Things a four-year-old doesn’t need to know

            First off, thank you to everyone who commented on yesterday’s post.  The comments are truly fantastic  If you haven’t given your input, please do.  And if you haven’t read the comments, they are worth it.  If you feel inspired to write a post about how you are taking advantage of the ecological opportunities presented by your locale, please link to me and send me the link so I can collect them.

            Second, I find it fascinating that another post I thought would just be an amusing little anecdote actually garnered a lot of interest and some controversy.  Some people seemed really hot and bothered that I did not tell my four-year-old the entire truth about how babies are made.

            I maintain that I did tell him the truth, and as much truth as he needs at his age.  It is a special hug between two people who love each other.  Of course, there is more to it than that.

            Perhaps I should have told him that, in his case, it involved a doctor, several nurses, inter-uterine insemination, self-administered shots in the thigh, and a very long needle filled with HCG.  Or is that too much information?  Should I go as far as to include the postcoital test after which my reproductive endocrinologist called my husband a “stud”?

            Or, maybe he needs to know that we didn’t plan on this latest baby.  Shall I go into detail about the shock of seeing that extra pink line on the pee stick?

            Maybe, while I am at it, I should mention that often the special hug is not between people who love each other.  Maybe I should explain that sometimes it is between people who barely know each other.  Should I tell him about sexual violence, too, in the name of complete disclosure?

            Or, perhaps I should be happy that I was able to provide him with a truthful answer that didn’t go too far.  Perhaps this morning when we discussed baby ducks coming from eggs, baby people coming from mommies’ bellies, and baby peanuts coming from the roots of plants, I covered all the ground he needs at four.

            He will have his lifetime to know explicit detail.  He will have decades to know about the ways people can love each other, hurt each other, and destroy each other.  Right now, he is four.  And it is perfectly OK to tell a four-year-old that there are some things he will learn when he is older. 

            I did not tell him the stork brings babies.  I did not tell him God puts the baby there because I do not believe in God, although I think that if you do, that is a perfectly truthful answer.  I did not tell him that babies grow on trees.  I told him the truth in words he could understand, without getting into explaining the temperature charts and cervical fluid checks one can do to determine ovulation.

            Hell, I didn’t know about that shit until I was thirty.  Let’s give him until grade school before we start in on Taking Charge of Your Fertility.

23 responses to “Things a four-year-old doesn’t need to know

  1. I completely agree! Our kids get exposed to way to much sexual imagery and language at an early age anyway. (Have you seen little girls’ clothes lately?) I’m all for protecting them from too much information at an early age while still being honest. That way, they will hopefully address these issues to me as they get older, and they can get honest answers, rather than getting their answers from the media or their friends. As long as the conversation lines are kept open on the subject and they get little bits at a time as they are ready from us, I think what you and I are or are not saying right now is just right.

  2. Yikes! That’s a “too” in the first sentence…

  3. I love the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility!

    My neighbor told her kids EVERYTHING when they were 4 years old. I mean everything. The kids even know when they have sex (don’t ask) and all that.

    I’m all about my kids knowing the proper terms (vagina and penis) but I really don’t know why they need to know the details of sex. Like you said he’s 4.

    Though when number #2 child was complaining that it was my fault he got a younger brother I blamed it on his dad and explained his chromosone decided what I got. Of course I had to explain DNA and XY after that. It was actually a fun coversation.

  4. Wowza. I better go check the comments from that post. I didn’t realize you got that much reaction. I have to agree…you tell them what they need to know at their age. My daughter started asking at 4ish. I told her what I thought her little brain could process. Now she is 6 1/2. And she knows more than she did at 4. She does not know that her mom and dad did that more than 2x or that it’s done recreationally etc. She knows what she needs to and what she can process at this age. You are doing the right thing, if my opinion matters at all anyhow.

  5. What a great post Emily!! You are so right. I’ve raised one already, she’s 19, and I think a lot of the people who rush to “be honest” or whatever they think they are doing, will regret they didn’t let their kids be little kids for a little longer. They have to deal with so much so fast now, why not let them be innocent for as long as possible?
    It’s a valid part of childhood.

    People overthink parenthood now. Like my SIL who is terrified of letting her son watch Baby Einstein because of some crazy shit she read.

    Parents need to get over themselves. There will be plenty of real and big things to worry about as the child gets older. Trust me on that.

  6. I wish we could all trust each other a little more to know what works in our families, our lives, without assuming that just because we believe something is true for us, that makes it true for everyone. (And yes, that finger is pointing right at me, too).

    I have never been modest about my period. My daughters watch me change tampons and know that it’s something that happens once a month and the vague mechanics of it. But my oldest daughter is 8 and is contending with a lot of other fears and anxieties and I know in my heart that she is not ready to hear the specifics of sex ed.

    When she’s ready, I’ll talk to her honestly and clearly, but no one else gets to tell me when that moment is.

  7. I’ve gotta go see that other post. I’m neither here nor there about what you tell your 4 year old about babies. Ben was 5 when we had Alex, and he’s literal as, well, anything, so it was a no-brainer.

    We didn’t talk about HOW the sperm got into the vagina, tho. That was left unsaid.

  8. It’s really hard for me to understand why anyone would take issue with how a parent chooses to explain what they used to call “the facts of life” to a child. It seems like one of those quintessential judgment calls that a parent has to make based on his/her own beliefs and knowledge of his/her own child.

    My mother gave me an extremely detailed explanation very early on, but, obviously, that choice doesn’t work for every family.

    And I certainly don’t think that, in the long run, I was any better or worse off because my mother explained sex when I was three, rather than when I was eight or ten or twelve or because she (probably because she was in medical school at the time) gave me a fairly clinical explanation rather than a more emotional or spiritual one.

  9. I completely agree with you. Some people think not telling kids adult things is lying….I think it’s protecting their innocence. You told him in a way that he can understand and when he needs more, he’ll let you know.

    My mom was handed a pamphlet from the tampon box at twelve and my grandma said, tell me when you need this. No other explanation was ever given. My mom wanted us to be aware and showed us pictures of how exactly babies were born and told us exactly how we were created, in scientific details. Which I didn’t want to know, but my brothers did. I’m kinda in between with my kids. I’ll answer their questions, but in words and descriptions that they can understand and I’ll tell more when they are ready. None of these ways are right or wrong, they just are. None of it is scarring for life.

    And really people shouldn’t judge on this one. To each his own, you know?

  10. I think your explanation is perfectly age appropriate and just right for your child.

  11. Bravo!

    Amusingly, I first encountered “Taking Charge of your Fertility” when I was 21 and in a college Theology class… :)

  12. Why would he need to know more? God, I don’t even want to think about what people do in the bedroom. If he needed more info, he would have kept asking. There is no need to get into graphic detail with a 4-year old, just as there is no need to outright lie and say the stork brought the baby!

  13. Amen. Not sure why anyone would think you should say more.

  14. It sounds like you gave him a perfectly age appropriate explanation. I’m also sure that if he would have had more questions you would have answered them as well. I have to say I’m a little suprised that anyone could find fault with what you said.

  15. hmmm… i am a bit stunned that people were upset. your answer was very age appropriate

  16. My son could barely conceive of the fact there were women in the world who weren’t mothers when he was four. So I certainly wouldn’t have embarked on big explanations. In fact, when he had to do reproduction in school at 11 he passed out and had to be excused all subsequent sessions. I know we are a wimpish, squeamish lot over here, but still, these things are best explained only when the child is really ready for them. And I must go and have a look at the comments – I’m so intrigued to hear what people were saying in protest!

  17. One day when my daughters were about 4 and 6 or so, the older one asked what the tampons were for. I took a deep breath and bumbled my way into an over-explanation. They listened with rapt attention for about 15 seconds until the younger one had had enough and dismissed me with, “Mom, you take care of your own problems.”

  18. ah E. you are doing just fine. perfectly fine.

  19. I love the “special hug” answer, I think it’s great! I’m going to try to remember it, actually. I think the main thing is to continue to have/be open to these conversations, because of course there will be a time when a more detailed explanation is necessary and appropriate. My mom once told me that one of her sisters was in high school and completely believed that a girl got pregnant if she was in the back seat of a car with a boy and he blew in her ear (something she heard at school, not at home) because “that sort of thing” wasn’t discussed in their house. Scary! That is my model for “what not to do”. Communication is key! :)

  20. Oh, for pete’s sake. I completely agree with you. Part of our job as parents is to protect our children’s innocence in whatever ways we can. He’s FOUR. You didn’t lie to him, you didn’t even tell him not to talk about it. You were honest and aware of what he needed to know for his age. What else could he possibly need to know at 4?

    I told my niece when she was nine (I was the designated woman in the family to have ‘the talk.’ Lucky me). Her response – GROSS. And that’s what it should be. She has plenty of time to learn otherwise.

  21. As a professional early childhood educator, let me throght my two cents into the pot. E – you did EVERYTHING right. You took your cues from Zach’s questions, you answered him in an age appropriate manner, you didn’t get to technical (though don’t be surprised if the next set of questions comes as you get closer to the baby’s birth), and you dropped it when he moved on. Perfect!!!

    He has his entire elementary school playground years to learn more and to spark more questions. I never understand why parents are in such a rush to “educate” their little ones. One of the key things here is that Zach knows that he can come to you at anytime and you will answer his questions in a way he will be satisfied and understand.

    You go girl -

  22. Oh yeah. Mine knows that she came out of my belly (she’s seen the scar) instead of out of my bottom. And one day, because the book was in my hand, she saw a picture of the five embryos – one of which became her. But it’s gone no further. I wonder what and if and when to tell her about the IVF business…I’ll figure it out when the time comes…