If you’re like a lot of dads I’ve walked alongside on their fathering journey, you may be tapping into fear and dread as you think about having “the sex talk” with your kid. Maybe you’re avoiding the subject altogether or choosing to sidestep a potentially unpleasant reaction.
But if you don’t talk about sex with your kid, then every other voice will have an impact and influence. You have to weigh in. And you don’t have to have the perfect conversation…but you do need to have some conversation. Here are 10 do’s and don’ts for talking to your child about sex.
I work with and write for dads of daughters, so I know the research confirms that girls delay engaging in sexual activity as a result of feeling connected to their dads, it’s imperative that you open up this conversation with your daughter because your opinion matters, even if she’s not fully aware that it does. Let her know you’re willing to dive into the deep end, even if it’s challenging. But understand, the following suggestions work for dads of daughters and sons.
Here are 10 do’s and don’ts for talking to your child about sex:
#1 Don’t talk more than you listen.
Set your goal here at the start to listen at least twice as much as you talk—a.k.a. two ears, one mouth. The best way to do that is to ask great questions that allow your child to express himself. I highly recommend that you use the template I provide [see below] to help you phrase your questions in ways that allow him to reveal more of what he’s carrying inside. As opposed to hearing a lecture from you.
#2 Do take a breath, say a prayer, and muster your courage.
I’m guessing you did these three things before every game you played in sports. Think back to how many times you felt overwhelmed, yet you stepped forward despite your fears. Use that same mindset here by first grounding yourself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, then step forward despite your fear. That, my friend, is the definition of courage.
#3 Don’t assume you’ll agree on everything.
This is a complex and complicated topic, which requires that you lead by example so the atmosphere is open, honoring, and non-hostile as each of you interact.
#4 Do choose to talk about it, whether or not it’s awkward.
It’s okay if this is an uncomfortable topic and both of you squirm. The important thing is that your son or daughter will hear your heart.
#5 Don’t defer and presume that someone else will cover this topic.
Too often dads tell me they hope someone else will address sex with their kids because it seems like they’re all more qualified. Not true (as noted in the research above). Make a choice today not to defer to mom or some other mentor. You’re the dad. This one is on you.
#6 Do come with a goal to open this conversation, not win it.
Like my friend Steve Pringle always asks himself in relating to his child: Is my goal to win the argument or win the heart? He always chooses the latter. This helps him calibrate his expectations while making sure he’s communicated those goals to his mouth!
#7 Don’t stop midway through…no matter how hard it is and how your kid responds.
If things get heated or feel strange, talk about something else for a few minutes. Sometimes it helps to change your environment by going for a walk and talking shoulder-to-shoulder rather than face-to-face. Go for a walk and talk shoulder-to-shoulder rather than face-to-face. Then pick up the conversation where you left off as you move forward.
#8 Do practice what you preach.
Think of this as an opportunity to show your child what a good man looks like in action by the way you interact. It’s easy to say you want her to be with a guy who listens to her and honors her. There’s no better way to teach her how to use her voice with the opposite sex than to practice with you. Even more, if she can speak confidently with you about a hard subject like this, she’ll carry that confidence into the world.
#9 Don’t preach what you don’t practice.
This might be hard to hear, but I have a question for you: What age were you when you first had sex? Were you a guy who waited or were you a player? If you want your son to wait to have sex until he gets married, you may want to give him some context for what you’re advising. Tell him what you learned the hard way (in an age-appropriate way, of course) or what you wish you would have known then that you know now.
#10 Do lead with vulnerability.
This goes hand in hand with the last one. So often dads expect things of their kids that have a historical base in their own story. Perhaps you’re recalling poor choices you’ve made or regrets you have. And yes, you are speaking with wisdom now, but without more context, your kid may say you’re out of touch with current reality. Tell more of your backstory.
I encourage you to practice these ten skills. They will set the foundation for your upcoming conversations with your child to know he or she is safe and can be open to talk with you about anything.
Find the template to guide you through this conversation with your daughter. Trust me, it’ll work for you son too!
Portions of this post originally appeared at Dr. Michelle Watson Canfield’s Blog.