Birds, Bees & Storks - The Stories on Procreation that We Teach our Children

….The greatest story ever told!

I am a mother to a curious 9 year old girl. I am also a Montessori educator to curious and very eager-to-learn children. My journey so far has had me reeling under the plethora of questions my daughter directs towards me on a regular basis. I have also had an opportunity to meet many parents from varied backgrounds at my school. And like myself, not too long ago, I have come to realise that there are many parents out there who grapple with sensitive topics such as procreation, periods, sex education and many such.

The burning question,“Mamma, Where did I come from? How was I made?”…from a young curious child is almost always heard by us as “Mamma, may I have permission to have intercourse?” Our deep sub conscious has heard that our innocent child has now asked the big sexual question and is desirous of knowing about sexual displays, suspicious rivalries, romantic courtships, devious tactics and what not!!!! Funny as it may sound….It’s utterly true.

I have experienced these deep seated concerns from parents who are worried about their child thinking about sex just like the way he or she would have thought about nursery rhymes or other kind of work, that they get introduced to at home or school. “Wont my child want to try this out if I give information on reproduction???”, said an exasperated parent once.

We as parents wince and squirm at anything to do with reproduction / intercourse, when it comes to our children. We simply abhor the idea of talking about anything remotely associated with mating. Probably because we belong to a society where we can have sex but we cannot talk about matters related to sex. Such a paradox isn’t it? For a country like ours….We copulate and populate but are shy and awkward when it comes time to educate. We deal with notions that are conditioned into our psyche brick by brick, layered and cemented over time by the society we live in. The result, is a difficult yet common conundrum, that in certainty, results in muddled communication for the child. We probably misunderstand the issue at hand and end up meandering in the peripheries of the topic by using surrogates like bees and storks and of course not to forget gods hand and the will of the universe in the creation of babies. We therefore have successfully passed on our awkwardness and apprehensions to the child without addressing the real issue.

It’s a popular notion that the early years of the child are seemingly useless for the transmission of knowledge on the ways of the world, its complex culture, the human body , etc. But these apparently useless years are really the most fundamental. It’s during this period that the most astounding thing that occurs, and that is the creation of the human psyche and the development of human behaviour in a child. The child is in the phase of self construction and needs to know facts concerning himself that are seeped in reality. Procreation, copulation are organic and fundamental concepts. It is the story of the creation of a human being. This story needs to be told without awkwardness in the most scientific, open, clear and factual way possible.

So lets take a moment and ask ourselves…What is my child really asking me? A 4 year old child wants to know where she came from. A 9 year old wants to know how babies are made. A 12 year old wants to know more about sex and understand its various layers and complexities. Before we conjure up a reply, we need to know that our replies to the child in these distinctively different phases of growth, cannot be the same. The key thought here would be that of “appropriateness”. It is imperative that we reply appropriately to the child, keeping the growth phase in mind.

For the 4 year old who wants to know where she came from — it’s an existential question. This child’s question must not be confused with sexual reproduction / mating , etc. This child wants to know how she came into being and our reply to her can be limited to birth story. The story of how she was formed from an egg. Her stay in the mothers womb for 9 months breathing and living and then coming out into the world. An 8 year old on the other hand is in a different phase of childhood with more experience of the environment around her. She too needs factual answers but not to be confused with the “Sex Talk”. This child can be spoken to very scientifically about the whole process of mating and yes we need to name all the body parts that are put to work in the process of human mating. Please know that we cannot work out the process of mating and reproduction without naming all the concerned body parts. Lets not even think about it is what I would say.

For a 12 year old who has stepped into the adolescent phase, he is in the process of being his own person, rooted in the reality of his environment. This child has the capacity to understand the concepts of sex physically and emotionally. As parents, our sentiments of expression for this child could be that of being friendly. We could address all the various queries with honesty and clarity. We need to be empathetic to the needs of this child who is on the pathway to adulthood.

Our conversations, if done the correct way, will be a part of our nurturing process for our children. If we are late in reaching out to the child, later conversations might end up looking like “damage control,” as the child may have learnt most of his/her concepts through peers or older children which may not always be desirous. I will conclude by saying that as parents we must always remember that our child has a spontaneous urge to learn and we must meet these requirements with honesty. This enormous task can be rendered through an array of materials and techniques available at our disposal to help us render these sensitive topics factually and clearly to our children.