper Girl), which are focused on negative modesty messages. So I guess I really have come far! (here’s the podcast we did trying to put the “don’t be a stumbling block” message away for good).
I thought today I could mention just a few quick things that I think are most important, and then I’m hoping we can have some good conversation in the comments about how to raise kids not to be awkward around the opposite sex, but also not to be obsessed with relationships or treat others in any kind of dehumanizing way.
So, here are the few quick thoughts I wrote back in 2012 that I think still stand the test of time (and I did write them when my kids were still teens at home):
1. Model Affection with Your Spouse
I have met many adults who grew up in more physically reserved homes, who learned as adults how to touch, and who reported loving friends’ homes where more touching took place. I have one friend who was not touchy at all, though her husband’s family was, and she’s had to learn to be more touchy for her husband and her kids–but she now enjoys it. In general, we like hugging.
I have yet to meet anyone who feels that their home was TOO physically demonstrative, and they were trying to learn to hug less.
So I say: you can’t go wrong by touching your kids a lot and by touching your spouse a lot. People do yearn for affection. And when your children see you and your husband kissing, and hugging, and even some rather passionate kisses, that’s just part of a healthy family. The kids need to know that you enjoy your husband. So gross them out every now and then! My girls have one friend who comes over quite a bit who jokes that she always is really loud before walking into our kitchen because she’s never sure if she’s going to turn the corner and find “Mr. and Mrs. Gregoire making out”. But she thinks it’s funny.
When your children see that you enjoy being with your husband, they learn that sex in marriage is healthy, is fun, and is awesome–not something to be ashamed about or scared of.
And they learn that all this talk about how marriage is boring is nothing but talk. They know the reality. On the other hand, if you yourself are a little uptight about sex, and so you don’t show your husband much affection, your children will pick up on that. They will absorb your hangups. So force yourself out of your comfort zone. Sex is a healthy part of marriage; believe that, show it, and your kids will believe it, too.
If you’re a single mom and you can’t do this, then talk to your kids about it anyway. And, if possible, make sure that they develop a close relationship with an aunt/uncle or with a family from church who is affectionate, so they have a chance to see this in action. I still remember loving going over to Mr. and Mrs. Timpson’s house when I was a young teen, because they always held hands. I thought that was sweet.
2. Be Affectionate with Your Kids
Going along with that first point, it’s important to touch your children and hug them, too. Obviously you don’t want to smother them, but children do yearn for touch.
If they don’t get it from you, they’re more likely to look for it in the opposite sex.
When my kids were little, we all spent a lot of time on the bed just cuddling and wrestling and rolling around. It’s funny, because as they’ve grown, my girls have not stopped doing that, though they’re 17 and 14. My youngest likes to “tuck” my oldest into bed, which usually involves squeezing her until she can’t breathe, and all kinds of other over the top wrestling things. They often end up laughing for a good half hour before bed–but it’s because they’re touching.
This can be trickier if you have boys, or if you have kids of the opposite sex, but wrestling, leaning against each other while you’re watching a movie, all of those things are perfectly healthy. And the more your husband can hug and touch the girls in a healthy way, the less likely they are to seek out affection from a dating relationship.
My husband had an adjustment to make when the kids hit puberty, and he found he couldn’t wrestle them or hug them in the same way. For a while he stopped hugging them, because it was awkward, but then he realized that was the exact wrong thing to do. Kids need physical affection.
3. Fill Your Home with Peers
They’ll get their affection from you and the modelling of appropriate marriage relationships from you, but you can’t give them everything. For other things they’ll need other people. And one of the most important things you can do is to give your kids healthy opportunities to make friendships of the opposite sex.
The easiest way to do this is to have people over for dinner with kids around the ages of your kids. One of the problems that parents sometimes get into is that they talk about dating in such a negative way, and talk about sex in such a negative way, that kids decide “boys are yucky” or “girls are scary” and they never want to have anything to do with them. That’s not healthy, either. What you want is for your kids to figure out healthy platonic relationships, which really are possible.
I mentioned in this post recently that our family has gone camping every summer and up to a hunting camp in the winter with a family for the last 12 years. They have boys almost the same age as our girls, and the two boys and two girls have grown up together.
That’s really healthy. They learn that boys are very different from them, but they also have almost a brother/sister relationship with these guys because they’ve been together since they were so small.
Don’t assume that just because your children are in school or at church that they’ll learn good relationships with the opposite sex.
First, kids tend to sex segregate and don’t always talk to the other gender. Also, schools and even some churches are not always the healthiest environments. When you have a smaller number of kids under your own roof, it’s easier for the kids to learn how to talk to each other, because they have to.
So just make your home an open place, where you have other kids over, and your children will learn to develop healthy relationships. An added bonus: your children see you interacting with other men, so they see the difference between how you act with their dad and how you act with Mr. Smith. And they see that it is possible to just have a nice friendship.
You're telling me WHAT goes WHERE?!
Talking about sex with your kids doesn't always go smoothly.
That's why we created The Whole Story, our online course that walks parents through the tough conversations and does the hard parts for you!
4. Talk to Your Kids
Finally, talk to your children about what you expect and what’s healthy. In fact, talk to your kids about just about anything at all. The more your talk to your kids, the more you keep lines of communication open so that they will come to you with questions.
The kids who grow up with either hangups about sex, and are too shy and never talk to the opposite sex, are often those who were not shown affection, didn’t witness affection, and had no natural outlets to make friends. On the other hand, those who grow up to be boy crazy or girl crazy are also often those who didn’t always talk about these things openly with their parents.
Now it’s your turn: Do you have trouble being affectionate with your spouse in front of your kids? Are you a touchy person–or not? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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