Kristen Bell recently appeared on The Talk to promote A Bad Moms Christmas, and ended up admitting that her two daughters, Delta, 3 and Lincoln, 4, have walked in on her and Dax Shepard having sex.
When asked what her most embarrassing parenting moment was, she told the audience, “Oh, they’ve walked in on us having sex,” adding, “That’s how they were made, it’s OK!”
So how did she handle it?
“Well, we didn’t, like, continue… we sort of just went like, ‘Hey, what’s up? What do you need? What do you need?’… And then we just said, ‘Mommy and daddy are just going to take a nap for a couple of minutes.'”
Which was actually one of the best ways to handle it, according to Dr. Richard Horowitz, The Family Centered Parenting Coach and author of Family Centered Parenting: Your Guide for Growing Great Families.
He says there are two big caveats at play here—one is always the age of the child, and two is what the parents have previously talked to the child about in terms of sex.
“The values of the family matter too,” he says. “How and when you want to explain it, etc.”
Around ages 3-5, Dr. Horowitz says that the best way to handle the situation is to say ‘mommy and daddy were being close to each other because they care about each other.' I wouldn’t go any further than that at that age.”
If your child looks frightened, or the parents get shocked upon being caught, just say “we were surprised to see you,” he advises. “I would divert the attention away from the child to the parents and say ‘We were just startled.’”
For kids older than 5, the explanation that parents were being very close because [they] love each other and it's a very normal natural thing to do is just fine, says Dr. Horowitz.
“But I would start early talking to kids about sex,” he says, “first biology and body parts at age 3 and 4. There are lots of good books out there covering biology first, and as the child ages, 7 is a very important age to begin sex education because cognitively their brain is changing. It’s a key time to start perceiving the world a little bit more adult like.”
Most importantly, he adds, parents want to get their family values across to their kids, so the foundation is strong in order to have honest talks and not make sex taboo.
The wrong way to go about getting caught would be to shout, or tell your kid to “get out,” or act like something awful and horrible was going on.
“Again you have to treat it as it’s an interruption, but not an interruption about sex, normalize it as a surprise interruption,” Dr. Horowitz says. “Remember they don’t have any previous experience to relate it to.”
And don’t worry, catching you in the act doesn’t mess a kid up for life, despite what you think.
“I wouldn’t say they’re messed up for life, but certainly you can distort a child’s view of sex and sexuality if a parent is repressed about it,” Dr. Horowitz says. “It used to be easier to limit a child’s view of sexuality in the world, but today with television and the Internet, parents need to be much more proactive.”
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