“Do you know what happens to your body when you get older?”
“Um…you get hairy in some places?”
“Yeah…other things happen too. We’ll get you some books.”
That was what I learned about sex education when I was seven – I was always grateful that I learned it from my parents (who were pretty terrified to talk about it, I think) rather than from the other kids at school. But then the topic wasn’t mentioned again until I was about 18, with a vague reference to “being careful” with my first boyfriend, whom I wasn’t even sleeping with yet.
Friends: we have to do more than this if we want our children to be able to show up in relationships as fulfilled human beings who understand what pleasure is, how to ask for it, and how to give it.
We need our children to know that sex does not have to equal intercourse, and that there are a whole host of ways to enjoy our (and each other’s) bodies without doing this if we don’t want to do it (when they’re ready for it!).
And we need to help our children understand boundaries so they can protect themselves when they need to – without getting so caught up in the shame that pervades our thinking about sex. (Since the sex = shame narrative is deeply pervasive in our culture I don’t think we can overcome it completely, but we can make a start…).
In this episode we build on our conversation with Charlotte Rose about sex for us parents to go (far) Beyond Sex Ed with sex educator Dr. Nadine Thornhill, whose direct, fun, engaging style will help you to see that you, too, can have conversations about sex and pleasure with your own children. You can find more information on Dr. Thornhill’s work on her YouTube channel where she addresses topics from what happens if the kid walk in on parents having sex to whether first time sex always hurts, as well as on Instagram.
And don’t forget that the FREE Setting Loving (& Effective!) Limits workshop starts Monday April 26! Five days > WAY fewer limits than you ever thought possible (without being a dreaded Permissive Parent!) > amazing shift in the level of collaboration and cooperation in your home. Sign up now!
- (00:01) Setting Loving and Effective Limits Workshop
- (02:18) Where we’re at with our mini-series on issues related to sex
- (03:34) Introducing our guest, Dr. Nadine Thornhill
- (04:54) The importance of continuing the conversation about sex beyond the basic topics
- (09:17) Figuring out what kinds of things I need to teach my children and how
- (12:22) The value of showing our vulnerability to our children
- (14:45) Talking about the traditional ways we talk about sex and how can we change that narrative
- (19:03) Having conversations around pleasure of the non-sexual kind
- (23:27) Modelling intimacy to our children without overdoing it
- (25:41) Helping our children set boundaries even when we’re having trouble setting boundaries ourselves
- (31:53) Dr. Thornhill’s son’s case of the “hangry” and how he came to develop recognizing physical signs before he gets hangry
- (33:41) Talking about shame associated with the white, Christian view of sex
- (40:34) Talking about bodies and nudity that doesn’t rely on shame
- (43:07) Going a little deeper into consent and the Authentic Consent Framework
- (50:48) The House and the Superintendent Metaphor
- (53:23) How parents can leave more space and be supportive of the potential suite of options about a child’s sexuality
- (57:46) Should we wait to teach our children about aspects of sex and sexuality until they ask?
- (01:02:11) Wrapping up
- FREE Setting Loving (& Effective) Limits Workshop
- Sex Is A Funny Word, by Cory Silverberg
- The Nap Ministry
Click here to read the full transcript
Jen: [00:00:00] Hi, I’m Jen and I host the, Your Parenting Mojo Podcast. We all want her children to lead fulfilling lives, but it can be so hard to keep up with the latest scientific research on child development and figure out whether and how to incorporate it into our own approach to parenting. Here at Your Parenting Mojo, I do the work for you by critically examining strategies and tools related to parenting and child development that are grounded in scientific research and principles of Respectful Parenting.
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Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo Podcast. Do you ever have trouble setting limits on your child’s behavior? Do you ever set limits and then wish you hadn’t because you realize afterwards, this was not a hill you wanted to die on? Do you set limits that your child ignores, maybe even while looking at you with a glint in their eye? Do you wish that you didn’t even have to set limits because you could find ways for your child to work with you?
Well, if so, come and join me. I’m running my free Setting Loving and Effective Limits Workshop again, starting on Monday, April 26. It runs over the course of five days and on each day you get a short email with a thought prompt or an exercise and some homework that’s going to take you less than 30 minutes.
Thousands of parents who have been through this workshop have found that by the end of the five days of shifting how they think about limits and their children’s behavior, and not focusing directly on changing their children’s behavior, their children are suddenly testing much less and they’re cooperating much more. And both parent and child feels like they aren’t fighting nearly as much. And they have tools to solve problems they’re having that don’t even involve setting limits at all. So if you want in on that, it’s completely free. You can sign up at YourParentingMojo.com/SettingLimits. Now let’s get to our episode.
Today we’re continuing our mini-series exploring issues related to sex. And we started a little bit ago by talking with Charlotte Rose, who’s the co-host with her business and life partner, Chris of the Speaking of Sex Podcast, and together they’re known as Pleasure Mechanics.
And in that episode, we talked about what we learned about sex has implications for how we feel about sex today and why there’s so much shame involved in that. And also how we can both have more sex and also feel less pressure around sex with whomever is our partner at the moment, whether that’s our parenting partner or somebody else. So we focus very tightly on sex for parents in that topic.
And today we’re going to focus on the intersection of our children and sex, which may seem like a non-sequitur, but it’s not. And so, some years ago now, we actually talked with Saleema Noon, who is a sex educator, and we talked about the basics of using anatomically correct body parts and what to do when children masturbate. And we followed up on that a couple of years later with Dr. Jennie Noll of Penn State University on how to avoid sexual abuse. We’ve also covered raising gender creative children with Dr. Diane Ehrensaft. And today we’re going to go beyond these topics to learn what we want our children to know about sex. And maybe even some things we’re still learning about today.
And so here to help us do this is certified sex education, Dr. Nadine Thornhill, whose Doctorate in Education focus on child and adolescent sexuality. She helps people to access fact-based information and build strong communication skills so they can teach the children in their lives about their bodies, building positive relationships and feeling good about who they are.
She also notes on her website that she strives to work within sex positive, queer positive, anti-oppressive, and pro-choice frameworks, and that being an educator means that her own process of learning and unlearning is ongoing and as such her work evolves as she does. And all of that is so well aligned with so much of what we do here on the podcast in how I learn and grow as well.
So welcome Dr. Thornhill. It’s so great to have you here.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:04:15] Thank you so much for having me.
Jen: [00:04:17] All right. So we’re kind of starting this conversation with a baseline understanding that parents are already using anatomically correct terms for body parts, and maybe they’ve had a conversation with their children about how babies are made from sperm and eggs.
And they’ve taken some basic steps to prevent sexual abuse, like, you know, things like making sure your child can name three adults that they can turn to, if something is making them uncomfortable. And that’s often kind of where these conversations stop. And so I think there’s a lot more to it than this. And I’m wondering why do you think it’s important for us to continue the conversation beyond these basic topics?
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:04:53] So, first of all, for folks out there who sort of have taken these preliminary steps and have these preliminary conversations, that’s fantastic because now you’ve already opened the door and something that I talk about a lot when I work with parents is that sex is just one component of sexuality. So when we think about sex, whether that be in the context of conception or we’re thinking, well, when they get older, they may have sexual partnerships and sexual relationships. Absolutely, that’s part of sexuality, but sexuality are really all of the things that might inform who we are as sexual people. So that’s everything from the bodies we live in, how we understand our gender, our sexual orientation. We’re talking about things like how the world responds to the bodies we live in, and then even certain things like other pieces of our identity, like our racial identity, our religious identity, our economic situation. Really, what I say is sexuality is the experience of being human. Virtually every aspect of our humanity informs our sexuality in some way. And so when I talk to parents about why it’s important to teach kids about sexuality, it’s because. It’s part of how they learn to just kind of navigate life. And so that A, it doesn’t just suddenly sort of happen when they hit puberty. It’s this ongoing developmental process. And so they’re constantly observing things. They’re observing how people behave in various relationships. They’re paying attention to how we communicate with each other. They’re paying attention to the ways that we talk about our bodies and the way we treat our bodies. And that’s going to inform how they learn to relate to both themselves and other people. And so helping them, talking to them, teaching them, modeling for them is going to give them more context and more information to understand these things that they’re really immersed in because kids live in the world with us and are alive, and you know, figuring out how to be human. Well, they are human, but they’re figuring out, you know, what does that mean for them? And so that’s why I think it’s really valuable to continue these conversations and to keep thinking about, you know, what is it that I’m teaching them about these aspects of who they are as humans, as young humans.
Jen: [00:07:17] Yeah. And my goodness, it’s like, it’s basically the curriculum of life, right? It’s… and it’s taught in schools, which I’m sure we’ll get into in a little bit of. It’s basically penetration and is that happening, it’s bad that it’s happening, don’t let this aspect of it happen. And, and there’s just that entire other surrounding context that you’re talking about is completely missing from this conversation.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:07:40] Absolutely. So I try to take sort of a more, I guess I would say holistic approach to sex education and to human sexuality, that sexuality isn’t this siloed experience that only affects us if we happen to be having a certain type of sexual experience with another human, it really is integrated and just…. It’s part of us in the same way that our intelligence is just part of us. And our emotional experiences are part of us. And our physical experiences are part of us. And all of those things are interconnected. You can’t separate them. They don’t happen in these compartmentalized sort of ways. Although it might be nice and easier to navigate if they did. They don’t, they’re all just kind of mushed together and happening, you know, in concert and affecting one another. And so, yeah, sexuality is another component of being a human.
Jen: [00:08:31] Yeah. Okay. All right. And so I think most of us grown ups are pretty terrible at communicating our feelings and needs in intimate relationships, whether these are related to sex or not, because we weren’t taught how to do this when we were young. And so I’m thinking there are some ways that we can get off on the right foot with this, with our children, so that we’re not sort of seeing where we are and in understanding our own feelings and needs and thinking, okay, this is, I would like for my children to have an easier relationship with understanding their feelings and needs than I have, and being able to communicate with other people about those. So I’m trying to figure out what kinds of things do I need to teach and do I need to teach them directly? Or are they mostly learning this from watching me interact with other people?
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:09:17] So it depends on the child, but oftentimes particularly with younger children, modeling is very, very powerful. And so, based on what I’ve observed and also, you know, research I’ve looked at in terms of child development, if you’re saying one thing and doing another thing, typically the thing that you’re doing is going to have more of an impact than the thing that you’re saying. And it’s wonderful if the things that we’re saying and the things that we’re doing can be aligned as much as possible, but children are generally like fairly experiential learners, as opposed to sitting down with them, you know, over a cup of coffee, well we’re not giving our children coffee, but you know, we’re not going to sit down at the table and be like, let’s have a discourse about communication strategies in the family. Um, and so A, I think if we do find that it’s challenging for us to communicate in our own intimate relationships, whether that’s with, you know, our partners or co-parents, you know, even friends, other family members, you know, that’s something that we can look at working on ourselves. And then what is also really valuable is thinking about how we actually communicate with our child. So to give people, you know, something concrete, if you’re just like, but I don’t, I don’t know how to do it is even starting with things like just naming emotions. So for example, if you were sitting down to have like a chat with your child, let’s say I’m going to take an example. So let’s say your child is running around the house naked, and you want to have a conversation with them about the family boundaries. And you’re thinking I’m anxious, I’m afraid. I’m not sure how to have this conversation. Something you can say to them before you even get into the issue of, Hey, let’s talk about how we’re going to handle running around naked is, you know what? These are not things that I used to talk about with my parents when I was your age. And so I’m actually feeling a little bit nervous about having this talk. How are you feeling right now? And just getting into that habit of in a very straightforward manner. This is a feeling I’m having, this is the name of that feeling.
I want to know how you’re feeling. I care about that. And they may or may not be able to name the feeling. Then you can sort of take in their body language and their behavior. You know, maybe they’re having a great time running around naked. You say like, it looks like you were having a really good time and that made you really happy. All right, let’s talk about that. And that can be, you know, a place to start and if it’s new for you and you don’t have those skills, you know, start slowly be gentle with yourself because even just modeling that grace and that self care is so powerful for your kids, letting them know that, you know what it’s okay. If you don’t always have the answers, you don’t always have to feel comfortable in a situation to deal with a situation. And so even if on the surface, that’s not the issue that you wanted to do address the issue you want to address was the nudity. How will you address that issue is giving them really powerful lessons about communication.
And again, just like the messiness of being a human and how to kind of navigate that and be kind to yourself and be kind to the other people around you.
Jen: [00:12:22] Yeah. Yeah. And I think that that can be such a hard thing for parents to do when their own parents never revealed any vulnerability and never showed anything related to that. And the idea that we don’t have to project this image of, I know all the answers and I have it under control and I know exactly what I’m doing. I think that can be really scary for parents to kind of peel that back and let their child see I’m a person and I’m struggling with this too.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:12:46] Absolutely. And I think even nowadays, there can be a lot of pressure on us as parents to parent correctly and, you know, either to have all the answers or to make sure we approach every conversation and you know, this sort of expert approved way. And what I try to do is really encourage parents to give themselves and give, you know, give each other grace to be messy and to make mistakes. And that there are also opportunities to go back and say like, Hey, I don’t love the way I handled that conversation. Let’s try this again. Let’s talk again. And that’s the wonderful thing about making this sort of an ongoing conversation and ongoing learning, is it doesn’t mean then if one particular conversation doesn’t go well or you one day have just like an overreaction that you don’t love, it’s not like, Oh, well that was it because that was a time that I was teaching my kid about sex and it didn’t work.
Jen: [00:13:43] It’s done.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:13:43] It’s over, you know, you’re not putting anything on one particular conversation or one particular moment. It’s just part of the relationship that you have with your kid. Yeah.
Jen: [00:13:52] Yeah. And what is your child learned from that? Your child learns two things. Firstly, that, that their relationship that you have with them is important enough that you will come back around if something didn’t go right the first time. And secondly, that if they’re in a relationship with a friend or romantic partner, whoever, and they say something that they wish afterwards, that they hadn’t said that they can go back to that conversation and say, you know what, I’m really, I’m sorry I said that, or that came out wrong or that’s not the way I intended it to mean. And so they can then apply that, that the thing that they learned from you to their own relationships, And many of us has learned that.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:14:30] Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Because we all do it. I mean, What human hasn’t had several moments in their life where they look back and they’re just like, Oh, face palm. Like, why, why, why am I like this? Um, we all do it.
Jen: [00:14:45] Yeah. Yeah. Okay. And so let’s talk about traditional ways of learning about sex and so much of it, as I mentioned briefly earlier, is focused on intercourse. And it almost seems as though we think about the word sex and that means intercourse and that’s the only thing there is. And if you’ve been in a relationship long enough that you’ve had sex once, then chances are, if you start doing something like kissing, the only place this is going is to intercourse at the other end and Oh, and by the way, you better not get pregnant while you’re doing it. Of course, because that would be a terrible thing before you get to a certain age. And so I think that that’s a lot of the way that children learn about sex and I’m thinking that that’s not actually super helpful. So how can we change the narrative around how our children learn about sex while they’re still young?
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:15:36] Yeah. So I think part of the reason that happens is A that when children have questions about, you know, where do babies come from? That’s like a really, that’s often the first conversation we have with kids about sex itself. And we don’t often or a lot of people I think struggle to just sort of have conversations about sort of the other aspects of sex. So for example, we may not be having a lot of conversations with our children about, you know, just the fact that they have genitals, you know, and that, you know, genitals are a part of the body that may feel good and interesting to touch. Something else that I find that parents may do is they may be, they don’t they’re, they aren’t necessarily particularly a demonstrative and they feel like I can’t expose my child to any aspect of my sexual relationship. And while I completely understand, and I think it’s completely appropriate to have boundaries, you know, just for your own comfort and freedom. I think it can be again, very valuable and positive if children’s sort of see aspects of who we are, assuming we live in our family structure with our sexual partner or a sexual partner as someone who’s over and around our children. So for example, you know, things like flirting, things like, you know, affectionate and playful and maybe certain, you know, over the clothes, sexual touching, you know, those preludes to like, Oh, you know, we’re both feeling it. And so when the kids go to bed, like we’re going to do something, but the mood is already is already happening. I think it’s totally okay for children to be exposed to things like that, to see that, Hey, this is a thing that, you know, grownups and older people enjoy doing any can be fun and it’s part of love. And it’s part of liking someone and it’s part of affection. Sometimes there’s fear that like, Oh, then kids are gonna see us doing it and they’re going to copy it. It was like having spoken to many, many, many, many, many young people and younger kids. It was like, the idea of sex is not generally appealing to them. They think it’s weird and kind of gross, but seeing the prelude to that and just seeing that, yeah, this is something that for a lot of people is enjoyable and it’s fun. And being able to see their parents that like, Hey, grown-ups have this way of relating to each other where they give each other coy looks and talk in these weird tone and sometimes they smack each other on the butt or whatever it is. I think that can again, be really valuable and start to give kids a sense of sex beyond just, Oh, it’s these two body parts slotting together and that’s it. Wow. And again, I think it’s also really great when kids can see, you know, and like acknowledging that not all kids are growing up in a heterosexual home. So, you know, seeing that amongst, you know, queer parents, seeing that amongst, you know, their friends’ queer parents, et cetera, et cetera, like those are not the body parts that are always involved also.
Yeah. And also that, yeah. Sexual desire and pleasure can be this full body experience. It’s not just genitally focused. You know, I think that’s, that can be one way of, of talking about it with kids. Another thing I think we can do is start having conversations with kids about what feels good for them. And again, it doesn’t, we’re not necessarily focusing on what feels good in terms of sexual pleasure, but just generally, like, what does it mean when you’re enjoying something and where do you feel it in your body and how does your body respond?
So even if it’s something like, you know, we’re eating a food that we really like, like we’re going out for burgers. I picked burgers cause that’s my favorite food but, like, and it has been since I was a kid. So, you know, if you’re going out for burgers or pizza or cake or whatever, and your kids are like, yay. You know, talking about like, What is it that you love about burgers? What is it you love about it, ice cream? Like, let’s talk about the taste of that. How does it feel when you take that first bite in your body so that they get used to, and they start building a language to talk about just what feels good. And what is that like? And being aware of it in their bodies, and then that can sort of transition and evolve when they get older to conversations about how, you know, if we choose to be with somebody sexually or we choose to, you know, be with ourselves sexually, we’re looking for things that feel good in our bodies and it doesn’t have to be in a specific place in your body. It’s wherever that happens to feel good for you. There’s no right and wrong way to experience pleasure. In my opinion.
Jen: [00:20:06] Yeah. Yeah. I love the idea of starting to have these conversations about something like foods that you eat because many kids will have definite ideas about that, about their favorite foods. And we’re expanding not just their vocabulary on this, but also the fact that you can tune into this and pay attention to how this feels, because you have to do that in order to be able to express it. And even if they’re not able to verbally express it, they may still be able to kind of tune into the visceral sensation of what it is about the burger that’s so fun.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:20:39] Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. A conversation that my son, my son’s a teenager now, but that we we’ve had many times is just how good it feels to eat something when you’ve been really, really hungry, you know, you have those days where it’s busy and sometimes, you know, we don’t eat for a while.
And so yeah, we’ve been at restaurants or even at home where we’re like, Oh, we’re so hungry. And then we’ll take a bite of something. You’re like, Oh my gosh, Just that first bite of food when you’ve been craving food is so amazing. So even just convos like that, that center around pleasure.
Jen: [00:21:12] Yeah. Yeah. Okay. And then sort of on the topic of touch, sort of getting used to the idea that our children can find touch pleasurable, you might my daughter loves sort of my fingernails stroking gently up and down her back and finds it kind of tickly in a super fun way. And there’s no sort of, you know, tickle, tickle, fight element to it at all. It’s pleasurable to her and yeah in conversation with Charlotte Rose, she was talking about how we can always give our children the option to say, you know, let me know when you’ve had enough and let me know if you want me to do it harder or softer so that she gets to direct that. She gets the autonomy over that.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:21:54] That’s a really great cue. And again, really important because it also is letting kids know that, you know, a touch can feel good for a while and then stop feeling good or a touch, or even the idea of that touched you feel good in one context and not in another. So Cory Silverberg, who’s an amazing author and sex educator has a book called sex is a funny word. And in the book, one of the things that he discusses is tickling and use that as an example of something that might feel good when one person does it and feel bad when somebody else does it, or it might feel good for a while. And then it doesn’t feel so good. And that there are lots of kinds of touches like that. And so that, you know, it’s also okay to say, Hey, I’m really into this. Until you’re not anymore. And then it’s okay to say I don’t like this anymore and just stop. Yeah, absolutely. Yep.
Jen: [00:22:49] Okay. And then just kind of backtracking a little bit to what you were saying about touch between parents around the house and yeah, I mean, I can totally see the value of that. And I’m wondering to what extent and how parents can and should calibrate what they’re doing to their child’s level of comfort, because I’m remembering a story that a friend told me about her parents used to do all the time, particularly her dad would do that kind of thing around the house all the time. And that it really did kind of weird her out. Um, and so where is the balance there between doing something that feels authentic to us as parents in a sexual relationship with the things that our child maybe is, or is not comfortable with?
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:23:27] So there’s going to be, some of it is going to depend really on the space that’s available to you. And I want to acknowledge that because oftentimes what I’ll talk about is sort of moving to different spaces, but sometimes that’s not always an option for us. And I think even more so in these COVID times, and there are a lot of people who are still living under a lot of restrictions. And so, you know, I think whenever possible, like if your child really is like, I don’t want to look at that. I do think it’s okay to say like, okay, then we will move this to another space where you can’t see it, or if it’s possible to give them the option of sort of distancing themselves because I do think that bearing witness to somebody else’s sexual interaction does it does make you a participant. It doesn’t mean that you’re physically in it, but even that act of observing is participatory in a way and consent is also a thing that’s very, very important. And so I think, you know, if you’re in like a common space in the house and you feel like, you know, you want to kiss your partner or, you know, stroke your partner in a way your child is just like, uh, no, I don’t, I don’t care to see this, you know, I think you can negotiate and you know, if you feel okay being like, okay, I don’t need to do it in front of you. We can move away. You can move away or letting them know that, okay. If you don’t want to see this and you want to move away or you want to avert your eyes, that’s fine. What I would say is it’s at all possible, you can continue doing the thing. You just don’t have to do it in front of them. I think it’s okay if they are aware that it’s happening, but if they don’t want to see it, that’s okay too. . You know, because. As I often say, I’m like, well, it’s not pleasurable if you don’t want to be doing it, then it’s not pleasurable or pleasant if you don’t want to be seeing it either.
So just sort of, yeah. Negotiating that space wherever it’s possible. And sometimes it’s going to be hard. So it may not be physical space, but it may be, say like auditory space. So it may be like, Hey, can I give you some headphones or can I distract you with something or maybe close your eyes or something? But I also think it’s okay to say like, well, this is my partner and the person that I enjoy this kind of contact with. So I’m, we’re going to be doing that. It’s happening.
Jen: [00:25:35] Okay. Okay. And so what we’re kind of talking about here is boundaries.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:25:39] Yeah, absolutely. That’s important too.
Jen: [00:25:41] Yeah. Yeah. And I think that this is really hard for a lot of parents to teach our children about boundaries because when we were children, we weren’t allowed to have boundaries. You know, it was whatever our parents said was the way things were going to happen. And if we wanted something different, even if it was related to our own body, chances are that really wasn’t necessarily open for discussion. And so I work with parents all the time, who report, not even knowing how to understand when they themselves need to have a boundary, never mind then having the language to actually set it. And so I think part of what you’re doing as you’re having these conversations about, you know, If this isn’t okay with you, here are some things you can do is a way to help children learn how to set boundaries for themselves. Are there other things that we can be doing to help them with this more than more than we were helped with?
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:26:36] Yeah, I think so. And I also want to acknowledge that another thing that’s tricky around boundaries and parenting is that as a parent of a child, you can’t give your child complete autonomy over their bodily choices. We just can’t because there is health and safety to take into consideration and they don’t have the capacity to make all of those choices for themselves. And so something that I tend to caution parents against or advise against is sort of having these very broad sort of abstract conversations about boundaries and say, actually saying things like, Hey, this is your body. And you get to make like, you’re the boss of your body, or you’re in charge of your body because inevitably what’s going to happen. It’s probably going to happen very quickly is that they’re going to try and set a body boundary that you cannot honor. They’re going to say something like, well, I don’t want to brush my teeth. I’m the boss of my body. I don’t have to do it. I don’t have to, I don’t have to get vaccinated. I’m the boss of my body. I don’t want to. The needle hurts. And as a parent, you can’t allow that. Or they’re like, I don’t feel like taking my body to school today. Like, well, it’s still happening. And then it sort of undermines that idea of you’re the boss of your body. It’s like, you’re the boss of your body until somebody bigger and older comes alive, tells you to do something different.
So something I think that we can do and I think is always okay, is to acknowledge to our kids that whatever their feelings are around the boundary or the lack of a boundary are valid. So for example, even if it’s okay, you know, we’re going outside. In my case, I live in Canada, it’s a winter. I’m like, you need to wear a coat or you’ll die. Like literally you will die in certain points in winter. And you know, I had a child that when he was young, sometimes just be like, I don’t want to, I hate my coat. Oh my gosh. And it was trying and taxing. But to be like, I understand why you’re angry about this. Like, I understand that you hate your coat.
They’re allowed to hate their coat. And then to explain why you’re making the decision that you’re making, which again, sometimes it’s really stressful. It can be difficult to do all the time, but as much as possible and as much as we can be aware, just again, acknowledging and naming that feeling in that reaction, like I get that you don’t like this.
Another thing I think we can do also, I think if we’re struggling with sort of our own boundary setting is to start to try and pay attention to sort of what it feels like when we’ve gone past a boundary on our own. And sometimes we don’t know until we’ve gone past a boundary. Like sometimes we don’t know what our boundary is until we move past them.
And we’re like, Oh, okay. No, I’m too far out. Now I need to reign it back, pay attention to what that feels like. See if you can name those emotions for yourself, and then you can have a conversation with your kid. You can even ask them like you can or use your own example and say like, Hey, you know what happened to me today? You know, something like my boss asked me to do this task and I thought I could do it. But then I started and I found that I was really tired and I didn’t do a good job. And what I wish I had said was, no, I can’t do this today. I can do this tomorrow where I can do this next week. Has that ever happened to you?
Have you ever like said that you could do something or agreed to do something and then you did it, and then later you felt like that wasn’t such a good idea for you? What was that like? You know, and so yeah, if it’s something that you struggle with, you can commiserate with them and maybe use that as an opportunity to open up a conversation and talk about, you know, what does that feel like, identify it. And then you could, you know, maybe even have a little brainstorming session and say like, what do you think we could do if that happens again? Like, you know, you know, they might say, you know, well, yeah, I had that with a friend, like my friend wanted me to climb this tree and I thought I could, and then I got up there and I was really scared and I don’t like it like, okay, well, what can we do next time? You know, a friend asks you to climb a really high tree now, you know, you don’t like that. What could we say? What could we do? Like, how would it feel the same, do those things and, you know, talk it through maybe role, play it a little bit. So again, you’re just building that awareness and also let them know like it takes time and it’s okay sometimes if we agree to do something and then later realize like, Oh, That wasn’t a good choice for me. Again, it’s a thing that we all do sometimes.
Jen: [00:31:03] Yeah. Yeah. And I think also there’s an element there of how do I know that I made the wrong choice. And so often that it is something that shows up in our bodies. Like maybe the child is climbing the tree and they’re getting this sort of sick sensation that the cook, because they’re so scared cause they’re so far off the ground or whatever it is that’s going on for them. Or they said that they could do something and then they realized that they were so tired and maybe it’s the pressure and the weight of the of having to do the task that they’ve now promised to do and paying attention to that and maybe after it’s happened, looking back and saying, how did I know that, that I shouldn’t have been doing this, that my body was telling me that I shouldn’t have been doing this. And then I can carry that through the next time. Okay. Next time my friend is asking me to do something and I’m getting that feeling in my stomach. Then I can pay attention and say, okay, maybe I shouldn’t do this because it feels like it’s not right for me.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:31:53] Absolutely and something, you know, I will just let parents know, although I’m sure a lot of parents were aware of this is that it’s okay and it’s actually pretty common to have to have these conversations multiple times. Sometimes it takes years before the lesson really clicks in, you know, something that I had my partner and I noticed about our son was that he was very prone to hangriness. He always has been since he was a baby. And so from the time he was little, there was just a certain kind of anger that would come up where we would say, if you eat something you’ll feel better. And it would often, but often by the time that came up, he was past the point that saying that was helpful to him. And then it was literally years of sort of having this conversation. And then finally, one day when he was in the middle of, you know, he was very angry at us after school, he just sort of stopped and said, I think I need to eat something, um, and went and had a snack. And even then it wasn’t perfect from that day on but the older he gets, the more adept he’s becoming at sort of catching it before he’s gone past the point where he needs to eat and now he can sort of listen to his body or he, you know, he’ll feel that crankiness coming up and sort of think, okay, I need to eat. Or if I can’t eat than I need to kind of take myself out of the situation, because I don’t think I can handle it and like have a civil conversation right now. And I’m like, that’s great. That’s really good boundaries setting actually. But literally it’s taken like him moving into his teen years to be able to do this reasonably consistently.
So, you know, to the parents of their, who may have younger kids, if you feel like I’ve had this conversation 20 times, like, what am I doing wrong? Probably nothing. They’re young and they just take some time to learn. It takes us time to learn as adults. So I mean, as kids. Yeah.
Jen: [00:33:41] Yeah, yeah, no, that’s super helpful. Thank you. Okay. So shifting gears a little bit, I I’d love to talk a bit about shame. And we talked with Charlotte Rose about this as well and how the sort of white Christian view of sex is that we just don’t talk about it. And we certainly would never talk about enjoying it and that can permeate our lives, even if we’re not religious.
And of course there are additional layers of this for black people whose bodies have been hyper-sexualized and shamed by white people and white culture for generations now. And so I’m wondering if you could share, what would you like parents to know about shame and how we can start breaking this cycle? So we’re not transmitting these messages about shame to our children.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:34:24] Hmm. So, yeah, shame is a big topic. And speaking for myself personally, unless we are harming other people, I don’t think that there’s really any cause to feel ashamed about the things that bring us pleasure. I think that as human beings, we all come into this world as people of worth and as people of value.
And so I think that pleasure is something that is, I think pleasure is something that is a gift. I think it is something that we all deserve, but yeah, I agree. We’ve grown up within these systems of oppression, of patriarchy, of, you know, white supremacy and racism of ableism. You know, fatphobia all of these systems that tell us that there are certain bodies that are better than others that tell us that we sort of have to earn our rights to enjoyment and peace and freedom. I fundamentally and categorically object to all of that and think it’s garbage. And so I guess the first thing I would say is that, you know, that shame came from somewhere and there are people and systems that have a vested interest in keeping us mired in that shame. And that doesn’t magically make it go away, but just sometimes thinking of it and reframing it as, Oh, okay. There’s profit and power to be had from, you know, keeping me in this shame. And so just tapping into pleasure more is something you can do to, you know, to fight against these systems that really do not have anybody’s best interest at heart, except for like six white guys.
Jen: [00:36:10] And when you say tapping into pleasure more, can we make that concrete?
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:36:15] Yeah, let’s make that. So again, sometimes tapping into sexual pleasure specifically might feel like too much right away. So it might, you know, it might be something that if it feels a little bit safer and a little bit more accessible that’s okay. So even if tapping into pleasure for you is something like, Whoa like my programming tells me that I need to be working and productive all the time. Like every waking moment of my life, I need to be doing something then maybe tapping into pleasure for you is see what it feels like to just sit down. For five minutes when you’re really, really want to. And those feelings might come up of like, Oh, I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t be doing this. And maybe engaging in some self-talk. And I mean, for me sometimes when I’m really deep into that programming, it literally has to be talking and sitting there saying like, I am allowed to do this. This feels good. I am allowed to sit in a chair for five minutes. It’s fine. I’m not harming anyone. The world is not going to fall apart. I am still a good person. I am worthy of sitting in a chair for five minutes. You may be starting there. And so something I think we can do for our children is really look for opportunities to like praise and validate them when their pleasure seeking, you know, and again, it’s a practice, so it’s not going to be something that we’re necessarily going to be perfect at right away.
So, you know, if we see them doing something like, you know, even if it’s something like really sort of benign and basic, like they’re watching their favorite TV program, like just be like, Hey, that’s great. I love that. You’re taking some time to just, you know, relax with your favorite TV show. I love that you’re, you know, spending some time with your video game there. That’s good. It’s important to take that time.
Conversely, if we find ourselves sort of mired in that negative reaction of like, Hey, like you need to get up. You have been sitting here watching cartoons all day. And we do that again, we can always go back and be like, you know what? I don’t love that I shamed you for that. Like, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to watch TV and maybe you didn’t need them to get up and do something. Maybe they had homework or you needed them to do a chore. And you can say like, yes, I did need you to get up. And sometimes we do need to take a break from the things that we enjoy because we have other responsibilities, but I shouldn’t have made you feel ashamed for wanting to do something that feels good for you because that’s a normal thing to want. That’s a very common thing to watch. It’s just sometimes we need to break away from that. So I’m sorry that I said it in that way, or I’m sorry that I reacted that way. And again, you can ask them, you know, like what is a better way that I can talk to you when I do need you to go do your homework, what would feel better for you? What would work better as opposed to me yelling at you or trying to say that you’re doing something bad by, you know, enjoying something that makes you happy.
Jen: [00:39:11] Yeah. And when you were talking about practices for ourselves, it reminded me of the Nap Ministry.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:39:15] I love that Ministry.
Jen: [00:39:18] I think it’s run by a black woman and that’s the whole premise of it is that by taking a nap, you are helping to disrupt practices of white supremacy by getting off that treadmill of, I must be productive all day, every day to be worthy as a person.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:39:36] Absolutely rest and enjoyment are things that we need to thrive as humans.
Jen: [00:39:42] Yeah. Okay. And so before we leave this topic of shame behind, I think some of the parents who listen to the show are sort of fairly well out there in terms of body acceptance and allowing their kids to be naked around the house. I mean, my daughter is watching cartoons naked except for underwear in the next room right now. And so, uh, but there are times when in our culture, it’s not okay to be naked and that can even happen in our own homes. Maybe we get a delivery and our child wants to be the one who opens the door. And then we’re at this intersection of our two worlds here, the outside world, which does not expect to see a naked child opening the door and the inside place where normally it is okay to be naked. How do we navigate these sort of different sort of boundaries limits as it were on what’s okay related to our children when we don’t want to shame them for being naked, but at the same time, not everybody expects or even wants to see it.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:40:34] Yeah, absolutely. I think there’s a way of talking about bodies and nudity and sort of these more sort of intimate, vulnerable expressions of body acceptance and joy that doesn’t rely on shame at all. And so how I often suggest framing it is framing it as these are things that are special. So, you know, being naked as a special, like as a special kind of fun, if you have a child who likes to be naked, similarly with, you know, kids masturbating, like these are special parts of your body and, you know, so when we share them, we want, if we choose to share them. So for example, if we choose to share our nudity with people, we share them with like special people that we have a relationship with. And so when we’re out in the world or answering the door, you know, those people don’t know us really well. And so they may not be prepared for that special sharing. And sometimes we’ll, we share something special, it can actually feel, you know, overwhelming or like surprising or shocking to someone who’s not ready for it.
So we always want to make sure that when we’re sharing these things, we’re doing it with somebody who wants to do it. Who’s also okay with it. And then with kids, and I know you’ve had this with other guests, then there are also conversations about how to do that in a safe way versus, you know, in an unsafe way. And, you know, flagging people who are sort of exploiting that specialness. But I think, yeah, we can talk about, you know, body parts, genitals nudity, in terms of just like, this is a special way of being around people. This is a special way of being with our own bodies. These are special, important parts of our own body.
And so in that way, we can be sort of special and selective about how we share them and how we, I don’t like to use the word expose because it’s got a sort of a pejorative connotation to it, but yeah, just how we sort of open ourselves up in that way to people and like making very conscious choices about who that is.
Jen: [00:42:31] Yeah. Yeah. And you’re leading very nicely into the topic of consent here because in a way we’re sort of making sure that the other person has consented to this special relationship that we’re entering.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:42:42] Exactly. Exactly. And, and we can talk about how different people sort of have different rules and boundaries around nudity and sharing nudity. And so when we’re answering the door and it’s delivery, person’s like we haven’t asked them what their boundaries are and what, you know, what feels good for them in terms of nudity. So we’ll just, you know, put on some clothes. Yeah, and, and we’ll answer the door and it’ll be all good.
Jen: [00:43:07] I love that. I love that framing of it. Okay. So going a little bit deeper on consent. It’s sort of strange and in some ways, embarrassing to admit that I’m still learning aspects of relationship consent in sexual encounters. And I’m wondering if that’s, because the way that we learn about consent in our culture is really, I mean, the only way we hear about it is in the context of avoiding rape and one person says, no, then it’s rape and not sex. But I think that that really sets up this idea, I’m just sort of realizing this in the last few months that if we’re looking for a no that what we then are doing is looking for a no when actually what we should be doing is looking for repeated yeses at every stage as we’re going through our relationship with this person and our interactions with them.
And I’m curious as to what your thinking is about this and how we can talk to children about seeing consent in that way.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:43:57] So, first of all, I will say like, yeah, don’t be hard on yourself. Like I do this for a living and I’m still unpacking and thinking and constantly reframing my ideas and what consent is and what it means.
You know, I think as a society and as cultures, we’re very much at the beginning of sort of going through consent and the nuances of consent. So the framework that I currently use for consent, and like I said, I’m constantly evolving so this may change is a framework I call Authentic Consent. And so for me at the core of consent is always, do the people involved in whatever the interaction is, be it sexual, be it something else, Do they sincerely want to be involved in this interaction? Do they want to be doing this in the way that they’re doing it? So even that whole, like listening for a yes, I’m like, that’s only a piece of it. Cause I’m like, what is motivating the yes, because a yes that comes from, for example, feeling pressured, whether that pressure is external and coming from the person or whether that yes is an internal pressure of, I don’t want to let this person down. I don’t want to seem difficult. I don’t want to disappoint them is very different from a yes of, yeah. I just did this thing. I wanted it.
Jen: [00:45:08] A freely given yes.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:45:10] A freely given yes. Those are very different yeses. I think there needs to be room for the fact that, you know, nonverbal communication, body language, the subtle ways we communicate with each other are valid forms of communication. I think there needs to be room left for the fact that. As we’ve been talking about, a lot of us are unpacking and trying to figure out how to communicate. And so not everyone is going to be a direct communicator. They may not have those skills. Not everybody, like some people are passive communicators. Some people, you know, rather than saying yes or no, will just sort of be like, I don’t know. And teaching, you know, not only children, but everyone that like, when you recognize that underlying whatever that person is saying or doing is a reluctance, that’s the thing that you need to pay attention to. And that is still a valid form of refusal that, you know, and again, I want to acknowledge that there are some people who have sort of developmental or psychological, or just mental neuro atypical conditions where they do struggle to interpret those nuances. But a lot of us don’t. And so I’m like, I know, regardless of what a person says, like, I know what a, yes, sounds like. When a person really is saying yes, versus what a yes says, like where I’m like, you’re just saying that because you think that’s what I want to hear, or you’re just saying that to not piss me off, or you’re saying, I don’t know, but you do, and you don’t want to be doing this.
And so with kids, I think it’s teaching them A to pay attention to that and others. And when there’s very little, we can do that. We can sort of alert them to it. So say if they’re playing with friends, you know, and kids can be really enthusiastic when they have an idea for a game, they’re like, okay, let’s all play tag. And they’re just very much into like, I want to play that. That’s all that matters. And so if you notice that you notice, like their friend is kind of hanging back and is not so much into it, you can say to them, Hey. Your friend does not look like they want to play tag very much. So maybe let’s think about something that we all want to do together. Or maybe right now you want to play with somebody else, or maybe you can play separately, but don’t try to talk them into playing tag if they don’t want to. And conversely, you know, standing up for them when you see that happening to them. So, you know, for example, if we have relatives who are coming over and they’re like, it’s your child, they’re so adorable. And I want to hug them. And you’re like, my kid does not want to hug you. I can tell you can intervene and either encourage your child to speak up for themselves, or if they’re feeling shy or they don’t feel like they can cause this is a whole grownup that they may like and love, and they don’t want to hurt their feelings.
You can step in and say, you know what, let’s not do the hug right now. Uh, they are not feeling it, but you know, maybe we want to shake hands or high five or just wave, you know, and then either in the moment or later just sort of unpacking, like, Hey, like how did it feel. When, you know, your friend didn’t want to play the game with you, what were the feelings that came up? What can we do with those feelings? How does it feel when somebody wants to touch you? And like, you like them and you care about them, but you don’t want to give them a hug in that moment. Like, that’s hard, isn’t it? What can we do in those moments? What can we do with those feelings? So again, we’re getting them to think about those nuances, but again, getting them to pay attention to like, what is the underlying desire when we’re negotiating consent and not just, what are the words that we’re hearing, but really paying attention to, like, what does this person want? And do they want to be doing this thing with you? Or do you want to be doing this thing with them? And if you don’t, then it’s not happening.
Jen: [00:48:56] Okay. So many light bulbs as you were talking about that. Um, I’m wondering if you’re familiar with Miki Kashtan’s work and Nonviolent Communication?
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:49:05] A little bit, a little bit.
Jen: [00:49:06] So she talks about the power differential that is present because that’s really what you’re talking about here is when there’s a power differential there that a person can say yes and actually mean no. And very often as parents, I think we find ourselves in situations where our children are saying yes to us, to something that we’ve asked them to do. And we know that they don’t really want to do it. We know it in the way they’re dragging their feet and the way that they’re not looking at us, you know, we can read these signals to know that they really don’t want to do it, and that they’re doing it because there is this power differential, because they feel that they don’t have a choice.
And so one thing that Miki Kashtan says is that when you know that there’s a power differential, which is present in the parent child relationship and present in many other relationships in our lives as well, that it’s so important to get that yes, whether that yes is that willingly freely given yes. And it’s our responsibility to make sure that we have that. And one way that we can do that, and she primarily works with adults. And so she’s saying things like, you know, you would say to, as the person in power, you would say to the other person, is there any part of you that doesn’t want to say yes to this so that you are acknowledging that maybe, you know, 50, 60, maybe even more percent of them is okay with it, but there’s some thing that saying, you know what, something about this isn’t right. And that we’re allowing space for that, or even for a, no, that is really there underneath the yes to make itself heard. And I think that, that we can do that with our children as well. We can pay attention to when we see that they actually mean no, that’s a time when we need to step back and say, okay, well, what about this is not working for you and try to work with them on that when we can.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:50:48] Yeah. And I think whenever we can, that’s a really valuable thing to do. And I think in those moments, when we can’t either because, you know, I think we’re going to say he is going to get them in some that this is the thing they want to do. Like it’s time to go home from the park because it is dark and we need to leave. And they’re like, the park is never not going to be fun for me. So I never going to hold that, go to at least acknowledge, like, I understand that you don’t want to go. I understand that. And I understand that you are upset with me because I am making you go, this is why we need to leave now. This is for our safety. This is for our health and, you know, letting them, and at least letting them know like it is okay that you don’t agree with me. And you don’t agree with my choice here, a framework I use, I think more to explain sort of parental consent to adults than with kids, but sometimes you can use it with kids if you think they’ll understand it is I talk about our bodies as being our homes. And I will say, so if you think about a literal home, like a literal house, let’s say that somebody, some wealthy uncle willed your child, a house, but they’re a child. They can’t take care of a house. So you become the superintendent of that house. And so while they’re very little you are in charge of the care and the upkeep and the maintenance of that house for them. But the older and more capable they get, the more you can start to teach them and hand over more aspects of that care and keeping and responsibility. And at some point the goal is to have taught them enough and to have given them enough responsibility that one day you will hand over the keys and be like, I don’t take care of this house anymore because it’s yours. And it was always yours. And like, please have me over to visit. I love taking care of this house. It’s very meaningful and special to me. I will always be here if you need support in taking care of this house, but now this house is yours to care for. And I’m like, that’s how I sort of see the consensual relationship working between parents and children when they’re little and they’re babies, there’s very little that they can take on themselves in terms of their bodies. But as they grow and develop and mature, they take on more and more and more of that agency and that responsibility. And then at some point you’re like, okay, it’s your life? It’s your body. It’s your choice. I love you. I’m here, but these are not my decisions anymore. They’re yours.
Jen: [00:53:23] Yeah. Okay. All right. Thank you. I love where we’ve landed with that. So, okay. So there’s two more things I’d love to get to that listeners have been asking me about. And one of these is about truly leaving open our child’s possibilities and ideas about sexuality, rather than assuming this sort of they’re going to be heterosexual and less kind of framework, unless something else happens.
How can we as parents leave more space and be supportive of that potential suite of options that a child has.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:53:53] So in that case, I think it’s more a matter of sort of not, and sort of avoiding honing in on assumptions about them being heterosexual. So, you know, Say, if you have like a young kid and you’re just speculating about their future, you’re talking to them about, you know, what they might do when they’re grown up, you know, not immediately defaulting to, Oh, you’re going to get married to somebody of like, not your gender. Not defaulting to, you know, sort of very gendered ideas about what they will and won’t do when they grow up.
I think bringing in books and media that gives them like a more expansive idea of just, you know, what it means to, you know, be a boy or a girl, but also you may not identify as boy or girl or your gender may sort of, you know, flow between and in and around these concepts of gender, same with sexual orientation.
So something that my partner did and my partner is not in this field at all. He’s a mathematician, but he started doing this and I emulated him. When our son was a baby, he would just kind of hold him and talk to him and, you know, speculate about his future. You’re just trying to expose them to language.
And he like, without even thinking was like, you know, someday you might marry another person. It might be a boy. They might be a girl. They might be somebody else. Or you might not get married at all. And I was like, well, there you go. That’s just normalizing diversity really casually with like a two week old baby. That’s awesome. So all of those sorts of things and, you know, just sort of keeping in the back of your head, like, I don’t know who this person is going to be when they get older and I like to kind of think of it, I guess, in my better parenting moments as this is an adventure, like my privilege as a parent is that I get to discover who this human is. It’s less that I am molding and crafting this human and more that what can I do to make it easier for my child to let me know who he is as he learns who he is and less who can I turn this person into? How can I craft and mold this person? I think particularly in North American society, there’s very much this idea that our children are extensions of ourselves, that who our children turn out to be is very much a reflection on who we are and what kind of parents we have been. And I have known enough people who are in my estimation, like wonderful, warm, loving people who had absolutely horrific parents. And conversely, I have known some people who are kind of terrible who have lovely parents. And then I know a bunch of other people I’m like, Oh yeah, like you’re a lot, like your parents, like, I guess you inherited something genetically. I’m like, you don’t know. And there’s only so much you can do. Cause I’m like, they’re just people, they’re just these other people that live with you and yes, you influence them, but I’m like, you don’t make them who they are. So like, yeah. I encourage people to, you know to see what your kids are gonna turn out to be. And what can you do to make that, to create that sort of safe environment so that they feel comfortable being who they are around you.
Jen: [00:57:12] Yeah. Yes. Uh, I love the idea of supporting their discovery of themselves and getting away from this idea that we are shaping them and they’re a reflection of us and therefore, if they don’t turn out the way we imagine that there is something even to mourn in that, because when we have this idea, Oh yeah, they’re my project. And they’re going to be this, and they’re going to go to this university and they’re going to be married to this kind of person. And it doesn’t work out that way. Then we mourn the loss of something that we never really had.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:57:42] Yeah. Because I’m like that person didn’t exist ever.. Yeah. Yeah.
Jen: [00:57:46] So, okay. All right. And then one final question wrapping up, but I’m curious about, and in a way, I think we’ve sort of answered it, which is listeners curious about how we can bring these topics up if our children aren’t asking about them and whether we should wait until they ask. And what I’m hearing from you in this conversation is that we are waiting to be asked about intercourse. And then if the child is not asking about intercourse, then we aren’t having conversations about sex and sexuality. When in fact we are having conversations about sex and sexuality throughout our interactions with the child and even if our child is not saying, you know, mom, where do babies come from? Or how do babies get into the uterus or wherever that, that is the piece we should be focusing on when maybe I’m hypothesizing and I’d like you to correct me, we can wait for those questions to come because we are having all of these other conversations that are so important.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:58:39] Yeah, absolutely. And if you know, your child reaches a certain age or milestone, you’re like, I really feel like we need to start talking about this aspect of sex or sexuality. So for example, if you’re like, like I was waiting for them to ask me where babies come from and they haven’t asked me yet, what do I do?
Ask them. So I have an entire ebook that is based on the idea of opening up conversations by asking your kids questions and then seeing what they say. So that would be, that’s probably the most concrete piece of advice I can give is that you can ask them questions, see what they know, see what they think.
And yeah, sometimes the answer is going to be like, I don’t know. And then you’re like, Hey, all right, I know some stuff about that. Now we can talk about it. But oftentimes in asking questions, you may find that your kids are thinking about this more than you realized, have noticed more than you realize, have some feelings around it. But sometimes kids don’t have the language or they’re not sure how to bring it up. And so if you give them that opening, then they can start talking about it with you.
Jen: [00:59:47] Okay. And if you give them the opening and they’re still like, I don’t care then do you let it go? I mean, even if they’re getting to kind of nine, 10, 11, like how long do you let this go?
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [00:59:59] And I mean, you know, and I think this is to a certain degree, it’s a bit of a judgment call for each parent. Yeah. I have that in my own home or like, I really feel like you need to know this and I’m asking you questions. You’re like, mom, I don’t care. Then I think it’s also okay to say sometimes, you know what? I know you don’t care about this right now, but I really do feel it’s important for you to know. So I would like just to start talking about this and here are some things I would like you to know right now. And in that case, I would say if it’s at all possible kind of keep it short, you know, think about, you know, whatever the topic is. Let’s say it’s consent. Think about like, what are one or two things. I really feel it’s critical for my child to know right now, give them that information. And then leave it for, you know, a couple of months or six months or whatever, and then come back to it. Kids often, like they do listen, even when it seems like they’re very reticent and they don’t care what we think, they listen. My advice on that would be, if you can try to do it in a moment where they can’t get away from you, like for me, I drive and I drive my kid places. So oftentimes I’m like, we’re in the car. So if you don’t want to hear this, you’re going to have to like open the door and roll out. And I know that’s not happening. You know, either moments where they are, you know, where you’re together and there is a lot of opportunity to get away. Moments where you can talk, but they don’t have to look at you can often be good. So if you’re involved in another activity, I’m also not above bribery, honestly. Like I’ll be like, listen, I really need to talk to you about safer sex. I know you don’t want to, I’m going to go and buy us ice cream. And we are going to talk about this on the way to the ice cream parlor. If that’s how I have to get you to listen to me, then that’s what’s happening. You can sort of be stealthy. And each of us knows our own kids, or like, again, it doesn’t have to be all like picket fences and violins and sitting down at your like pristine kitchen table and having these beautiful conversations. Like if it is, Oh my gosh, like, congratulations. But again, if it’s just like messy and you know, not ideal, you’re still having the conversation. Life is not ideal. And sometimes our families are not ideal, so it’s fine.
Jen: [01:02:11] Yes. Awesome. Please tell listeners where they can find more about you and all of your resources and the ebook that you mentioned as well.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [01:02:18] Sure. So you can go to my website NadineThornhill.com. there you will find, I should go to NadineThornhill.com/links. You will find links to my ebook. I have various courses that I offer. You can find me on Instagram @NadineThronhill. I have a YouTube channel Nadine Thornhill where I have lots of videos for parents about how to talk to kids about various aspects of sexuality. I’m on Twitter @NadineThornhill. Although honestly, there are more talking about like the MCU and other non sexuality related things. Um, and you can just Google me Nadine Thornhill. I’m Nadine Thornhill everywhere.
Jen: [01:02:57] Awesome. And we’ll put links to all of those things as well in the references page at YourParentingMojo.com/BeyondSexEd. So thank you so much for being here, Dr. Thornhill. It was absolutely amazing to have this conversation and go so much further than where we had been before and really see that this is super important and that we are talking in verbal or nonverbal ways about this with our children all the time, and that we can send the kind of messages we want to send that are aligned with our values. So thank you for helping us do that.
Dr. Nadine Thornhill: [01:03:25] Oh, well, thank you so much for having me. This was such a fun, awesome conversation. So it was my pleasure.
Jen: [01:03:31] Thanks for joining us for this episode of Your Parenting Mojo. Don’t forget to subscribe to the show at YourParentingMojo.com to receive new episode notifications and the free guide to 13 reasons your child, isn’t listening to you and what to do about each one and also join the, Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group.
About the author, Jen
Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.
Her Finding Your Parenting Mojo membership group supports parents in putting the research into action in their real lives, with their real families. Find more info at www.YourParentingMojo.com/Membership
She also launched the most comprehensive course available to help parents decide whether homeschooling could be right for their family. Find out more about it – and take a free seven-question quiz to get a personalized assessment of your own homeschooling readiness at www.YourHomeschoolingMojo.com
And for parents who are committed to public school but recognize the limitations in that system, she has a course to help support children's learning in school at https://jenlumanlan.teachable.com/p/school