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I know some people cringe at the thought of the conversations they need to have with their children as they grow up but I've actually found that having a very honest and open relationship with my children is the making of it. Unlike the 68% of parents (1) who find it hard to broach the subject of puberty I just dove right in and had a really successful chat with my near 10 year old twin girls a few months back.
I don't recall many conversations with my own Mum about growing up; how my body would change, getting periods, having the ability to do anything I put my mind to, choosing to say no, about becoming sexually active, about being responsible with money and all those sorts of things. This seems strange when I think back as I have a really great relationship with my Mum but thinking about it now I don't think she had anyone to do it with her and she wasn't the sort to read parenting manuals etc.
On the other hand, I love to read and to find out information and thankfully I like to talk as well, so I thought it would be useful to share six of my top tips for having those 'can-be' awkward #teentalks.
1. Talk to your child shoulder to shoulder rather than face to face
I learnt this trick with JJ when he was younger, he would always open up when we were driving in the car. So I used this to my advantage and had some of the more tricky conversations whilst we were driving along.
The first one I can recall was picking him up from Scouts about three years ago (so he'd have been around 11) and there was a bumper sticker on a car that said something about pornography and he was laughing at it. I then asked him if he knew what it was and he mumbled 'not really', so I told him, in language that was appropriate to his age and he was really shocked but this then led on to a conversation about how his body will change and his mind and that one day he will start to find girls attractive. It was all going well and about 15 minutes in he said 'Mum, can we talk about something else now?' and that leads me into my second point
2. Really listen to them when they want to talk
Children (in my experience) are not overly convenient about when they have something to talk to you about. It might appear that they are stalling for a later bedtime when they try to start the difficult conversation at 9 or 10pm but actually I've found this just might be the time they have plucked up the courage to talk. Of course you can't do it every night but it is a very precious gift to really listen to someone.
So stop what you are doing and show them you are listening and then when they are finished you can help them with whatever quandary it is that they have. My Miss E is suffering with anxiety at the moment and each night she tells me all her worries before she falls off to sleep and we pray them through and in doing that she feels released. That 10 or 15 minutes is super important to her right now.
3. Start the conversations early
Don't wait for your child to come to you or for them to be in the middle of puberty before you have any relevant conversations with them. You can start the preparation for these kind of #teentalks right from when they are small. Make sure you call the body parts their real names, for example, girls have a vagina not a noo noo or a ninny. By giving them their correct names you give your child power and authority over their own body.
When your toddler asks where a baby comes from, give them a brief but not graphic description and something I always found worked really well with tricky questions was to bat it back to them. JJ was the one that always questioned me loads and I'd say to him 'I can answer that honestly for you, do you feel ready to hear the answer?'. Very often he'd say no and disappear getting me out of the fix until he was a little older.
4. Just dive in, don't put off the 'big' conversations
I try to make life conversations pretty day to day. I realised a couple of months ago that my girls bodies were changing and despite them only being on the cusp of 10 years, they were both tall and would perhaps start their periods early. So when they came home from school one day I had a milkshake and a snack waiting along with a little pouch of sanitary products and we talked about how things will change.
I let them open the products and have a look and we talked about the pros and cons of both tampons and towels and I made sure that they knew that any time they have a question they can ask me. Since then I've had loads of random questions as they work it all through in their head and I also have a 'growing up' in the kitchen available for them to read if they want more information.
5. Make sure the kids know that no topic is off limits
JJ of course is a few years ahead of the girls in terms of age and development so we have different kinds of conversations. I remember the look on his face when I chatted to him about wet dreams and how a girl may feel when she has PMT. I know he thinks at times that I give him too much information but I'd rather he gets it from me and knows that no topic is off limits, however embarrassing.
It is important to me that if he gets in trouble (in whatever way) he knows he can come to me and be completely honest and there won't be judgement from me. My husband and I will just help him to work through and solve the situation in the best way. I truly believe that when someone makes a mistake you don't need to rub their nose in it, they will learn from it if you have given them the right tools to know right from wrong.
6. Reassure them that sex is natural and beautiful within a marriage
As a Christian I believe that a sexual relationship is something that happens after you are married. It is quite interesting for me to be passing this value to my children as I didn't become a Christian until I was 29 years of age and already living with my (now) husband. In an age appropriate way I am educating my kids about the scarring that you can be left with if you have sexual activity too young.
Personally I lost my virginity at 14 years of age and I can't remember if it was consensual as I had drunk far too much alcohol. If it protects my kids from making a mistake like I did then I am happy to be honest with them. I haven't shared this fact with any of them as yet as I haven't needed to, they aren't at that stage but as they get older I will if I think it is necessary. I have so much baggage left from this first sexual encounter and also from a strongly sexual relationship before my marriage that I would never want them to be in the same situation.
Help with your #Teentalk
There is loads of great advice and resources out there and wonderfully Boots have teamed up with P&G, who make products like Always, Tampax, Venus and Aussie, to launch the #TeenTalk campaign. There is a superb #TeenTalk booklet you can pick up for free in store when you make any purchase of Always, Tampax, Venus or Aussie. Also when you spend £8 on the aforementioned products you get a free #TeenTalk gift to help those first conversations with your daughter flow (up to 6th June 2017). It is definitely worth a trip into your local Boots to check out this great initiative.
I highly recommend the Boots #TeenTalk webpages and they aren't just for parents of girls though, there is a separate Puberty 101 for both boys and girls and also some top tips from expert Teenologist Sarah Newton, so what are you waiting for? Get reading and then get chatting, no matter how young your child you can always be building the stepping stones towards the big #teentalk.
I hope I've helped you to feel a bit more at ease about all those ongoing conversations you need to have with your child and especially the tricky #TeenTalk
Source: (1) #TeenTalk Survey conducted by One Poll on behalf of Boots and P&G, February 2016. All statistics quoted are representative of parents surveyed in Britain and Ireland.
Disclousre: I’m working in a paid relationship with Boots UK, P&G and BritMums on their #TeenTalk campaign, which aims to help parents be more confident in talking with their teens. Get additional advice and tips, and learn about special offers on trusted products on the Boots #TeenTalk site
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