At some point, your preschooler is going to ask how animals or people make babies. This is a normal expression of curiosity. You have to say something. You want your information to be accurate, but no reason to give too much detail, right? What is appropriate for a preschooler to know? What language should you use? How do you handle your emotions during this tricky discussion? First of all, most children are interested in "reproduction," as opposed to "sex." How do creatures make more babies? This is the level on which to keep the topic. Reproduction. "The talk" can wait until later in their lives. But for now, where do babies come from? Read on to learn how to teach preschool children where babies come from.
Wrap Your Mind around the Idea
First, to put this in perspective, imagine if you were completely new to a topic and knew nothing. You'd want some basic information about it—an overview. You wouldn't have any preconceived ideas or emotions tied up in a topic about which you knew nothing, you'd just want to learn more. So you, as a parent, are starting fresh. Now is your chance to treat the topic as, frankly, just any other topic for a preschooler—with the basic outline, without any judgments or sweeping pronouncements. Today is the day to introduce the birds and the bees. Remain neutral and casual. Completely unemotional. A discussion on the birds and the bees is all normal and good.
Keep It Simple
Describe how reproduction takes place, in the most generic sense. It starts with an egg and a seed. The woman (or female, if you want to cast a bigger net) has the egg and the man (or male) has the seed. In order to make a baby, you need an egg and a seed, which then get together and start to form a baby. This is true for animals of all kinds. If your child asks, a human egg is very tiny, much smaller than a hen's egg, but is the same sort of thing. A human seed, too, is much smaller than a seed in the core of an apple, but it is much the same thing. Both eggs and seeds are easy to find and within the realm of a child's experience, so the joining of the two makes some sense.
Add a Bit More Detail
Once the seed is safely together with the egg, the woman keeps the now forming baby in her "tummy" (use whatever word or phrase you like. "Baby place," or "baby organ" would work too) and is then pregnant. The woman keeps the baby in her tummy while the baby is growing. When the baby is ready to come out, the woman has the baby, who then comes out of her body and is born.
Just What Is That Thingee Anyway?
If needed, you can introduce rudimentary words for the organs involved. Here's where lots of controversy comes in. My experience is that it's helpful to have some cute words for male parts and female parts at this age. You may feel it's safe for your child to learn the words "penis" and "vagina" (and I have friends who insist that's the way to go). Me, I'd rather not risk my four-year-old saying either of those words in public, thereby creating choking and spewing on the part of casual listeners. I chose the word, "twinkie" to refer to the female part, and "pee-pee," to refer to the male part, but please choose words you feel comfortable with, because your child will use those words. When my child says "twinkie" no one is the wiser. It's just a word, just a part of the body. And besides, Twinkies, those little snack cakes, are a pleasurable association. Instead of pee-pee, "wienie" would be a good option. Again, a non-negative association is helpful.
If you need to take it a step further, a man's pee-pee has the seed. (Again, this isn't anatomically precise, we know testes produce semen, not penises, but how much do you need to explain at this point? Keep it simple, if possible.) The man gives the seed, through his pee-pee, to the egg, inside the woman's twinkie. If the egg and the seed get together, a baby starts to form.
Be proud. If you have made it this far, you are doing beautifully. Your preschooler has a simple idea of what it takes to start a baby, and how and where babies grow. Hopefully, this will buy you time until you have to go into the next level of detail. But for now, you've done a good job.
Tips & Warnings
- You can keep everything more normal by including animals along the way—we are all creatures, after all. Yes, horses and dogs have babies this way too. Even turtles, for instance, although turtle eggs go outside the female turtle's body and then are hatched, just like hen's eggs. It all starts from an egg and a seed, though.
- If you would like to be inclusive at this point (or you could save this discussion for another day too), you could add that if two women would like to have a baby, they would need to get a seed from a man and one of the two would provide the egg. If two men would like to have a baby, in the same way, one of the men would need to provide the seed and a woman would need to provide the egg and keep the baby in her tummy.