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Answers to the big question

Parents are being taught how to overcome embarrassment when their children ask where babies come from. Helen Ward reports

Caroline Bushell remembers the day she found out where babies come from. "I was about seven when someone at school told me that I had been found under a gooseberry bush," said the 30-year-old, now a mother of daughters aged nine, eight and five.

"I went home and asked mum where the gooseberry bush was and whether we could go and find another baby."

Luckily Caroline's mother told her the truth. But the memory of being misled by a schoolfriend prompted Caroline to look for help when her own daughters started asking awkward questions.

She is one of 21 mothers who recently completed a seven-week course about how to talk to their children about sex and relationships run by the family planning association (FPA) through schools in Birmingham.

Caroline, whose daughters go to Ley Hill infant and junior schools, said:

"My eight-year-old daughter, Bethany, started saying recently that babies were made from S.E.X. I was really embarrassed about how to tell them, but I didn't want my children to learn about sex from their friends, I wanted them to come to me."

Lisa Gill has a daughter Stephanie, 10, and a three-year-old son, Jack. She said: "I wanted to be open with my daughter, but when I was pregnant with Jack she asked how he was coming out and I didn't want to be too graphic. I told her some people have operations.

"After Jack was born she wanted to see the mark where he had been taken out, and I then had to sit down and tell her properly. Now I have learned to be fairly comfortable with the issue."

Both women went on a Speakeasy course at Ley Hill junior school. It covered issues such as how to tailor information about puberty, sex and contraception to different age groups, what schools teach children and what to do if your child chooses the wrong time to ask.

The FPA began running the Speakeasy course in London, Birmingham and Manchester and is now training people to deliver it across the country.

Caroline said: "Recently we were at my in-laws when Bethany asked what a condom was. My mother-in-law told her we would discuss it later. But I said, 'It is what a man wears when he doesn't want babies'. Then Bethany asked where he wore it. My mother-in-law was crawling with embarrassment, but I just said 'on his willy' and Bethany said 'Oh, OK'. That was it.

Before I did this course I might also have told Bethany I would tell her later. Now my children know if they ask me a question I will be open with them."

Project manager David Kesterton said: "It is best if parents start early, answer questions in an age-appropriate way and cultivate an attitude of openness and respect for our bodies.

"There is a lot of evidence to show that talking at home about sex and relationships is one of the best ways of helping children delay their first sexual experimentation and that brings down the rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections."

For more information contact David Kesterton, project manager, on 020 7922 5237 or see www.fpa.org.uk

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