Having ‘the talk’ with your kids can be awkward for them, but having them walk in on you in the middle of sex can be, well, very uncomfortable.
“I think a lot depends on what exactly the child sees, along with their age,” said Sara Dimerman, a Toronto-based registered psychologist and parenting expert.
If a child is three or four years old and sees some movement under the covers, Dimerman says they may not realize their parents are being intimate. When it comes to an older child or teen, however, things can get tricky.
“If the parents are fully exposed and their bodies are contorted in a way that is foreign for the child to see, and [he or] she is around the age of 11, then it may be upsetting, or even embarrassing,” Dimerman told Global News.
“Around the age of 16… [a child] might find it more ‘gross’ or disgusting because that’s not the image they want to have of their parents.”
If your kid likely knows what they saw, it’s important to talk to them.
How to talk to kids about seeing sex
Dimerman says parents should take cues from their child’s reaction, and respond accordingly.
If a child is too young to realize what they just saw, or is seemingly unaware of the situation, a parent could “just respond to the child’s need without making a big deal of it,” Dimerman said. But if a kid freaked out or ran away after seeing their parents in the act, it’s important to talk to them quickly.
“A parent might say something like, ‘I know it surprised you to see us naked on the bed together and being intimate,’” Dimerman said.
“Then, validate [their] feelings with: ‘It’s always awkward and uncomfortable to walk in on parents having sex, and that’s why our door was shut; because sex is something private. But we want you to know that you didn’t do anything wrong, and to save you from feeling this way next time, how about knocking first?”
The important thing is to not pretend the incident didn’t happen. Ignoring sex can stigmatize the act and confuse children, said Sara Moore, an assistant professor of sociology at Salem State University who specializes in sexuality and family life.
“Ignoring it may give the child an impression that sex is something to hide or be ashamed of,” Moore told Global News. “While it may seem easy to ‘save face’ by pretending it didn’t happen, parents then have little influence on how their child interprets what they saw.”
Be honest and open about sex
Moore says children will be less affected if they walk in on their parents having sex if they actually understand what sex is. A lack of understanding can be upsetting for them.
To help kids develop a healthy attitude towards intercourse, Moore says parents should talk to their kids about it at an early age. She says so many young people get misinformation from the media and pornography, which can harm perceptions of sex.
Planned Parenthood says that when adults talk to their kids about sex, it reduces the likelihood that they’ll engage in risky sexual behaviour. It also helps normalize sex, and create a healthy relationship with sexuality.
Moore says sex conversations should be age-appropriate. For a kid in elementary school, for example, teaching them proper names for body parts and topics of consent are important. Moore says when her daughter was five and started asking where babies came from, she and her husband had a conversation with her about reproduction.
“Having those conversations early and consistently will help children better understand what consensual sex is, and why people have sex to begin with,” Moore said. “Nobody wants to see their parents having sex, but it’s likely much more ‘traumatic’ for children when their experience is filtered through half-formed or ill-informed ideas about what sex is.”
The other thing all parents should remember? Lock the door if you’re going to get intimate.
“We live in a culture that suggests kids should have full access to their parents 100 per cent of the time,” Moore said.
“This isn’t healthy for parents or their kids, and parents should let their kids know they sometimes need private, child-free time together.”
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