Mother of two Florenced Yeo uses bath time to teach her children about their bodies.
The marketing manager has been soaking in the bathtub and jacuzzi with her older child Rica Teo, who is 81/2 years old, ever since the girl was a toddler.
Ms Yeo, who is in her 30s, said: 'I teach her the anatomy of the female body and to not let strangers touch her private parts.'
She added: 'Of course, at this stage, I haven't taught her about birth control or condoms. I've told her in layman's terms how mummy and daddy made her and she's seen me breastfeed her brother.'
Psychologists say Ms Yeo's cautious but open approach towards matters surrounding sex and the body will encourage a child to develop a responsible stance towards sex.
Mr Glenn Graves, a counsellor at The Counselling Place, said that parents should be sensitive about how they share their values and beliefs about sex with their child.
They should also consider what developmental stage the child is at when approaching him or her with the topic of sexuality, he said.
'For example, teens are often trying to establish themselves as individuals. They need to know that sex as a topic is a comfortable subject at home,' he said.
This is communicated by parents having age-appropriate discussions about sex throughout their growing up years, he added.
Like Ms Yeo, restaurant owner Keith Loh feels that children should be enlightened early in life about sex.
A father of three children aged under seven years, he said: 'Whenever queries about sex come up, I take it from the perspective of basic reproduction. It is important with kids to approach it pragmatically and factually.'
For example, when Mr Loh's wife was pregnant with their two younger children, Mr Loh explained the pregnancy process to his eldest son, now six.
Ms Martine Hill, a counsellor at The Counselling Place, added that it is important parents teach their children the proper names for their private parts.
She said: 'A penis is a penis, not a 'wee-wee' and a vagina is a vagina, not a 'down there'.
'When parents use incorrect names for sexual body parts, the message is that they are somehow different or that there is something wrong or unmentionable about them.
Often this results in children learning to be embarrassed or ashamed of their genitals.'
Parents are likely to find that talking to children about sex is an ongoing process that cannot be tackled in one single sitting.
Indeed, psychologists Mind Your Body spoke to advise a step-by-step approach, while avoiding a barrage of information or long sermons.
Children below five years should be taught the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour and that boys and girls have different private parts.
From five to eight years old, they can be made more aware of gender differences, for instance, or why only women can give birth.
For children nine years and above, parents can include discussions on puberty, changes in the child's body as well as the physical facts, emotional aspects and consequences of intimate relationships.
Details about sex, protection, sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies and the implications of sex should be reserved for children above 12 years old, when they are mature enough to handle such graphic information.
Ms Vanessa von Auer, clinic director of EVA Psychology Centre, said: 'Just as important is discussing dating, which many parents seem to skip. They want to jump right to the sex bit but forget that dating is a big part leading up to sex.
'It's helpful to emphasise that dating should take time and a couple deserves to get to know each other.'
Such parent-child discussions should be a two-way street, with parents open to answering questions about sex or their children's bodies.
Ms Shona Lowes, clinical psychologist at Equilibria Child and Family Psychological Services, said: 'When your child asks you a question, try to think about what might have triggered it. Give as much information as you feel the child needs and give him the opportunity to ask more questions.'
For example, a four-year-old curious about pregnancy may be satisfied with just an answer that focuses on how a baby develops in the womb. Later, he may want to know how the baby was made.
Talking to their children about sex may be difficult but parents should not ignore or repress their curiosity.
Ms Hill said: 'By answering kids' questions as they arise, parents can help foster healthy feelings about sex.'
Parents can seize upon everyday situations like an intimate scene on television, or a pregnant woman, to educate their children about sex.
Mr Loh said: 'If I am uncomfortable with the topic, I'll not let them sense that. They need to know there's a reason for sex.'
Ms Yeo said: 'I told my daughter that she must introduce her boyfriend to mummy when she has one, and that she can hold hands with and kiss him but she cannot go to bed with him.
'I don't think it's a difficult topic. It's part and parcel of growing up.'
- Children below 5 should be taught the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour and that boys and girls have different private parts.
This article was first published in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times on Oct 2, 2008.