The Traveling Teacher

Talking about the facts of life

Holly McElwee

Contributing Columnist

Most parents dread the difficult “facts of life” talks. I admit that when my girls were tiny, it was hard to imagine having to one day tell them about puberty, sex, dating, drinking, drugs, and the growing pains that come along in life. It’s a lot for any parent to wade through! How can it be made easier and less painful?

1. Start early. I don’t mean that a six-year-old should get a frank discussion about sex from mom and dad, but little kids have been known to ask innocent questions about tough topics. I try to answer them truthfully. Detail isn’t necessary at the younger ages, but it’s good to provide little bits and pieces when appropriate. It makes the big discussions easier in the years to come.

2. Develop a rapport. Younger kids have an easier time talking about sticky topics, so get into a habit of conversation early on. It will be more comfortable to have the in-depth conversations later. My 7-year-old throws a tough question my way every so often, but we just have a talk about it, no big deal. She knows that mom and dad are game to discuss just about anything. Having an easy rapport with an elementary kid paves the way for having a decent rapport with a future teenager.

3. Look for teachable moments. With all the scandalous behavior seen on TV, in the movies, in pop culture, and even on the news these days, there’s no shortage of teachable moments in which to identify the troubles of famous people. My girls now point these out to me. “Look, Mom! She shouldn’t be doing that, right?” These real-life and media-fueled moments open a perfect door for conversations about sex, drugs, alcohol and more. We try not to let them slip by without discussion or even a casual comment from mom and dad.

4. Be available. It’s my goal to never turn my girls away when they need to talk to me. Some of our best conversations take place in the car, at the dinner table, or on a walk. Casual conversation becomes a deep discussion when parents are willing to listen. Even though we only have girls in our family, my husband is also available, and sometimes he’s a better resource than I am. Don’t be tricked into thinking only the parent of the corresponding gender can have these deep conversations. The opposite parent can provide a different perspective that’s valuable. My girls know that Dad is always there just like Mom is.

5. Don’t be afraid. Parents cannot be afraid to talk about ANY topic. There have been moments when I’ve been screaming inside my head because I felt so awkward about a topic, but there’s no way I’d let my girls know it. As far as they’re concerned, Mom doesn’t get embarrassed. These are my own precious children. If they can’t talk to me, they’ll find someone else’s ear to bend, and those people may not instill the values we hold dear.

6. Use resources. Whether it’s a book, video, pamphlet, or website, it’s useful to provide kids with actual written material or video resources. I find this to be helpful, especially during the puberty discussions. A set of resources also gives the kids something to go back and check out by themselves later. I make a point to thoroughly review all the materials first so that I can be sure I agree with all the content.

7. Tie in religious teachings. We have strongly held religious beliefs, so we use those to guide the conversations. Most tough conversations in our house swing back around to the values we’re teaching our kids based on the Bible.

8. Look to your role models. Through the years we’ve had friends who were older than us. What a blessing it’s been to lean on them for advice and to watch them raise their own children. On more than one occasion I’ve called those friends to ask them how to handle any number of situations. These people are invaluable as role models and resources!

It’s daunting to have to teach kids how to make their way through the world. Don’t shy away from those tough talks, though. Kids need their parents to guide and support them. Start early and continue the conversations throughout their growing years.
Talking about the facts of life

Holly McElwee

Contributing Columnist

Contact Holly McElwee at

Contact Holly McElwee at


6:46 pm
Updated: 7:05 pm. |    
String of 11 crashes shut down I-75
6:24 pm
Updated: 7:22 pm. |    
6:07 pm |