Here is an example that shows kids as young as 8 years old hear what we parents are saying:
My youngest Cindy is in a phase right now where she loves Michael Jackson’s music (who doesn’t, amiright?). She asked me recently, “Mom, when did Michael Jackson die?” I couldn’t remember but her next question was, “Mom, how did Michael Jackson die?” I told her what I remembered was that Michael Jackson died due to drug interactions, that he was taking prescription medicine from his doctor but some of the medicines didn’t work well together and that killed him.
Fast forward to a couple days later. I went to the doctor and was given a couple bottles of vitamin supplements. That afternoon I picked up my daughters from school. As we drove in the car, we talked about our day, each of us describing a rose (something good) and a thorn (something not so good) that happened during the day. When it was my turn I told them about my appointment and the supplements (my “rose” for the day). Cindy’s first question to me was, “Mom, do those medicines work together?” My jaw nearly hit the floor…she was listening.
Later in the week we had some friends over and we were watching “The Mindy Project.” In season 1, episode 3 (“In The Club”) there was some discussion about “roofies.” Kelly asked, “What are ‘roofies’?” My friend Marcia sat at rapt attention waiting for an answer — obviously she wanted to know as well. My friend Jean pretended there wasn’t a question. I paused the show we were watching on Hulu Plus and gave a brief description of what roofies were, keeping the information basic and at the 5th grade level.
There is nothing wrong with taking the opportunity to have a discussion in the moment. Children are most definitely listening, and when they ask is when they’re ready to know. You must be very mindful of the messages and information behind what you’re saying… and not saying. If you give misinformation, just know that eventually your children will find out the truth. My own approach is to give a very broad non-detailed yet accurate response. Then I let my children ask the questions for more detail… if they want it. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.
This example was not sex-based per se (which is what I normally write about), but it absolutely has everything to do with talking to our children openly and honestly. I have no doubt that the messages my children received in that honesty was love and compassion from me.
Would it have been better to not share how Michael Jackson died? I don’t think so. I think we need to answer our kids when they ask. There are little lessons every day for us to share with our children. Whether it’s about sex and sexuality — or health and safety. Kids most definitely are listening. I think it was incredibly important for my children to know the truth. The same thing applies with sex.