Some things are really tough to talk about with your kids, like physical development and puberty, and keeping safe from abuse.
Even if you find talking about these issues difficult, it’s important your child gets the facts from you first, rather than from their peers or the internet.
If you’re having trouble finding the right time to talk, you can find some great tips in the booklet Open and Honest, a guide to talking with your child about sex and sexuality that’s available from the Family Planning website.
It’s not always easy to find good resources for young people with disabilities. A number of support organisations provide access to libraries that include information about puberty, self-esteem, bullying and relationships. In most cases, anyone can borrow resources free of charge from anywhere in the country, although you may have to cover some of the costs of postage. Search the libraries at IHC, Parent to Parent and CCS Disability Action.
Once your child starts school, it’s a good idea to talk with teachers about what health topics or programmes will be covered so you can better support your child’s learning.
If you start talking with your child about their body from a young age, you’ll find that the conversations get easier over time. It will also be less confusing and overwhelming for your child than saving everything up for ‘the big talk’.
Your child doesn’t need to know everything right away. But, there are some things that will lay a good foundation for future conversations, such as using the correct names for body parts, and learning the difference between things we do in public and in private.
This is a good time to talk about feelings and what your child should do if they don’t feel comfortable or safe with someone. You can also talk about friendship and the types of things that make a good friend, as well as talk about accepting diversity and differences in others.
Some children will experience puberty as young as eight years old, so you’ll want to talk with them about the changes they’re likely to experience well before then.
The Family Planning website has lots of information about puberty. They also have a booklet specially written for children with mild to moderate intellectual or learning disabilities. It’s called All About Growing Up. You’ll find it easy to read and well-illustrated, with activities to help with learning.
The activities will help young people learn to manage their personal hygiene, like washing under the arms and the groin, using deodorant, shaving for boys and managing menstruation for girls. It’s a good idea to start incorporating some of these things into your child’s daily routine as appropriate in preparation for the teen years.
Keeping safe from abuse
Keeping Ourselves Safe (KOS) is a child protection programme developed by New Zealand Police and taught in most New Zealand schools. Children learn skills appropriate for their age group to help them interact safely with others and to recognise the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships.
Other useful resources
Common Ground is a website that aims to help parents and caregivers recognise when their children are struggling. It identifies some of the warning signs of things like abuse, bullying, self-harm, eating disorders and depression. It also gives parents and caregivers advice about how to talk about these things with their child, how to take action, and where to find support.
The New Zealand Police has also developed the Kia Kaha programme to combat bullying. The programme encourages children to accept diversity, and to create safe environments for everyone, and it lets them know how to find support if they’re being bullied.
Musician Timothy Folkema talks frankly about coping with bullies at school. Watch his Question Time video.
Netsafe has advice for parents about keeping young people safe from predators, cyberbullies and explicit material when they’re online.
Take a look at our page about supporting your child’s mental wellness for other resources.
Health Click produces resources for young people and those with disabilities and for their parents, educators, therapists and caregivers. Annette Milligan, the managing director of Health Click Ltd has some tips to make sex education easier in the Altogether Autism Journal Issue 1, 2018.