I think I failed big time in the cool mum stakes when my small son pulled down his pyjama pants and said: 'look mummy my winkie’s gone all fat.' I’m not sure the answer is supposed to be – ‘that’s nice dear!’
So I asked some mum friends what they had said when confronted by their sons' erections for the first time – some spluttered and said, 'I just told him to speak to his dad', another said: 'I just told him it was his body practising for when he's grown up'.
So I thought I’d ask a few experts for their help – several said pretty much the same thing – oh, I just sent them over to my husband. But not everyone has a husband/partner on hand – and even if you have, you can guarantee they won't be there when you need them!
Rosalind Wiseman, author of Ringleaders & Sidekicks: How to help your son cope with classroom politics, bullying, girls and growing up, told me: 'The most important aspect of any discussion with your sons about sex and their sexual development is to be calm, factual, age appropriate, and if you're embarrassed about talking about it admit it but talk to him anyway. And first of all I think that a conversation about erections is best done by fathers.
'But either way I said the following to my boys when they were about eight. "This may not have happened yet, but I wanted you to know that sometimes your penis can get harder for a little while and then it goes back down again. There's nothing to worry about if it happens – it's a natural thing that happens to boys bodies. But if it happens around other people, some boys can feel embarrassed about it so it's never right to tease another boy about it." This doesn't need to be a long conversation with the definition if success being a 30 minute in-depth talk. Just say it and ask if he has any questions. If he doesn't, the let him know he can talk to you about it later.'
Of course what I really wanted to do was get some advice from the horse’s mouth – a bloke – so I asked James Dawson, author of a no-nonsense book for older boys, called aptly enough, Being a Boy: 'Little boys may start experiencing involuntary erections as young as six years old and probably won’t be much older when they realise it feels nice to play with it. However, questions and conversations about this can be awkward – little boys are bound to be curious,' he said.
'The most important thing when having any discussions leading up to puberty is to NEVER fib. Inventing twee stories about storks is only going to confuse children further down the line and potentially leave them open to mockery on the playground. However, that’s not to say parents and carers have to tell the FULL truth.
'In the case of involuntary erections, I see nothing wrong with explaining that it is because they are getting older, and when they are grown up it will be important if they want to be daddies. Assure your son that it will go down by itself and they don’t need to do anything to it. Remember: as early as Year Two, teachers will be explaining to pupils that you need a male and female to create offspring, so this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.
'Explaining to boys AND girls that they shouldn’t be playing with themselves in public should be pretty standard too!'
If you need some help talking to your children about sex, the Family Planning Association runs a free course called Speak Easy, which may help.
They told me: 'As we say on the Speakeasy course, parents who grew up with their own parents not being particularly open about sex and relationships, will remember how much of a confusing time this was. But if you have open discussions from a young age then it becomes more of a natural process, and means they won’t grow up feeling embarrassed or ashamed. And if they are coming home with variations of the truth because their friends ‘know better’, then having the sort of communication/relationship that enables them to ask any questions when means you can clear tricky issues up and say no that’s not right, this is.'
I’d love to know how you dealt with this? Did you pass him straight over to dad, did you manage to be very matter or fact, or did you hurriedly change the subject and hope he wouldn’t mention it again?