Recently, my 8-year-old expressed an interest in learning about the differences between boys and girls.
Recently, my 8-year-old expressed an interest in learning about the differences between boys and girls. He didn't seek me out with soft-eyed expectation and a thoughtful, "Mom, I have a question," like I had always imagined. Rather, his little brother ratted him out as he was on the computer searching for "private parts," rather than researching red-tailed hawks like he was supposed to be doing. Fortunately, he didn't stumble into a porn site, thanks to the parental filter installed on our computer.
Both kids already knew where babies came from in a general sense, and the proper names of male and female equipment. The moment had clearly arrived, though, when they needed a more thorough explanation of the birds and bees. I thought I could turn the situation into the special mother-son moment I had rehearsed in my head, so I sat down with him, ready for an open dialogue about gender differences and sex. He, however, was not eager for conversation. About 30 seconds into it, he stopped me by asking, "Mom, don't you have a book or something?"
I go to the Ashland library for help with so many things, why not sex education? The library has a variety of books appropriate for ages 4 to young adult. Children's librarians Margie Cicerrella and Peri Hauschild-Owen were happy to suggest some books to help both parents and children comfortably talk about sex.
Cicerrella emphasized that books should be a part of the conversation about sex, not a substitute for conversation.
Though we looked primarily at the books for younger children, there were many books to answer older kids' questions as well.
Some choices for younger kids:
"Amazing You: Getting Smart About Your Private Parts," by Dr. Gail Saltz and illustrated by Lynne Cravath.
This picture book with bright, cartoon drawings introduces young kids to reproductive physiology in accessible terms, but avoids the topic of intercourse. Targeted to kids 6 and under.
"What's the Big Secret: Talking About Sex With Girls and Boys," by Laurie Krasny Brown, illustrated by Marc Brown. A more comprehensive treatment than "Amazing You," but not overly complicated for young kids. Presented in a comic style reminiscent of the Magic School Bus series, the book is a good starting point for kids up to age 9.
"It's Not the Stork: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Family, and Friends," by Robbie H. Harris. A nervous bee and an excited bird lead a friendly question-and-answer session in cartoon panels with text geared toward grades kindergarten through third.
For 'tweens and teens:
"Growing Up: It's a Girl Thing," by Mavis Jukes. This is a candid, easy-to-read handbook on puberty, first periods, bras and changing bodies.
"What's Happening to My Body Book for Boys," by Lynda Madras. Selected as one of the best books for young adults by the American Library Association, it's a well-organized and thorough guide to just about everything concerning the physical and emotional changes associated with puberty, as well as health and sexuality. It even offers a list of other books and online resources.
Hauschild-Owen offered an ice-breaking tip for parents who are uncomfortable initiating a discussion or who know their children may be uncomfortable with the topic: "Get the book, and just toss it in the kid's room," she said. "If you make the information available without pressure, the kid will take it."
Hauschild-Owen's tip was right on. Children are naturally curious, and once you get the conversation started, you can have open and honest discussions with them. My sons and I looked at a number of books the librarians recommended. Then we had the conversation we were supposed to have. It wasn't perfect (at one point, they both stared at me in horror), but it was a good start to what I hope will be more conversations in the future.
Angela Howe-Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.