Katherine Heigl experienced every parent’s worst nightmare.
The actress revealed to Kelly Clarkson on the singer’s daytime talk show that her daughters have overheard some very intimate moments.
“My [daughter] Adelaide said to me the other day that she and [her sister] Naleigh give each other a look when they hear something weird,” Heigl explained. “And I said, ‘What do you mean by weird? What do you hear that’s weird?’ And she’s like, ‘Well, you know, if we hear like shouting or… there’s some noise about you grabbing dad’s butt?’ And I was like, ‘Okay, maybe we should be quieter about these things.”
Clarkson had some unconventional, sex-positive advice for Heigl, telling her that she could “show them how fun relationships sound.” But unsurprisingly, Heigl seemed to side more with the idea of toning down the fun relations a bit so she doesn’t have to wonder if her daughters are sharing glances on the other side of the wall.
It’s an experience that is common but rarely talked about and it does beg the question: what should parents do if they discover their kid walked or listened in on them having sex? It’s a delicate issue and one that does not have one clear or perfect answer. Still, there are experts who have shared their insight into what parents should and, perhaps more importantly, should not do if they find themselves in this potentially uncomfortable situation.
Kevin Leman, Ph.D. and author of A Chicken’s Guide to Talking Turkey With Your Kids About Sex, says that it is important not to lie to your child about what happened or pretending like you were doing something else. It can be tempting to just tell them you were wrestling but chances are you aren’t fooling your kid with that kind of excuse.
“[Kids] probably know and think more about sex than parents realize,” according to Leman. “So parents should approach the topic honestly.”
It’s a sentiment Melisa Shelton, M.S., a school psychologist, agrees with, though she does stress that it is helpful to “put yourself in your child’s shoes” when it comes to talking to them about sex, as you don’t want to overshare or confuse them.
Of course, every kid is different, and depending on a variety of factors, including age and personality, one child may respond very differently to the situation than another child would. That’s why it’s so important to create a space where they can talk about their feelings without any kind of shame or guilt, as they may end up associating those negative emotions with sex.
If you can help them understand it’s a normal, natural thing that parents simply do privately, it can help a lot in the long run. Sex therapist Margie Nichols told What To Expect that it is helpful to "give [the] child the idea that sex is a private, enjoyable activity that takes place in adult relationships."
So if you find yourself in a situation similar to Heigl, just remember not to panic because it’s not a scenario where anyone did anything wrong. Instead, just communicate clearly with your child and try to help them process what happened in as healthy of a way as possible without giving them way too much information.
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