What to do when your child casually mentions a shocker

Photo by Andre Guerra on Unsplash

Recently I was talking to my friend and colleague, Anya Manes, about sexuality zingers kids drop in a parents’ lap.

Anya is my go-to friend and colleague on the topic of “Talking to Kids About Sex” and I asked if she would share her 5-step method for having uncomfortable conversations in a way that is open and productive.

The remainder of this article is written by Anya of talkingaboutsex.com — read on!


Has your child ever casually mentioned something shocking that makes you wonder, “how should I respond to this?!”

As a parent you have heard something come out of your child’s mouth that makes you squirm….

You’re listening to the radio and your child asks about a word they don’t understand. To my dad’s great discomfort I remember asking him about “humping” – after hearing a radio story about whales.

Or it might be slang they don’t understand, like a swear word or 69.

Or it might be a casual statement, like “All the kids were smoking pot” or “Everybody watches porn” or “We were having a penis party.” A WHAT?!?

In those moments when your heart stops, you know your kid has just handed you an opening, but do you want to take it? And if you feel you have to respond, holy moly, how do you respond well?

The first step is always to get over yourself. Take a deep breath. Slow down. Find your center. This is an opportunity. Check in with yourself to see if you’re ready for this conversation.

If not, have a script ready to go. It could be: “That’s a great question. Hmm…I don’t know what I want to say about that right now. Let me think about it and we can discuss it tonight.”

Or maybe, “Wow. I’d love to hear more about that. We need to do XYZ right now, but can we come back to that tonight?”

And then, really do continue the conversation when you said you would.

Whether you’re continuing after a delay or you’re diving right in, the next step is to be clear about the purpose of this conversation.

Your goal is to make this conversation a good experience for your child. The goal is not to turn it into a teachable moment. Not to get them to understand your views on the matter. No, your goal is to have a comfortable conversation.

Why do the tough topics need to be open, accepting, and light conversations? Because, if it doesn’t go well, you can bet your child won’t attempt to bring up a touchy subject ever again.

Would that be a relief for you? Certainly! Well, kind of. Well, actually, the more you think about it, no.

Because if they’re not asking you, who will they ask? Their peers? The internet? The sexual predator who is winning their trust by positioning himself as the only one they can talk to? Ugh.

Wayyyy better to be your child’s first source of information and to deepen your bond. Way better to know that they’re getting the right information.

Do we really have to do this? Cuz, “gosh, no one talked with me and I turned out fine…”

Yes, please, please, be brave and step into the conversation your child has initiated. Children’s worlds include social media, online porn, and sexting, plus all the old challenges of sexual abuse, #metoo, peer pressure, drugs and alcohol.

If we want results like The Netherlands (low teen pregnancy, low sexual assault, low teen suicide, etc), we’re going to have to do this to pave the way.

But I grew up here, not in the Netherlands!

Yep. Me too! It’s the challenge of our generation to shift this culture, and it starts at home. The good news is, if we can create this openness for our kids, they will have a model to parent from. It’s not just for your kids. It’s for your grand kids and your great grand kids and all the generations that follow.

But I digress…

Back to that zinger. You’re committed to making the conversation a good one, if not in terms of content, then at least in terms of relationship. Because, even if you don’t get to say exactly how appalled you are by Penis Parties right now, if this conversation goes well, there will be another. You’ll be able to circle back and have another conversation and take the next baby step towards your child understanding exactly what you think of Penis Parties.

Let the conversation follow this arc:

  1. Give your warm attention. Compliment your child for coming to you.
  2. Dig for context. Where did you hear that? Why do you think that? Listen more than you talk. This will help you gauge their level, so you’re not patronizing or talking over their heads.\
  3. Give your response in 2 sentences. It helps a ton if you already know what you think on the topic. That’s your homework. Getting clear on your own values will make it much easier to navigate these conversations.
  4. Check in to see if they want more. Did I answer your question? Is there anything else you wanted to know?
  5. Thank them. Yes, really! Thank them for coming to you, for telling you, for having this conversation.

This is a skill. It might not feel natural at first, but the more you practice, the easier it gets.

This skill is one of several we practice in the Attuned group coaching program. The goal is to create a foundation of open conversations so that you really will be having everyday conversations about deep topics. We’ll help you blaze this trail, getting prepared for these conversations, skill building healthy boundaries, normalizing conversations about sexuality and other tricky topics.

Interested? Click here to learn more. We’re starting this month, and there’s room for a few more.

I hope this has been helpful, and if a zinger really blows your gasket, don’t hesitate to reach out! You can email me anytime at anya@talkingaboutsex.com.

In support of you,

Anya Manes
Samantha Moe, Mad2Glad

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