“It’s never too early or too late to talk to kids about sex,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Samantha Miller. And don’t wait for one “talk”—think instead of having a conversation “throughout the course of their development.” If you wait for the big moment, she continues, you’re “losing the opportunity to socialize your child according to your values.” And the media and your child’s peers won’t be so hesitant.

Whether you’re talking to a child or a teen, Dr. Miller stresses that “you have to do it in an age and developmentally appropriate way,” and always answer questions, even if you have to tell your kid that you’ll get back to them. “That’s your golden parenting moment,” says Dr. Miller. “And don’t give it up—because they’re going to get the information from somewhere.”

If you can’t be calm and cool when talking about sex with your child, at least be genuine. Kids can see right through any attempt to cover your unease; they are, Dr. Miller concedes, the “best behaviorists ever.” But don’t let any apparent sophistication on the part of your child confuse you—don’t answer questions that haven’t been asked, and don’t talk about sex like an adult until your child can understand it like an adult. The goal is to help him learn at his own pace, and not get in the way.

It’s really not as hard as you might think. There’s no need for a “formal seminar on birds and bees,” says Dr. Miller. You already teach your kids “how to take care of their bodies” and “to respect other people’s bodies,” and “that conversation is so easily tied into a conversation about sexuality,” she continues. Parents are “actually having that conversation without knowing it.”

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