Expert Speak

My 3-year-old walked in when we were making out!

Every parent's nightmare: their child walks in on them having sex. How do you deal with it sensibly and ensure the child is not scarred for life?
shocked couple in bed

The thing I never wanted my child to see – us having sex!

“So it was a Sunday morning. Neither of us had to rush for work and we knew the kids would sleep in in their room. Perfect time to get frisky! So we slid under the covers and got it on! At the heights of passion, I’m riding him and my three-year-old girl opens the door, rubbing her sleepy eyes. What’s worse, we were so engrossed that I didn’t even realise she was in the room until she said “Mumma” with her jaw dropping open! We quickly toppled all over each other, pulled up the covers and I told her to go to her room and that I’ll be right there. Since then I’ve avoided the topic like the plague and I can’t meet her eyes. Have I scarred her for life somehow? What do I do?”

How about you? Ever been in this predicament? Tricky, eh? So for those of you who have not experienced it yet, or who might be going through it as we speak, let’s see what you can do.

Related reading: How parents’ sexual behaviour influences the child

Hold the panic button

The moment the child enters your room, even though you might be extremely tempted to flap all over the place, probably fall over each other, and cover yourselves up…hold it! Take a quick deep breath…smoothly slide off your partner, get to their side as if you’re just lying next to each other and normally pull the covers up while saying something like this to the child, “Oh hey sweetie, good morning! Didn’t hear you come in…dad/mom and I were just spending some special love time.” When you do this, you stop yourself from giving the impression to your child that sex is something dirty and embarrassing and second, you associate it with love, an emotion the child already understands well.

Never with anger

Never ever react to your child’s entry at a time like this with anger or disapproval. You’ll end up making him/her feel guilty and ashamed, feelings you never want your child to associate with sex. Because trust me, no matter how young your child is, the first time he/she sees a sexual scene, it will stay with him/her. In psychoanalytic terms we call it the “primal scene” and it holds a huge importance in how the child’s views get further shaped.

couple in bedroom
Representative Image source

Related reading: 7 things no one tells you about married sex

Be careful with dismissal

Now you want the child to leave the room. Don’t simply say, “Go to your room, I’ll talk to you later”. It sounds like a punishment and will create a complex in the child. Use a natural sounding excuse with something that the child usually helps you with, like, “Hey could you go check if the milk is here yet? It’s a holiday, let’s make breakfast together!”

Always deal with questions

If you’ve managed to do the things mentioned above so far, chances are you won’t have to deal with any uncomfortable questions. Even so, in case questions still turn up, don’t avoid them. It’s understandable that you might feel anxious and embarrassed, but remember that while you still know what’s going on, your child is completely clueless and bewildered! Let them voice the entire question without interrupting or chiding. Ask more clarification questions in simple language if you’re not clear about what they are asking (you don’t want to give away more information than necessary!). If you still feel you cannot find the words to answer their question, honestly ask them for more time, saying something like, “I’d like to give you the best possible answer to this question, because it is a good question. Do you think you can give me some time while I think it over?”

couple in beb
Representative Image source

When children walk in on your private moments, always remember that they are the more confused and embarrassed ones and if you act with shame, you will end up creating exactly the complex you’re trying to avoid. So keep calm, and deal with it head on!

So it happened; now what?

My two-year-old toddler walked in on us having sex. We’re feeling irresponsible and guilty. Is our child scarred? He has not asked us anything about it, so should we bring it up and discuss it?

First, you’re not irresponsible for doing things that make you a couple. You’re a couple AND parents and you need to do things to nourish both roles. You were doing something natural. That said, it wasn’t a natural thing for a child to witness, but it’s not like he would never know about sex. You might have shocked him a little bit and more likely confused him. However, if displays of affection as husband and wife (touching, holding hands, kissing) are natural in your household even in front of children, your toddler may not be shocked at all. If he hasn’t asked you about it, then before bringing it up you need to do two things:

1. Watch for any changes in his behaviour around you – lessened eye contact, aversion to being hugged or touched, reluctance to go in the bedroom where he saw you, heightened curiosity about the anatomy of his toys, etc. If any or all of these signs are present, you can gently bring up the topic of discussion.

experts advice

2. If the above signs are not there, you need to gently start establishing boundaries about knocking before entering your bedroom and explain the concept of ‘private time’ between mom and dad, because they need it too, like he needs his playdates with his friends.

My six-year-old walked in on us having sex. We fumbled, screamed and frightened him. How should we behave now to undo the damage?

Now that the damage is done, it’s best to tackle the issue head on. Go to your child and tell him you’re feeling embarrassed about how you acted when he walked in but you were taken by surprise and didn’t know how to react. Then lighten the situation by asking him if he found it funny how you reacted? Laugh a little. Then ask straight up if he has any questions about the incident and that you will answer everything honestly. This should be enough to diffuse the situation!

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3 Comments

  1. This is a situation that more or less most of the young parents have to encounter. And it’s really important to know how to deal with it sensibly. Because , whether parents realize it or not such an episode has a deep impression on the child’s psyche which goes a long way. I have my friends who have shared with me, how as a child they had witnessed their parents making out together which left them in a sense of shame and guilt for a really long period of their lives. This is a very helpful article. 🙂

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