How Much Do I Tell My 1st Grader About Sex?

Dear Mamas,

My 6 year-old came home from a play date where she watched an episode of Jon & Kate Plus 8 with her friend, who is 7. I’ve never seen the show, but she explained to me (in her adorable, precocious way) that this family has ‘too many kids … two girls who are big, and six littler ones.’ Then she went on to ask ‘how did all those kids get into their mom’s tummy?’

Aside from being furious that her friend’s mother allowed them to watch that particular show, I’m at a loss as to how to explain fertility technology to a 6 year old! We’ve never had “the talk”, but my husband and I believe in answering her questions honestly when asked. How much can she understand at this age, and how much information does she need? I managed to distract her and change the subject, but I don’t think I can duck this one much longer.

Molly is Mystified

Dear Molly’s Mom,

What a great question for all 21st century parents to ponder! The first thing to consider is your daughter’s level of knowledge and comfort with the basics. You say you haven’t had a big talk about sexuality, but does she know the facts about where babies come from? Has she learned the correct anatomical names for private body parts? What have you shared about intimacy and loving relationships?

The best and easiest time to start the discussion is at the beginning. Like when you’re teaching your toddler the names of her knees, ankles and toes, she learns the name for her vagina too. When it’s diaper-changing time in the playgroup, why not point out that little Josh doesn’t have a vagina, he has a penis. You get where I’m going here — conversations about sex can be just as matter-of-fact as any other teaching you do with your child. I like to say “the earlier the better, but it’s never too late”.

So you may have a bit of catch-up to do before you approach the facts about Jon & Kate and infertility treatments. Having said that, there are a couple of ways to approach the question. How about something like … ‘There are different ways babies get born. Every family is different, and every birth story is, too. Sometimes mommies and daddies want to have a baby really badly, just like Daddy and I did when we had you. But they try and try and it doesn’t work, so they ask the doctor for extra help … and then it works TOO well. Kind of like that time when you asked all your friends at school if they’d share their cookies with you and you ended up with 6 cookies! One cookie really would have been plenty …’

The idea is to give them the facts in a way they can relate to and understand. Tailor it to what works best in your family. And make it a habit, because there will be lots more tough topics coming at you in the future. There’s the ‘bully talk’, the ‘drugs and alcohol talk’, the ‘mean girls talk’, and on and on.

For a straight-talking, information packed website check out They can help with suggestions for books and other resources to make these teachable moments more comfortable.

Good luck with the ‘How will Jon & Kate’s shared custody arrangement work?’ talk.

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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