The where-do-babies-come-from question strikes fear into the hearts of many parents, but experts say don’t worry. If your toddler asks how the new baby got in mommy’s tummy, “You absolutely don’t need to go there,” says Debra Laino, DHS, a therapist and sexuality educator in Wilmington DE. Toddlers don’t have the abstract thinking to comprehend sex, she says.
Miriam K. Horn, PhD., a psychologist practicing in Moorestown, NJ, advises parents to answer children’s questions simply and then wait for the next question. Don’t assume what the child wants to know. “They may be thinking of something different than the parent is,” says Dr. Horn. “Answer the question that’s being asked,” she says. “They will guide you to how much detail to give them.”
What to Say at Each Age
Toddlers (ages 2-3) — “They’re just curious and they’re probably not asking about sex,” says Dr. Laino. Tell them babies come from the hospital. Focus on the love that created the baby rather than the sex act.
Preschoolers (ages 3-4) — Tell 4-year-olds about an egg and a seed, says Dr. Horn, but don’t try to explain sex, which they can’t grasp. Preschoolers who have seen seeds grow into plants will often accept this explanation.
School Age (ages 5-7) — If your elementary-age child is very mature, you can explain sexual intercourse at this time, says Dr. Horn. Otherwise, wait a few years until your child asks for more information. Find a visual book at the library or a bookstore that show how a baby grows in the womb.
Older kids (age 8 & older) — “Absolutely give more information to an older child,” says Dr. Laino. You want to be your children’s resource for accurate information. They’ll go somewhere else for the facts of life if they don’t get them from you.
Experts suggest starting the conversation with a statement such as:
- “There are some things I think you should know…”
- “You’re getting older. I want to talk to you about sex…”
- “Let’s talk about when two people love each other and some of the things that adults do…”
Phoenixville, PA parents Eric and Tara already had a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old when they welcomed a new baby girl earlier this year. “They definitely asked questions about how you get the baby in the first place,” Tara reports.
They decided against explaining sex at this time, but instead explained how an egg grows within the mother and how the baby comes out. Tara reports that the kids understood and seemed satisfied with the answers they received.
In general, set a tone that allows your child to feel comfortable approaching you with questions in the future, says Dr. Laino. When you can, use proper terms to minimize confusion. For example, say “uterus” or “womb” to describe where the baby grows, not “tummy” or “belly.”
“Parents make it a lot more complicated than it needs to be,” says Dr. Laino. “Answer the question they are asking point blank, nothing more or less.”
Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids and mom of 2.