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Talking About Sex

Cathy Shea of Ridgewood, NJ, gave her 8-year-old daughter, Sarah, some books about sex and told her she could ask any questions she wanted. Sounds like an open, inviting way to start exploring this sensitive subject, right? Well, Sarah never said another word about it. Her mom finally had to work up the nerve to mention it again.

"Preteens are often too shy to come to their parents with questions, no matter how sincerely Mom and Dad urge them to just ask!" says Justin Richardson, M.D., coauthor of Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They'd Ask). What to do instead:

Rehearse with a friend 

No, you don't have to give the entire explanation (we figure your pal knows where babies come from). Just try a few lines to get your queasiness out of the way.

Pace yourself 

Don't have the whole talk at once. Bringing it up periodically is a better way to show you're available.

Giggle with your child

Face it: This is tough for both of you. Look at a book together (try It's So Amazing! or It's Perfectly Normal, both by Robie Harris) and say what you're really thinking: "Isn't this picture silly? How embarrassing!"

Ask open-ended questions 

You'll get more from "What do kids say about sex?" than "Do you think most kids know what sex really is?"

Pick the right spot to talk

One idea: Have sensitive conversations in the car to spare your child (okay, and yourself) the uncomfortable eye contact.