For this issue’s health column, we decided to ask a couple of local experts some pressing parent questions. Read on for advice on how to address kids who are opposed to going to summer camp and what to do if your kids ever walk in on you and your partner in the middle of sex!
Colleen Kraft, M.D., a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, answers our summer camp question with an informative list. Tracy Levine Wallace, MPH, a speaker, sex educator and middle school human development teacher, tackles the sex question.
As summer approaches, what should parents do if their child simply does not want to go to any kind of camp?
Kraft: Fun! Start with a discussion about what your child would like to do this summer. As they bring up activities that are new and fun, summer camp becomes a place where they can do these new, fun activities! Other tips:
Visit camps. Take the opportunity to visit a summer camp with your child. Learn together about what is available and focus on the experiences that your child would find appealing. Discuss the daily schedule, including when your child will eat and sleep, do their activities and have fun with new friends.
Keep in touch. One strategy for kids who tend to get homesick is to have a defined time of the day when kids can video chat or call their parents. This will be comforting for your child at first. Often, several days into camp, your child might be too busy having fun to feel the need to call!
Role play. Have a comfort item or activity (like drawing, coloring, listening to music) that your child can use as a “go-to” when they are feeling anxious. And know that camp has resources for kids who are feeling down and missing their families.
Build resilience. Know that encouraging your child to spend time at summer camp is building skills they need to grow and develop. Celebrate your child’s ability to look to the positives of this experience, and they will thrive.
What should parents do if their child walks in on them while they are having sex?
Levine Wallace: The best response in that moment is a brief one. If your family has established some healthy boundaries about privacy, you can definitely ask your child to step out of the room for a second because you need some privacy before getting out of bed.
All the while, work to stay calm and use the next few seconds to collect yourself. The tone and emotion you set when speaking to your child about sex in this situation or any other can help establish a sex-positive family vibe where one doesn’t need to feel ashamed, embarrassed or uncomfortable when discussing topics related to human sexuality. When speaking to your child, here are a few do’s and don’ts.
- Shame, get angry or punish your child .
- Act overly embarrassed, uncomfortable or guilty.
- Get too chatty and risk launching into an advanced clinical description of human reproduction to your toddler. Instead of rushing and risking saying the wrong thing, find time the next day to calmly circle back to the event and provide a simple, developmentally appropriate explanation.
- Assume that your child saw everything — or much of everything. A preschool-age child is probably not aware of what’s happening. Most 3- and 4-year-olds won’t have a clue what’s happening, even if they do see something. Thankfully, that means parents usually can let themselves off the hook with a simple “We were hugging, because we love each other.”
- Keep your explanation simple to avoid making sex seem like something shameful or wrong. You can say something like, “We were having sex, which is what two adults do when they care about each other, but we should have locked the door because we want our privacy when we do this, so we’re sorry the door wasn’t locked.” The apology coming from you will be valuable in minimizing your child’s sense of having done something “bad.”
- Establish healthy boundaries and respect for family members’ privacy. If you don’t have a lock on the bedroom door, this could be a good time to consider getting one. These healthy boundaries for privacy can evolve as your child ages to include respecting closed doors when someone is using the bathroom, changing, etc.
- When your child is a little older (it’s difficult to say what age exactly, because you know best the emotional age of your child), address the awkwardness with something like, “I know it must be weird for you to walk in on us, but someday you will appreciate that your parents really care about each other and want to share this kind of healthy connection with one another.”
- For your preteen or teen, this is a great teachable moment to have a dialogue about all things related to healthy, responsible, safe, consensual and pleasurable sexual experiences.
As uncomfortable as it may be for some parents (especially those raised in homes where talking about sex was taboo or shameful), research confirms that talking early and talking often with children in a developmentally appropriate and medically accurate manner about sex leads to better sexual health outcomes and improved family communication. By bringing a sense of joy, humor and normalcy to the subject of sex, you are helping to teach your child about healthy, positive human connections and a healthy sense of self.
What topics are keeping you up at night? Send your health and wellness questions to Elena at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Ask the Experts.”