guest blog by Brinn Langdale, LMFT
Talking to your child about sex can be uncomfortable, although it’s scarier to think about them not being physically safe with siblings. It is estimated that one in twenty children are sexually abused by a brother or sister—although it's not a topic a lot of people are talking about.
Sometimes, a parent’s interior monologue can interfere with teaching their children how to stay safe. If you’re someone who thinks, “I’m scared to talk to my child about sex because I don’t want to say the wrong thing and alarm them,” you might actually be listening to the voice of your Inner Child. Or, if you worry that talking about sex will pique your child’s interest in sex, that could be the Inner Child as well.
Let me explain: We all have an Inner Child. It’s the part of ourselves who lives life based on past experiences. Motivated largely by fear, our Inner Child is often locked in survival mode, preparing for worst case scenarios in order to avoid the discomfort of things going wrong.
Over half the women in the United States, and one third of the men have experienced sexual trauma—including myself—and this kind of personal history makes any conversation about sex and boundaries more difficult. Anything related to this topic can activate a fear response from our Inner Child, causing us to become emotionally charged and overwhelmed. That overwhelm can lead to avoidance of necessary conversations or overprotection of children that does not supply them with the knowledge they need to keep themselves safe.
On the other hand, it’s the Inner Critic who tells you that your child is too young for a conversation about sexual boundaries or that your children love each other and would never hurt each other. The Inner Critic might even suggest that home is a place where you never have to worry about your children’s safety.
The Inner Critic doesn’t always sound critical. It’s the voice that judges and measures how good enough, important, or meaningful something is. Like the Inner Child, it focuses on survival and protection. It might convince you that you’re not knowledgeable enough to talk to your kids about sexual boundaries, or that if you were a better parent you could keep your child safe from everything. It might minimize the need for a talk about sex, because, similar to the Inner Child, this part of ourselves avoids the uncomfortable.
The Inner Child and the Inner Critic exist for a good reason. They help us watch out for danger, push us to be better human beings, and ultimately want good things for us. However, they are not the right leaders for a conversation about sexual safety. That role is reserved for the logical, level-headed, informed, and educated part of ourselves: The Adult.
The Adult operates from reality. It’s aware that one in three families experience some sort of sexual abuse within the family and that siblings are the most common offender. The Adult is not in denial. It’s not overly emotional either.
The Adult pays attention to and enforces healthy boundaries. They listen to experts like Dr. Elizabeth Jeglic who say that the best way to protect a child against any sexual mistreatment is by talking about sex with children in an open and deliberate way, beginning at a young age.
The Adult understands that when sex is discussed with children early, often, and with anatomically correct terms, sexual experiences tend to happen later in life and with less negative impact.
So in order to have open conversations with your children in an easeful way, become aware of your Inner Child and Inner Critic. Spend some time journaling or talking with a trusted friend to figure out why these selves have adopted the perspective they have, and what they are trying to protect you from. Then, take a few deep breaths and assure yourself that you can handle whatever comes next, and that you’re doing the right thing. These steps allow the Adult to lead the conversation when educating children about sex and boundaries so they are prepared and safe.
Brinn Langdale, LMFT is a therapist, speaker, writer, podcast host and SSA survivor and thriver. Visit brinnlangdale.com for more insights and to access free guides about your Inner Child, Inner Critic, and Adult.
Jeglic, E. L. (2022) Talking to Your Kids About Sex. Psychology Today.