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talking to your kids about sex

When I was a kid, I asked my dad to teach me how to swim. He said no because he didn’t do it correctly himself. He didn’t want to screw up and teach me the wrong way to swim. I eventually taught myself. To this day, I am uncomfortable in deep water because I’m not a strong swimmer and I do not trust myself not to drown.

I totally understand where my dad was coming from. I am very comfortable talking about sex and sexuality with my clients. Yet, talking to MY KIDS about sexuality (and doing it well) TERRIFIES me. I didn’t do it all right myself, and it’s such a big deal. I get it. I see all the hurtful, painful possibilities of distorted intimacy and sexuality regularly, and I want to protect my kids from that. It makes this task feel bigger and more complicated than is helpful. That’s where my anxiety comes in, the fear of MESSING UP something so important. If you are anything like me, I urge you not to let the fear of messing it up keep you from saying anything. We CAN do hard things. We are in this together, friends. There is grace in this. Believe me, we need a healthy measure of grace when it comes to sexuality because I’m not sure any of us on this green earth have figured it all out yet.

A few things to remember: This is hard, but you can do it. You MUST do it. They will learn about sex somewhere; let their first messages be true (and from you!) so they have a better filter for all the distorted messages they’ll get later. Keep it simple at first. Think about the big picture and what you want for your kids as they grow up. Then, be intentional about giving them the best possible foundation for those dreams you have for them. Utilize teachable moments, and keep it an open dialogue. The sex talk should not be a “one and done” kind of thing. It should be an ongoing conversation. Positive messages are more powerful than fear-based ones.

Here are some benchmarks to help you (and me). I gathered the following information from a book called, “How and When to Tell your Kids about Sex” by Stan and Brenna Jones. I put it into an outline to make it easy for you and I’ve added some of my own insight, as well.

My Big Picture: For our kids to become healthy adults who can have deep and meaningful relationships, where they both respect themselves and others. To enjoy having emotionally, spiritually, and sexually intimate marriages. To know and feel that sex is good and for them to enjoy.

Infancy through Kindergarten (0-5ish years):
  1. Teaching the goodness of our sexuality. Our kids are sexual beings. Use correct names for body parts, normalizing erections (It feels good, God made men that way), noticing differences in male and female parts, God made all our parts and they are good.
    • Ladies especially, be mindful of the way you talk about and interact with your own body. Your parts were made by God and they are good, friend. A little girl I babysat helped me remember this important truth. She pointed out that my breasts were very big. I agreed and (unfortunately) told her that I didn’t like them for that very reason. She didn’t miss a beat, “Why?” she said, “That’s how God made you.” Mic drop, you guys. I got schooled by a 5 year old.
  2. Sexual curiosity. Curiosity is normal. It’s ok to look at and touch their own body parts (in private) and to ask questions. Explain things truthfully, but basically/broadly. Kids are usually not looking for in-depth explanations at this age.
  3. Remember: God’s gift is good. God’s gift is private. Curiosity is good. Set clear boundaries and expectations. You could say something like, “But even though it’s a fine thing to be curious, I don’t want you to show your penis (or vagina, privates) to other kids. And I don’t want you to ask to see theirs. If you keep those parts of you private and special, it will help you to always feel that God made you in an especially wonderful way.” (p.83, 84)
  4. Know that self-stimulation and touching is unlikely to become a problem if you do not overreact. Remind your kid’s about privacy if they are doing it around others. (p.85-87).
  5. Abuse prevention (p.94-97).
    • 3 important Rules:
      1. Your body is private. “No one has the right to look or touch your privates unless it’s mommy or daddy when we bathe you, or the doctor (and mommy or daddy are there).”
      2. Do not keep secrets. “If anyone ever asks you to keep a secret from us and says that we will be mad at you if you tell, please know that is a lie. We will never be mad at you for telling, we will be so proud of you for doing the right thing in telling us.”
      3. Your body belongs to you. “We will trust you, and we want you to trust your own feelings if you feel confused or uncomfortable about the way someone looks at or touches you.”
    • Skills: Recognize danger. Teach them to pay attention to their feelings and if something feels uncomfortable or confusing, to tell you.
    • Be assertive. “No” means “no”, “stop” means “stop”. During tickling and play, these words are to be respected immediately. Do not make your kids hug or kiss anyone, including you. Asking for a hug or kiss is ok, but they are allowed to refuse. Teach your kids to expect that their wishes regarding touch will be respected immediately by you, and should be respected by everyone. This will help them identify more easily when something “doesn’t feel right” and to be more aware of the problem when someone doesn’t do this. This will also aid them in understanding reciprocity and their right to refuse, as they get older.
    • Supportive Environment
      1. Stand behind your children (if they don’t want to hug, etc)
      2. Reinforce the three critical rules (your body is private, we don’t keep secrets, pay attention to your feelings)
      3. Be aware of your child’s world (have a sense of the kids and parents and caregivers in their lives. Pay attention, and do not ignore any feelings you have, either.
Next steps: Sit down with your spouse and talk about the big picture you both have for your kids. Then, review this together and discuss it. Begin telling your kids these things in every day moments (during bath time, when they ask a question, dinner time, before going to the park or visiting family, etc).

My next post will be on the big messages we give our pre-puberty (6-11ish) age kids, then puberty age (12-18ish) kids. After that, I’ll post about what to do and how to respond if abuse is revealed. If you can’t wait, check out the book, “How and When to Tell you Kids about Sex”. It’s not a perfect book, but it has a lot of good and helpful information.

affair prevention

You may have heard the expression, “Affairs don’t begin in bed.” This just means that there are often a series of poor boundaries and bad choices that happen long before the affair. They are preventable and here’s how:

  1. Realize that you are capable of having an affair. We all are. You need to realize this or else you will not enforce boundaries like you should. I hear this a lot, “I never thought I would do something like this.” And we never do. Good people do bad things. all. the. time. You are not immune.
  2. Talk to your spouse. Are you unhappy in your marriage? Feel as though something is missing? Angry? You are vulnerable to making decisions based on your (conscious or unconscious) desire to fill that missing piece and be happy. If talking doesn’t work, try counseling! Ignoring a problem will not make it go away. In fact, it will most likely get worse.
  3. Get healthy. If you have an untreated addiction or mental illness, please seek treatment. You are more vulnerable to having an affair.
  4. Set clear boundaries. Decide with your spouse what is acceptable behavior with the opposite sex. I can’t make my clients be as conservative as I am in my own marriage with this, but I have one rule that I am adamant about: do not complain about your partner with someone of the opposite sex. In fact, be very wary of who you complain about your partner with in general. Choose one or two trustworthy friends of the same sex when you need to vent on occasion. Also, use facebook wisely. I don’t think you need to be friends with the “one who got away.” Block the person or get rid of your account if you are struggling with this. I have seen too many affairs begin on facebook. Not worth it!
  5. Be accountable. You will feel attraction to someone other than your spouse at some point. That is normal. What is not ok is keeping this a secret (although you do not need to tell your spouse about this unless you have acted on the attraction). Hiding things and trying to push them down has a way of making them get bigger. Find that trustworthy same sex friend and say something like this: “there’s just something about him /her that I find attractive. I will have extra boundaries with this person and if it continues to grow I will remove this person from my life to protect my marriage and family.”
  6. Learn about love. Love is a choice. You will always feel something is missing if you believe love is the same thing as the “in love feeling.” Hollywood and fairy tales set us up to believe that love is always supposed to be exciting, easy and make us happy (affairs are exciting…that is much of the draw).

If this blog is too late, please know that I have seen grace and forgiveness in sessions with clients. It will not be an easy road, but there is hope and healing is possible. I hope you’ll seek wise counsel and begin the process, friend. You are not alone.

how to not start a fight

Most folks believe that communication is the key to a happy marriage. And yet, usually when couples say they have a problem with communication they actually mean something like this: “we don’t know how to talk to each other without it turning into a fight” or “we don’t know how to talk to each other anymore.” Their problem is more specifically conflict resolution and a lack of intimacy/friendship.

So, my job is to figure out what folks really mean when they say, “we need to learn how to communicate better.” In many instances, I’m helping people learn how to start tough conversations about feelings and needs in the hopes of decreasing the chance of defensiveness and subsequently, an argument. Ultimately, my goal is not to prevent couples from fighting; it is to help them treat each other with respect.

A few tips for softening your start up:

  • Think before you speak. Calm down, decide what you really want to communicate, and avoid the words “always” and “never.”
  • Put yourself in his or her shoes. Do you believe your partner deliberately and intentionally wanted to hurt or upset you? Try to lead with   some other softening statements like, “I know you’ve been busy…” “I don’t think you meant to…” or  “I can understand why…”
  • Be specific about the behavior you would like changed. Name-calling and character bashing are just mean (and do not help get your point across)! Neither does yelling. If you want to be heard, don’t be mean, stop yelling, and speak rationally.
  • Stop fighting to be right. If one of you “wins,” you’ve both lost. Understanding is the new “right” and if you achieve it, you both are winners.
  • It’s ok to let some things go. But do not, I repeat: do not stuff your feelings and allow yourself to get bitter or resentful.

Good luck getting started!

Depression 101

Chances are that you or someone you know has struggled with depression. I truly believe knowledge is power, so…

Here’s my “quick and dirty” fact sheet regarding this ugly beast:
  1. The longer depression remains untreated, the harder it is to treat. It is treatable though, and there is hope and you are worth it.
  2. The symptoms of depression make depression worse. (i.e.: when you’re depressed you most likely have low self-esteem, want to isolate from people, and have difficulty completing everyday tasks. The aforementioned stuff, plus the rest of depression’s symptoms will make you feel worse).
  3. Another way of saying #2 is that depression will lie to you. It will tell you that you aren’t worth it, you will never amount to anything, and also that you are ugly and stupid and nobody likes you. Lies. All lies.
  4. Depression makes the simplest of activities feel monumentally more difficult. (i.e.: getting out of bed, taking a shower…)
  5. Women are more likely to suffer from depression.
  6. The combination of good psychotherapy and proper medication has been proven to be the most effective treatment of depression.
  7. However, not everyone with depression necessarily needs to be medicated. It depends on the severity and length of time depressed, as well as other factors.
  8. Regular exercise has been proven to effectively elevate mood, energy, and self-esteem.
  9. Mind, body, and spirit are all connected. Folks with physical problems, illnesses, women who have just given birth, people struggling with addiction, childhood trauma, etc. are more likely to suffer from depression.
  10. You are more “at risk” for depression if it runs in your family. Awareness of this can help you take preventative measures and notice “warning signs” in yourself.
  11. You are more likely to experience depression again if you have had depression in the past. Refer to my comment about awareness from #10.
  12. Clinical depression is diagnosed using the following criteria: http://www.mental-health-today.com/dep/dsm.htm
  13. I’m going to repeat #1: If you suspect you are depressed or are becoming depressed, get help as soon as you can. The longer you wait the more difficult it becomes to treat. I highly recommend first seeking a skilled professional counselor who can help you sort out whether or not medication is necessary or appropriate. He or she should be trained to offer depression-helping proven therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

You are worth it and you do not have to go through this alone.

How to talk to your spouse about counseling

I often hear, “I would love to come to counseling, but my husband/wife won’t come.” I get it. Marriage counseling is often thought of as the last thing you do before you get divorced. There is a misconception that you should only go to marriage counseling if you are in crisis/on the verge of divorce. There are also many folks who go for a session or 2, so that they can say they “tried counseling” even though their minds were already made up and they didn’t actually try at all. The truth is most couple’s wait 6 years to come to therapy after the issues begin (Gottman). That means, most people do wait until they are in crisis/make or break/verge of divorce mode. And this is a huge problem. Waiting too long means one person (likely the one asking for counseling 6 years ago) hasn’t felt loved in a long time, and is now on the verge of leaving or filing for divorce. At this point, the other partner finally gets it and offers counseling instead. The issue with this is that it’s too late. The spouse who hasn’t felt loved in a long time is now numb. This numbness is why marriage counseling will have less odds of being helpful. Numb folks won’t make the effort (they’ve emotionally given up) and have usually already made up their minds. So, now that we’ve established the importance of not waiting until you’re in crisis mode…what are some tips for getting your partner to come?
  1. Bring up your desire for counseling during a time when you aren’t fighting or distracted by something else.
  1. If you get pushback, say that you want to understand his/her reasons for not wanting to go. Once you know why, you can better address the real issue with kindness and compassion.
  1. Offer a compromise. Say, “Would you be willing to come to one session? It would mean so much to me. If your fears are confirmed in the first session, we do not have to go back. If we feel as though the counselor can’t help us, we don’t have to go back. There will be no pressure, I’m just asking you to give it a chance.”
  1. Then, express why you want to go now, and not wait until you are in crisis. “If we go now, we can have a better marriage, and prevent things from getting worse and being harder to fix in the future.”
Remember, counseling can be a really scary thing for some people. Unknown things usually are. Be compassionate, but firm. If you think you need marriage counseling, you probably do. Don’t give up! I’ve found that I can win skeptics in the first session because I have a practical plan and structure for marriage sessions and because I incorporate humor with compassion, and tough love.

talking to your kids about sex

When I was a kid, I asked my dad to teach me how to swim. He said no because he didn’t do it correctly himself. He didn’t …

affair prevention

You may have heard the expression, “Affairs don’t begin in bed.” This just means that there are often a series of poor …

how to not start a fight

Most folks believe that communication is the key to a happy marriage. And yet, usually when couples say they have a problem …