Kids’ brains don’t yet work like adult brains. Although kids may use words that quickly make us jump to grown-up content, their questions are really very innocent. So when your inquisitive 4-year-old asks where babies come from, she’s actually not asking about sex at all.
In fact, kids typically ask a predictable sequence of questions between ages 4 and 8.
Because it coincides with their brain development and how they’re making sense of the world around them. It’s important to approach this question from a child development perspective, and I love Yardsticks by Chip Wood as an easy to understand resource for this purpose.
In truth, it’s not what your child is asking, it may just be what they’re NOT asking. This question is not about sex. They’re just asking a very simple, age appropriate question. You’ll soon find out why.
Four-year-olds ask, “Where do babies come from?”
Four-year-olds are just beginning to make sense of time, place and location.1 Your four-year-old is probably already asking lots of questions like, “Where are we going camping?” (In the Rocky Mountains.) “Where is that?” (It’s to the west, way over there.) “Are we going tomorrow?” (No, we’re going in 3 weeks.) “Is that really soon?”
So it’s natural for a four-year-old to ask a question like, “Where do babies come from?” or “Was I inside your tummy too?” They know sometimes they go to Grandma’s house. They remember that the park is by the grocery store. They know they go home after going to preschool. And they know pizza is eaten on Friday nights.
Doesn’t it make a lot of sense for your son to wonder also where HE was before he was here? It’s all about time, place and location.
Eye opening isn’t it? So how do you explain where babies come from?
Simple questions need simple answers. “You were growing inside my uterus before you came to our home. A uterus is inside a mom’s body.”
Wasn’t that easy? It’s just like any other question you answer about time, place or location.
Your child may be perfectly content with that answer and may not even continue the conversation. If he asks more questions about it, just continue to answer with a simple sentence or two until he’s satisfied.
Six-year-olds ask, “How’d the baby get out?”
At 5 and 6 years old, kids become really interested in cause and effect.1
For example, your daughter might comment that the earth “twirls” around. When it’s facing the sun, it’s day. When it’s facing away from the sun, it’s night.
Or, your son might discover that if he piles up all the blocks just right, his car will be able to speed down it and sail halfway across the room. It’s simple cause and effect.
These kids already know babies grow inside mom’s tummies. Most likely they’ve brought up this exciting information several times over the past year or so.
So the next predictable question is, “How does a baby come OUT?”
In and out. They go hand in hand. This question is totally in line with 6-year-olds’ curiosity over cause and effect. The baby doesn’t stay inside the mom’s body forever. So how does it come out?
It’s another simple question that needs just a simple answer. “There’s a special tunnel that connects the mom’s uterus to the outside of her body. It’s called the vagina. When a baby is done growing inside the mom’s uterus, the baby comes out through the vagina.”
Since you’re already teaching your kids the correct names for anatomy, these words aren’t new or embarrassing. You’ve already taught them that we talk about our bodies in a respectful way because that’s one way to treat them well.
Some parents may feel hesitant to use the word vagina when talking to their sons. I can understand the hesitation, but don’t you think it’s important for every child to grow up respectfully learning about the opposite gender? And who better to learn from than from you?
Still unsure about this one? No problem. You can think about it more by reading 4 reasons why kids should know the real names of private parts. You may find something important you hadn’t considered before.
Eight-year-olds ask, “How do babies grow?”
By 7 to 8 years old, kids are really interested in HOW things work. They like putting things together and taking them apart again. They play with legos. They like puzzles. They ask questions about how airplanes fly, why leaves turn colors, and how snowflakes form. They are curious about processes and details.
Kids this age see things in black and white. They’re interested in facts.1
It’s only natural that an 8-year-old would start asking HOW a baby grows inside a woman’s body. They want to know the process, understand the details. But yet again, this is still a simple answer although a little longer.
Here’s the simple answer. “A baby starts out as a little egg inside the uterus. Sperm helps it become ready to change into a human. The egg starts changing as it receives nutrients or food from the mom’s body, just like kids grow bigger and stronger when they eat healthy food. The egg starts to grow human body parts. It starts to form organs like the brain and heart. It starts to grow arms and legs and form bones. Eyes, ears, and a mouth are created. The baby continues to grow in the uterus for about 9 months until all of its body parts are formed and working how they should. Then it’s time for the baby to be born.”
At this point, your daughter’s natural creativity and imagination may take over and she might say something totally ridiculous like, “What if babies were born with 8 arms like an octopus?!” After all, kids this age love humor! But no worries. She’ll continue to ask questions as they come up because she already knows you’re happy to answer.
Want to know the next question?
I’m sure you do, or you wouldn’t have asked.
The next question is the big one: “How do babies get IN the uterus?”
Despite the drama that seems to surround the idea of actually talking to your child about sex, this conversation is just a continuation of all the conversations you’ve had up to this point.
With all these awesome questions about how things work and a desire to learn the details, around age 8 is the perfect time to introduce the matter-of-fact process of sexual intercourse. After learning about how a baby develops in the womb, it’s only natural for kids to start wondering how the sperm and the egg got together in the first place.
Kids just want simple answers to simple questions. Which is why you’ll find the answers to this question in the post how to painlessly talk to kids about sex.
- Yardsticks: Child and Adolescent Development Ages 4-14 by Chip Woods.