#015 How do I talk to my gifted child about sex? With Dr Matt Zakreski
Today I’m speaking with Dr Matt Zakreski about sex education for gifted kids. Dr Matt uses a lifespan sex education model with a gifted education lens to talk about sex to our gifted kids.
In the episode you’ll hear:
- Looking at sex education through the gifted perspective.
- What gifted traits you need to consider during the sex education talks and puberty.
- What to talk about during each phase of your child growing up.
- 3 Biggest tips for parents – own the awkward, it’s a series of conversations, you don’t have to go it alone!
Hit play and let’s get started!
“Most schools, if they have sex ed at all is in eighth grade right before they go to high school. And at that point, you’re probably at least two years into puberty, maybe three… So can you imagine… let’s use driving the car. You start driving the car and three years later, I’m going to teach you how to do it.” – Dr. Matt
“We’re going to change, start wearing deodorant, or we start having to shave, maybe wearing makeup, wearing a bra, does a bra have underwire, right? These are all sensory things that we have to consider.” Dr. Matt
“Then we get to that emotional overexcitability… All those emotions are going to be felt to like 14, on a one to 10 scale, which means when our kids crush. They’re going to crush hard and they might get a little obsessive. They might have their hearts broken and that is something we need to anticipate as adults.” – Dr. Matt
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Sophia Elliott: [00:00:00] Wow. I’m super excited to have Dr. Matt Zakreski here with me today talking about a very important topic.
So Matt, you’re a psychologist. You were a school counselor you’re importantly for today’s conversation are a sex educator. Because we’re going to talk about sex education, because when I saw on your website that you did talks on sex education for gifted kids, I was immediately like, Oh my God, is it actually different?
So welcome. Welcome today. I’m super excited to have this conversation.
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:00:46] Well, I’m excited to have this conversation with you. Thank you for joining me from halfway across the world. Super fun for me. Yeah, I mean, yeah, this is when we think about education for gifted kids. It’s easy to think about. You know, the academic acceleration and the maker space and and independent projects and all that fun stuff.
And it’s important, but we also need to send sex and health education through the same lens through those same standards, because we want to educate well-rounded kids. And so adapting sex ed to the gifted and twice exceptional populations is a, I would say vital thing that we do. And like, yes, it’s a hard conversation to have if there there’s a lot of, you know eeek about it, but hopefully by the end of this hour, you’re going to feel a little bit better about it.
And we’ll give you some guideposts on how to talk to your kids and how to even get this in your schools.
Sophia Elliott: [00:01:43] Yeah, absolutely so important, especially in today’s media, saturated world. And so. This morning for me this evening for you, you’re coming to us from Philadelphia. Is that right? Outside Philly? Yeah.
And so it’s quite early in the morning here, so I’m going to confess to being half dressed. I’m in half jammies this morning, but I thought that’s okay. Importantly though, I’ve brushed my teeth. So you’ll be happy to know that there’s no bad breath, so, okay. Sex education and gifted kids.
I think my first question is how is that conversation different with gifted kids
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:02:29] And it’s different in a lot of ways, but what we’re going to start with is asynchrony. I think that’s the most important place to start. What we have is we have kids right in the asynchronous model who might be chronologically 10, intellectually 14, academically 15, emotionally nine, and have the physical skills of an eight year old.
So they’re, you know, and the more a kid has that asynchrony , there’s more of a spread and that spread leads to tension and stress. You know, I, I often reference a kid that I work with who he’s nine years old, he takes graduate level math courses. He’s brilliant, but he struggles to tie his shoes. And he said to me, more than once you like Dr Matt how is it that, that I can go to this fancy college and take these fancy math classes and I’m screaming and crying because I cannot figure out how to tie my shoes and you know, and that’s asynchrony, right?
That’s it laid out there and what that’s going to mean for your gifted kids. Is that as they move into that age where chronologically their peers are going to start dating, being interested in, you know, going on dates and you know, we’re gonna start talking about puberty. They may not be at a developmental state where that sort of stuff is what they want to do, what they’re able to do.
And, and there’s a lot of frustration and pain that can come with that. You know, why is it that everybody else is going on, you know, to boy, girl parties, right? Why is it that everybody else is, is dating it? I don’t even know how to start that conversation because here’s the dirty little secret, the model for teaching kids, how to get along with each other has always sort of been, they’ll figure it out in schools, right?
And dating is incredibly complex and it’s very nuanced. And here we are just saying, you guys got this right. You’re all will be fine. And, and, and it’s not like kids can’t figure it out because we are all standing here and somehow teenagers have figured out how to make out with each other since the Dawn of time.
But in my line of work, if I can give kids tools to help, you know, sort of soften that landing and smooth that path, I’m going to always choose to do that because then we’re going to put them in positions to succeed and maybe help them avoid some of that pain and frustration.
Sophia Elliott: [00:05:06] Absolutely. It’s so tricky.
So like you say, giftedness is so complex already with the asynchrony and I totally hear I’ve got that kid who can’t do shoelaces, but can do crazy science stuff and. Yeah. So there is nothing more complicated than the human relationship. Let alone adding, that kind of dating sex stuff on top of that.
Like, Oh my God, my heart is aching for my kids already. So
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:05:36] it gets better. I promise
Sophia Elliott: [00:05:37] it gets better because I tell you now my eldest is like, nine this year, I’m not ready for that stuff. Like, I’m not, can we just stop there at nine? So there’s a lot of challenges. We’ve got asynchrony being a big factor.
So as a parent of gifted kids, what do I need to know about the giftedness and how that impacts their world when having these conversations about dating and sex with my kids.
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:06:01] Yeah. So when we’re having these conversations, we need to think about three different kinds of overexcitabilities. I feel like, well, all five in show up, there’s three that we’re going to focus on.
The first one is the sensory overexcitability. So as your body starts to change, your knees are gonna hurt, your, you may be developing breasts, you may be developing pubic hair. Right. And I bet. I bet I’m the first person to say pubic hair on this, on this podcast.
Am I right?
More Transcript here
Sophia Elliott: [00:06:30] You are, I’m going to send you a certificate. Yeah, well done, I think there will be more firsts today..
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:06:37] Oh yeah. I mean, trust me, that’s not the first time we’re going to do that either. But all of those things are sensory in nature. And what we’re going to do is we’re going to change our clothes. We’re going to change start wearing deodorant, or we start having to shave Maybe wearing makeup, wearing a bra, does a bra have underwire, right?
These are all sensory things that we have to consider. One of the kids that I work with when he was going through puberty he came into my office one day and he sort of sat down and I could tell he was really grumpy about something. I said, what’s wrong. He goes, why does everyone, I go to school with smell terrible?.
And I laughed. I was like, well, that’s puberty for you buddy. Like, you know, you guys are, your bodies are changing and I know that’s a well-worn line, but it’s true. And I never noticed before I, it never bothered me before. He said, that’s because it’s changed. Right. You guys, your bodies are changing and what used to be go run around on the playground for awhile.
And we come in, it’s not a big deal, but now that you’re 12, 13 years old, there’s a difference to that. And he couldn’t regulate himself in school, math community at all, just because once he got became aware of that, he couldn’t. Get through that. So the sensory,
Sophia Elliott: [00:07:45] So he just, he just couldn’t focus on anything else because the smell is overwhelming because,
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:07:50] Overwhelming, and if you’ve ever sat through with tweens or teens, you probably understand what he’s talking about.
Right. I have, I’ve had some stinky kids in my room, but it’s fine. It’s part of the gig, I, I have less of a sensory over extendability and
then we get to that emotional over excitability, and it’s this sort of thing. All those emotions are going to be felt to like 14, a one to 10 scale, which means when our kids crush. They’re going to crush hard and they’re going to get a little, they might get a little obsessive.
They might have their hearts broken and. And that is something we need to anticipate as adults, right? Because we can’t necessarily, we can’t keep our kids from getting their hearts broken. I mean, that’s not the point, but the idea is having those conversations. If you have a crush on somebody, what do you do?
Who’s ever had that explicit conversation because there’s a lot of social nuance to that, that our kids, especially if they are a little bit more concrete or a little bit more socially delayed, may struggle to navigate the complexities of that. And let’s be honest. We both know adults who’s, who struggled to navigate the complexities of that.
We have these conversations the better, or the more our kids are at least informed and have the ability to navigate this. And then lastly and I think that this is the one that tends to slide under the radar is the intellectual over excitability. Because. Ultimately relationships are about connection.
They’re about shared values. They’re about shared interests and it’s not just, who’s the prettiest on the playground. It’s about who do I connect with? Who do, who shares my values? Who is, who can hang with me? And what’ll end up happening is we need to set up our kids in a situation where they’re going to meet people who think like they think, and maybe it’s, I’m not saying that your kid loves Dungeons and dragons.
So he has to date somebody else who likes Dungeons and dragons. But somebody who gets the intensity of that world, who gets the engagement with that. And it’s like, Oh, you do D and D I’m more of a magic, the gathering person, but we both live that fantasy role playing life, teases that intellectual over excitability, because otherwise you just get bored, and it’s in, it has to be.
We have to make space for not only the physical attraction, but the intellectual attraction. And I think having that conversation with your kids empowers them to find people who really do meet them and make them happy rather than this sort of well who’s everybody else dating.
Sophia Elliott: [00:10:31] Yeah, absolutely. So three things that we’ve got the over it over excitability, sensory emotional and intellectual.
So sensory, all our kids are really different, sensory wise that can mean a whole bunch of different things. But the important thing to remember there is that when they go through those teenage years, it’s all going to be heightened and, and those consequences. So just can, I think, and I think the thing about sensory for me is it’s so individual and personal that you’ve got to take your kids word for it, so for example, in our family actually, so my husband has like super hearing and it drives me nuts because he’s, I can’t have a clock in the house, and he can hear the bass in the kids’ room at the far end of the house and stuff like that. And he’s like, Aw, it’s just driving me crazy, but I’m good to take his word for the fact that it drives him crazy.
And so my kids have similar, quirks and a part of that I think is acknowledging are all very different experiences of the world . So that’s only going to get more intense during those sort of big puberty changes potentially. And, and like you said, very distracting.
How can I possibly concentrate on schoolwork when I’m completely overpowered with smell the same way that you’re going to get overpowered with noise? So. I’m looking forward to that.
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:11:57] Yeah.
Sophia Elliott: [00:12:00] So I, and I also, I really resonate with what you’re saying about the crushes, cause we’re kind of at the crush age here in this household, we have, we’re having some of that experiences, kids at school, having crushes and as a, a couple of kids and their boyfriend girlfriend and figuring out what that means.
And I’ve had to had a conversation recently with one of my kids who was getting some attention from another child who obviously really thinks a lot of my child, but my child was like, Hm, not really feeling really uncomfortable and obviously feeling really uncomfortable. And it was actually feeling a little bit obsessive.
And obviously there, the demonstrating that crush in a way that was making my child feel uncomfortable and we had to have that conversation around firstly like when someone has a crush on you treading carefully with their feelings, but at the same time, it’s okay. If you don’t feel the same way.
So that’s tricky right. At any age, isn’t it. And so we, we, we can’t assume that our kids are going to know how to deal with that. We need to give them some strategies and really kind of help them talk through those issues. Okay, great. Noted. And finally that the intellectual compatibility. Yeah. Again, and that can be really hard for gifted kids, gifted people because you.
It can be very isolating being gifted. You don’t necessarily have a community of gifted people around you. And it’s not to say that if you’re gifted, you could only get, intellectual, happiness out of another gifted person. But finding someone who understands your intensity and your quirks is going to be really important.
So, okay. That’s very gifted, specific and really helpful. So let’s get into the nitty-gritty because the idea of sex ed is going to freak out a lot of parents, because in generations past, I’m not sure. Yeah. Well, Right. Do I talk about it? And I look, I have to say, and I’m possibly, I’m going to have to give a shout out to my mom today because when I was growing up.
Yep, absolutely. My mom was actually a midwife during those formative years.
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:14:20] Wow. That’s so cool.
Sophia Elliott: [00:14:21] All right. So we had some very Frank conversations and we actually had this pop-up book which was this biologically anatomically, correct? Pop-up book of the whole kind of process those genitals popping up.
There was this baby in a womb popping out. It’s the most incredible book I’ve got it somewhere still. It’s in a box in the shed and I’ve got to dig it out for my kids. So thanks to mom. I’m totally cool talking about this today with everyone. But not everyone’s going to be okay about that stuff. And I think what I would like you to talk about is.
I think parents get stuck at this idea that the sex ed thing is all about the conversation about intercourse, but it’s not, there’s so much more to it than that.
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:15:08] Yeah. And I think that you hit the nail on the head, right? So here in the States, right? Most schools, if they have sex ed at all is in eighth grade eight, right before they go to high school.
And at that point you’re probably at least two years into puberty, maybe three. Right. We know that puberty starting earlier and earlier all over the world. So can you imagine that you say, look, let’s use driving the car, right. Okay. You’re going to start driving the car in three years later, I’m going to teach you how to do it.
So if we start the sex ed conversation in kindergarten and grade one grade two, right. All the way through, up through university and university should have. Sex ed classes as well. And I’ll tell you a really funny story about that later. You know, like a little teaser guys. Okay. It was having a meeting when I was talking to school about this and I was explaining to them how life, what we call life span, sex education.
It’s going to be five weeks for the kindergartners first graders, second graders on all the way up the chain and people were nodding and they were taking notes and they were generally agreement, but there was one, one dad in the corner I saw him and he was sorta like, just not a very happy face, so I said sir,.
You look upset, I love to engage with you in a dialogue. And he looks at me dead in the eye and he goes, I just, I just, I just, I don’t think it’s appropriate. They’re going to be talking to my kindergarten or about blowjobs.
Sophia Elliott: [00:16:35] Oh wow.
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:16:36] And I, took a beat, and he said, well, sir, I’ll, I’m happy to let you know that that’s not a conversation we have with our kindergarteners because that’s inappropriate.
Okay. Kindergarten. Doesn’t need to know that stuff. I kindergarten needs to know what the name of their body parts are. And kindergarten needs to know about hygiene. How do you keep yourself clean? Right. And then we build in things like, how do you like yourself? How do you like other people? How do you make friendships?
How do you know when something is more than a friendship? But by that point we’ve developed, we’ve built on it, like climbing a staircase all the way up to the grade six, seven, eight, when these things are starting to happen. So the idea is that foundationally we’re giving the kids the information they need from a very young age.
So they know what the name of their body parts are, and they know how to stand up for themselves. And they know what a good friend feels like and for our kids our gifted kids our neuro-diverse kids who might be a little socially delayed or asynchronous being explicit about those conversations. Is really important.
I know you mentioned, right? Um, that there’s a kid at the kid. Who’s getting attention from someone else and doesn’t really like that. So part of a good comprehensive lifespan sex education program is, is how to have those conversations say, I’m flattered that you like me. I’m flattered that you’re interested in me.
I unfortunately don’t feel the same way about you. I value you as a person. I just don’t have that level of attraction to you. And that becomes part of the discourse part of the dialogue. I mean, it’s not, it’s not about not hurting because you can’t avoid hurt.. And maybe its giving our kids the tools for both kids on that conversation to treat eachother with empathy and respect.
So good sex ed is really a natural offshoot about social, emotional learning. We’re just putting it in a very specific type of relationship. And I think that’s really vital for our kids.
Yeah, absolutely. So I’d like to then touch on what those what the reasonable expectations that kids would know at different ages before I do that.
I just want to check. Right. So I can’t just teach my kids to never have sex abstinence, like lock them in a room till they’re 30. Is that an option? Does that work? Cause you know, just checking
Well, so the data on abstinence is so interesting, right? Because at least here in the States and I can’t speak for Australia but there’s many schools who do what we call abstinence only sex education.
And what we find in abstinence only sex education is it plays to this sort of binary style of thinking you’re either having sex or you’re not, but as adults. And we know that there’s all sorts of things we can do that are not sexual intercourse that are still sexual in nature that are romantic in nature.
And what it does is it creates this sort of duality of either as long as you’re not having sex. It’s okay. Or I can’t talk to anybody about this because I don’t know if I’ve broken a rule and we know our kids can be so black and white. And they’re very focused. So it’s the sort of thing, you hear things like, I can’t hold somebody’s hand because I don’t have a girlfriend or if I kiss someone, does that mean I’m a bad person and what the data show on this and it’s my favorite thing about lifespan sex education is that abstinence education doesn’t impact pregnancy rates. Right? So if we do abstinence only sex ed, it has no impact on pregnancy rates in the school. But if we do lifespan sex education, and we talk to kids about what sex is, not only do fewer kids end up having sex, but some of the kids who are having sex stop, they return to a space in which they’re not having sexual intercourse.
And that to me is that there’s so much power to that because we are, is we’re informing our kids where we’re treating them with respect and dignity and saying, there’s so much pressure on you both internally and externally to be sexual with other people. And you may have felt those pressures, you may have succumb to those pressures already.
And it’s not like you’re tainted in some way. It’s not like your ship has sailed. You know, you broke the seal on the package and now you’re, we’ll never be able to sell you, like one of those toys, right. And like in the perfect package right. Your body and yourself doesn’t work that way.
The idea is making an informed choice is all based on your values is always going to lead you in the right direction. And if you decide to wait until you’re 30 to have sex, that’s your choice. If you just have to sex, when you’re 15, that’s your choice as well, whatever you want to do, I want you to be able to have all the information you need, having an adult or several of those that you can talk to about it and know that the choices we make are, are evolving.
They involve other people, and that a choice you make isn’t forever. If you should have sex, once that doesn’t mean I have sex now, right? Like this is just where I’m at, right? This is where I live. I tried that once I’ve decided to step away from it or, you know, or take a break, I know things are okay, but nobody talks to our kids about that.
And that’s, that is a, there’s an incredible suite of information to present to them.
Sophia Elliott: [00:22:07] Yeah, the more information they’ve had, the better decisions they can make around and having that real understanding that sex is not just this one thing. When we say sex, it’s like I said, this is so much that that covers in terms of intimacy and relationship and our very black and white kids can get, Oh my God confused so easily with their, like, I’ve, I’ve got a rules kid, I’ve got two kids who consider rules to be a challenge.
And I’ve got one who, yeah, right. They’re like, really, how can we play with that? And I’ve got one, who is just like straight up and down a rule as a rule. And if I can just see how that child could really within this context, take some of those rules and really, could get it out of hand.
So it’s important to have this really broad conversation about. Relationships and intimacy and all those different facets so that they’ve got all that information to, to help them make those good decisions. Okay. So early childhood to about five years old, what kind of conversations could we, should we be having, because the other thing about sex, we need to acknowledge as well in, in what you’re just saying is, in previous generations and let’s hope we’re starting to get better but is the shame attached. We need our kids to know there’s nothing wrong with sex. Sex is not bad. It’s natural. It’s, you know, we want to have a healthy sex life. You want to have healthy intimacy in relationships.
So, all right. So we’re starting in early childhood to five. What kinds of things?
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:23:48] So early childhood to 5 , we’re going to focus on naming our body parts, right? Yeah, penis, testicles, breasts, vulva. Right. We want our kids to know that. And there’s two reasons for that one. It demystifies it, right? Because there’s a lot of code words around.
There’s a lot of sort of other terms, and the, the other piece of this is that the research shows this very clearly kids who know the words for their, genitals are less likely to be sexually abused. And, and people always sort of start when they say that because you, our brains don’t want to think about a five-year-old being sexually abused.
Right. And then it breaks my heart, but it’s the sort of thing that God forbid that happens. I want a kid empowered and they know the words and they know the rules. I mean, that’s fundamental to this, right. We’re also going to talk about relationships. So this is a funny story. My wife and I are both sex educators.
We’re both psychologists. So we were teaching a sex ed class for first kindergarteners and first graders at our church actually. And so we were talking about, what makes a baby? And we went through, there’s a great book. We used, we went through it and we were talking about what that means.
And finally, one of the kids sort of raises her hand. I said, yes, sweetie. And she goes, so at the time, my wife was eight months pregnant. This is an important fact, you said, was that what you guys did? And we looked at each other, right. And we went and I went bright red. I was, I’ve been doing this a long time.
I still went bright red yeah. That what we did. And she said, Okay. And that’s it, it wasn’t there we take our adult brains. We sort of like send them, like, send those questions through that filter, but she’s five. She just, is that what you guys do? Okay. Yeah. Cool. Right. That’s I, now I know that there wasn’t anything lecherous about it.
It was just, okay. So that’s, so that’s what a pregnant lady looks like because you guys had sex eight months ago. And we said that pretty much. Yeah. That’s what happened. She goes, okay. You know, and
Sophia Elliott: [00:25:48] Yeah, I had a similar experience with my eldest. He went through a big, uh, learning about the body phase. He was quite obsessed about the human body, uh, when he was about three, four.
And. And obviously a part of the human body is making babies. And so, you know, we did the thing that, what we thought was age appropriate of, you know? Yeah. A bit of mommy and a bit of daddy comes together and the baby grows and he was like, well, how, how did, how does that come together? Like how well there’s a bit of mummy and a bit of daddy totally trying to brush him off, but he’s like, but, but no, how, and he just, how right.
And I’m like, Oh my God, I’ve tried a few times to fob him off with the bit of mommy bit of daddy was not working . I finally just said, well, you know, this is how it works. There’s, there’s a penis, there’s a Volvo, this is what they’re made for. And he’s like, okay, no worries. And moved on. It’s just facts.
It’s just facts to him. It was not interesting. And I also noticed when you’re talking there in terms of naming body parts, that when we’re talking about females, we’re talking about vulva, not vagina because. There’s a big misunderstanding that misunderstanding the female body part is actually called the vagina, but that’s a part, all the female body part.
So I, encourage parents to Google correct terminology for, well, I don’t know. Maybe find a book, maybe find a book.
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:27:18] There’s a lot of, yeah, I would definitely say books over Google. You don’t know what’s going to pop up, but all Sophia I want to return to something. If you don’t mind, is that, you know, is it you in telling that story, right?
You, you sort of reference that it was hard for you, right? And this is the thing, and I’m speaking to all the grownups out there, whether they’re your kids or you’re teaching this or your community leader, whatever it is okay. That it’s awkward. It is okay. That you struggle with it. This is one of those things where.
Where that’s, that’s fine. That’s to be expected. You don’t need to get to a place where you’re super comfortable with this and you can sort of spout out the terms and it’s fine if you, if you get there. Great, phenomenal. Right? I’ll tell you this. I’ve been doing this a long time. And at the old place I worked at the old community mental health center.
I worked part of our intake question. Was I had to ask if kids had had anal sex. Now I am a, at the time it was 34 year old man, right? Talking to mostly teens, many teen girls. And I never got comfortable asking teen girls as, as a man whether they were having anal sex. Right. It got less awkward over time, but it was never not awkward.
And my advisor, my mentor was like, that’s okay. Right. You checking into that feeling and you owning that feeling and still having the hard conversation shows these kids that it’s important. Right. And I would even encourage you guys to own that and check that with your kids, bringing that meta communication.
This is an uncomfortable conversation for us, but you know, it’s important because we’re having it anyway. And I think our kids value that authenticity, they value being treated with with that kind of respect, right? Like, Oh, wow. Like, okay. And there’s this, it’s like any other co-regulation thing, there’s this mythology that we need to be calm to do what we’re going to do.
And that’s not true, whether you’re whether your kid’s having a meltdown or you’re talking to them about sex, it’s owning whatever emotion you have. This makes me uncomfortable. Great, right. Own it, rather than saying, I’m fine.
Because nobody’s ever calm themselves down by saying our new calm down, it doesn’t work that our bodies don’t work that way. Say it’s like, yeah, this is a little weird, right. This is a little weird, but I’m here to have this conversation with you because it’s the importance of this conversation is, is more than my discomfort with it.
And I think our kids always will always respect that.
Sophia Elliott: [00:29:52] Yeah, absolutely. So just own the awkwardness name, the awkwardness yeah, we’ve got a great practice in our house of, yeah, we’re just, we just own our stuff and we cottoned on to the zones of regulation. So we have that language in our house.
So I will say, look mummy is yeah, I’m feeling like I’m in the yellow zone at the moment, I’m feeling a bit frustrated. I could really use your help and that kind of thing. And it’s okay to say this is really hard conversation. We didn’t have conversations like this when I was a kid, this is a bit new for me, but I really want to have this conversation with you.
So great tip.
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:30:28] Uh, okay. Well you said that beautifully. I mean, that’s right.
Sophia Elliott: [00:30:33] Okay. I’m going to play that back later to use that. So middle childhood, so age five to eight, what kind of conversations are
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:30:46] So we’re going to keep layering in the stuff about body parts, and then we’re going to start to move into relationships.
And we’re going to do two things here. We’re going to talk about what relationships feel good. And we’re going to talk about what things don’t feel good. And this is where we start to have conversations about consent. I’m about two meters tall, you know, little, little over six foot, and I’m a little over 200 pounds and I don’t know what that is in kilograms.
Don’t ask me. Um, it’s a
lot. I think
I’m a tall guy. I’m a big guy and I have a beard. I have a big, booming voice. So I am very potentially very intimidating to a kid. So when I talk to a kid, I get down on their level and I will give them the ability to choose to physically engage with me. So I’m big on high fives, fist bumps, waves, things that, that filled the negative space between us rather than.
Rather than sort of using “give me a hug Billy!”
Like can you imagine s saying no to that, I’m an adult authority, right? So we should to say, this is what consent looks like that I say, Hey, fist bump. And they go, no, thank you. I’m never going to be mad at you about that. And that’s really empowering for our kids because our rule followers are worried they’re going to get in trouble. And, but we’re giving them a tool that we can say, I’m not consenting to this. I’m empowering myself to have to say to adults that this is a thing. This is not how I want my body to be touched. Now, once again, obviously we hope that this plays out in these sort of. Typical social interactions hugs, high fives, fist bumps, but once again, it’s, it also empowers our kids.
If an adult is touching them in a way that they don’t like, and they feel very uncomfortable with it is once again, giving them that power. We’re really starting to get into the idea of physical touch and, and if we’re ever lucky enough to meet in person and we hug, I’m going to ask you if I can hug you.
Right. That’s just, that’s just who I am. That’s how we model this because consent is never assumed and it doesn’t last forever. We should check in every single time. And maybe you get to a place with someone where you don’t need to as much. Right. But it is always a good idea to check in. Right. And, and have that, you know, And, and have that be part of the dialogue in your home.
So if you go to your partner and you say like, Hey, I had a rough day and they say, can I give you a hug? And you say, yes, not only is that great dialogue between the two of you, but your kids are seeing that. Right. And, and how cool is that, that they’re seeing like, Oh, these are these adults that I love are using this language.
And then when I go to school and someone says, like give me a hug. I don’t want to, I don’t want to touch you like that. That’s a good thing. That’s a good thing that our kids have that language. So we’re really gonna focus on, what positive relationships feel like and how to use consent to navigate touch.
Sophia Elliott: [00:33:50] Like you’re saying they’re like about the fist pump or the high five. And I know sometimes I’ll go to my kids. Oh, fist pump and that will not hear me or whatever. I’ll be like, Oh, you’re leaving me hanging, but actually, if they haven’t heard me that’s okay. But if they’re kind of going, no, I don’t want to do it, having that language around well that’s okay. And, and, sometimes we’ll say, Oh, do you want a hug? Oh, come on, give me a hug. There’s a bit of a boundary that it’s like, Nope, that’s okay. That’s cool. Maybe changing our language there about the little bit of coercion that we sometimes, tap onto the end of those those moments that we do unconsciously.
But realizing that actually this is the moment where we teach consent in those early years. Yeah. Yeah, a hundred percent because there’s often memes and stuff on social media, around allowing our kids the opportunity to decide whether or not they hug family that they don’t have to. Yeah.
And supporting them in that. So that’s where all that kicks off. So, so then they get to this between nine to 12 age. I’m a little bit scared about the tweens. We’re not there yet. The, the tweens it’s like, they’ve got a bad rap already. Tell, tell me what to be talking about as my I like the analogy you had before was like if they’re going to be driving the car as a teenager, we need to start teaching them about the car now. in the tweens is that right?
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:35:14] And so this is where we really start to talk about relationships and we, and that starts with friendships. They starts with, how do you be a good friend? How do you call, how do you have a conversation with someone if they’re not being a good friend and then how do you know if your feelings towards another person are changing?
And this is where we start to really focus on LGBTQ plus relationships. You know, kids can identify their gender as early as age two, they can identify their sexuality or early as age seven. We want to sprinkle in some LGBTQ stuff throughout lifespan sex education, but th the tween years are really where we’re going to make that front and center.
I used to do an exercise with kids where I would spell it, all these different kinds of families. Right? So we have a man and a woman who have three children and they live in this town is this a happy family. Sure. Yeah. Right. In this family, we have two men who are married and they’ve adopted three children and they live in this town.
Is that a happy family, I suppose. So. Right. And this family, we have a trans individual and a cisgender person who got married. They had children. And are they happy? Right. And what did the idea here is that it, it talks to our kids about that the point of relationship is joy, right? The point of relationship is making your life better in your connection with another person.
And what that relationship looks like is, is sort of secondary to the outcome of it, which is joy. And, and what that does. And then The give space for kids to ask questions like, well, how did two men have a baby? Well, let’s talk about that. Right. You know, what is a trans gender, man? Let’s talk about that too.
Right? And by, by bringing these things to the foreground, we accomplish two vital goals. One, if, if our kids have been thinking about those sorts of things, as it pertains to themselves, they now have language for that, where they can talk to us or their peers about it. And to information fights, bigotry, it fights transphobia and homophobia because what we’re laying this stuff out, they’re not, you know, I often say it’s not my role as a sex educator to tell your kids how to feel about something.
I’m never going to do that. My job is to lay out the information so they can make an informed choice, you know, if you’re, so it. If you’re someone who’s hearing something about, say, you know, a trans individual and that makes you uncomfortable, that’s your right as a human being to be uncomfortable with it.
I don’t ha I don’t happen to agree, but you know, it’s your right to be uncomfortable. But the idea is we, we use that information to demystify it. De-stigmatize it. And make it just a part of the general discourse. Right. And you’d be amazed how often kids, when they get that information will say to their parents who have maybe a less informed idea.
Well, yeah, actually, Dr. Matt said in sex ed, that this thing is true and the parents go, Oh, right. Because it’s so easy. It’s so hard to know all these things, presenting it as part of a broader dialogue and making it just something to normalize that we talk about can really help all of us feel better and know what to do.
Sophia Elliott: [00:38:41] Yeah, absolutely. So really important conversations to have in that kind of age and what I’ve experienced over the last kind of five years, having my kids in primary school, that was not on the radar. When I was at school is actually I’m aware of two trans kids who were like identified or transitioning or in those early years.
Hopefully what that’s showing us is, , an understanding and a shift in our awareness as a community where, we’re supporting those kids earlier to be who they are and navigate what is, I can only imagine a hugely complex challenging growing up. So it’s really important that our kids are understanding these concepts as well.
And you know what I love about that. But so we were at a school and there was a child who was transitioning. And it was just very matter of fact, and all the kids were like, yeah, whatever totally cool. Now we call them this other name and no big deal. It’s just, it just is right. Because it’s just a, yeah, whatever about the, they’re growing up with that. And I just thought that was incredibly beautiful because as, as adults not growing up in that norm where we’re understanding it better, it’s, arguably more challenging for adults to go on that journey. Then it was for the kids at the time which can only mean where we’re starting to understand that better more broadly as a community.
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:40:22] So yeah. And and gifted individuals are significantly more likely to be LGBTQ. And th that it’s hard to get a percentage and that the research is a little mixed, but we know that gifted kids are significantly more likely to be LGBTQ. So it’s even more important to normalize these things and make these things kind of part of the process.
And that gives kids room to experiment, to try on different identities, to really feel like they have a space to explore that stuff. And I just think that’s, like I said, it’s beautiful because kids are really resilient and they say, okay, I’ve been presented this information now. I know, and one of my, one of the things I say to schools, right?
Hey, If you take nothing else away from me coming today, just do me one favor. Do not ever split your kids up in school, boys and girls like boys over here, girls over here. Cause that potentially outs a kid that kids who were gender non-binary where do I go? Right. Count off by ones and two’s is easy peasy, right?
And, and teachers will say that I can do, I may not be comfortable with everything else you’re talking about, but that I can do, I can do ones and two’s. I was, I was talking to a group of kids. I said, all right, guys, and one student said, Hey, that’s a gender term, Dr Matt. I. You’re right. And so I, I, yeah, I navigate to the term folks, friends, another good one. Right. Okay. Okay, gang. Right. And this is a great Dr. Matt. And the other thing, it was this nice moment of, Hey, right. And we don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to have this totally locked down. We can evolve alongside our kids.
We’re just going to evolve with them, which is pretty great.
Sophia Elliott: [00:42:08] Yeah. Yeah. A hundred percent. Okay. So that leads us into the teen years. Okay. As a parent, I’m freaking out over the conversations we have in the teen years because there’s so much that goes on the teen years. Those brains are going crazy.
They’re doing their thing. And what are the important conversations? If my child is between 13 and 18.
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:42:29] So we are going to talk about hygiene, right? How to keep our bodies clean. Right. And that’s important. And that actually starts with, with not only with showering and deodorant, because and, taking care of your face, but also making sure we talk about periods and this is the sort of thing.
Right. And I, I, part of the reason I bring this up is I to check my own struggles with this is that for a long time, I was The, like I’m a CIS cisgender white man. Right. “oh periods!” It’s the sort of thing that it’s, it’s the body is doing what it’s supposed to do, right? Yeah.
Sophia Elliott: [00:43:10] There’s a huge taboo around periods.
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:43:16] And I was sitting in therapy session. And one of the girls I see was very uncomfortable. I said, what’s wrong? And she goes, I just, I don’t want to talk to you about it. I said, well, what’s wrong? Like starting to get concerned. Right. My therapy radars. And she’s like, well, I’m getting my period and I don’t know what to do.
And I said, okay, well, here’s what we’re going to do. Right. We have tampons here , and, and it was the sort of thing. By the time we took care of all that stuff, the session was, was almost over, but I got a call from her mom the next day. She said, she’s never felt safer with you. And, and it’s the sort of thing, like, you know, if we, you don’t have to be comfortable with it, you don’t have to enjoy it.
I don’t know. I don’t know a single person who has periods. Who’s like, yay.
It is a medical thing, and we’re just going to talk about it like a medical thing, and here’s the things, and here’s what we do with it. And it’s this, so those are other things. Another piece that we’re going to talk about here is masturbation. So, you know, you said like, I’m dreading this, I’m worried what I’m walking into.
Well, here’s the thing, if you don’t have a conversation about masturbation, you are going to walk in on it, right. That’s going to happen.
. And so safe sex or safer sex conversations involve masturbation. Right? How do you do that safely? One of the questions I get from kids more often than you think is, can I masturbate in a public bathroom? Right. It’s like, if I’m at school and I feel aroused, can I masturbate and So this is when we get to can versus should, right?
Sure you can do it in terms of should, is that the safest choice for you? Right? What does that look like? Having those conversations, talking about places at a home where you can do that, right? Talking about, how to access in materials that, that people use for masturbation, but do so in a safe way.
Internet safety is a part of sex, safe sex, because of just how much of our lives are online right now. And so, and it’s this sort of thing, like parents will say sometimes as well, are you giving my kid a license to masturbate? And I said, well, yes, I am. Because this is the thing they’re going to do it, or they’re going to want to do it and feel like they can’t.
So when we demystify and we talk about that, there are significant health benefits for masturbation. When we talk about it, it doesn’t say, okay, go ahead, have at it right now, because we’re not going to have that conversation. We’re going to say that when you want to do this, here’s how you do it safely.
Here’s how you understand your own body, your own pleasure, your own, you know, the things that work for you because ultimately we want our kids to take that information into a healthy sexual relationship. This is how I like to be touched. These are the things that arouse me. These are the things that don’t feel good.
And, and masturbation is really, it’s a lot of fact-finding about that sort of thing. And it also gives us an opportunity to talk to our kids about realistic expectations. What does sex look like in pornography? How realistic is that? What does sex look like in, in drawings, in graphic novels and things like that.
And. No, we want our kids to be informed consumers of all media. Right. And pornography is a part of that.
Sophia Elliott: [00:46:51] Yeah. And so I I read something once and it was around, , these younger generations who have grown up with the internet have also kind of grown up with internet porn and how that’s affecting their perception of what sex and intimacy is,
and it’s skewing it to something that’s really not healthy in terms of, for young men or young women. Like there’s no winners there and it’s kind of skewing this conversation or, understanding what healthy intimacy looks like. In the absence, I would imagine all of. Healthy conversations about sex ed, because if they’re not getting, this kind of quality information from like that we’ve been talking about, then they’re filling the gaps in with things like internet porn, and that’s kind of skewing what they think it’s all about.
So the teenage years you could look at that and go, Oh right. There’s lots of taboos there, periods, masturbation, previously, those things have been layered with shame and taboo, but the reality is these are all just natural, natural things, a part of our biology, we need to kind of get over that stuff.
And like you say, embrace the awkwardness if there’s awkwardness because yeah. There’s probably going to be, but just have those conversations. Cause I like. There’s so many women, who think, it’s normal to have extreme period pain or, bleed extremely heavy. And if you don’t have those conversations about what normal looks like, they don’t know that actually, maybe I should go see a GP, and get some help, because this isn’t actually typical and life could be easier and better.
And like you say, masturbation, if we don’t want our kids feeling like shame about their bodies and we want them to have that sense of confidence about themselves and take that into nice, healthy relationships. And if we don’t talk to them about it, give them this information, then how are they going to get there?
Right. So I I’m conscious that we’ve talked almost for an hour, but it’s so important. And I feel like we’re just like the tip of the iceberg. Yeah. Right. So coming back to gifted specific, we’ve talked about the overexcite abilities. And I know that you’ve identified some other kind of areas. Our gifted kids are going to typically be heavy internet users.
So we can’t stick our head in the sand about talking about porn, that I asynchronicity. And like, in as much as we were talking about different ages there. Presumably where we’re adapting that to where our kids are at, because our kids aren’t necessarily, so don’t think, Oh, there, I can only talk to them about that thing between five and eight, if your kids are ready to talk about it at four, three it’s.
Okay. Cause they’re gifted the asynchronous don’t it’s not a rule people don’t follow the rules.
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:50:07] Let’s not be black and white as well. Right.
If you don’t know something, your kids want to ask about, look it up together in a book not on the internet. How empowering is that to our kids, to, for you to be authentic? I don’t know, but I would love to learn that with you and let us look it up together. Right. So,
Sophia Elliott: [00:50:36] Yeah. And of course, talking there about gender and sexuality and.
Again, depending what generation you are, it may feel like there’s lots of letters and it’s a very overwhelming. And what does it all mean? And, I don’t know, Dr. Matt, maybe we could get you back and we could have a conversation and unpack gender and sexuality because yeah. Like that’s a whole other hour right. And, and it can feel like that stuff, has moved a lot and it’s hard to keep up with the terminology and what all that stuff means. Yeah.
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:51:12] Right. And because it is evolving constantly and it’s the sort of thing, like, it forces us to approach this with humility because the terminology that we’ve used in my, decade or so involved in the sex education, I mean, Easily a dozen times, probably more.
And I think can make you feel frustrated because it’s like, well, how am I supposed to keep this straight? And here’s the beautiful thing. There are fundamental skills, right? Listening, empathy, respect that cut across everything, what we’re trying to do. So like I said, good sex education, like good gifted education is, is rooted in fundamental principles of honesty, authenticity exchange of information.
Right. So, you know, it’s the sort of thing. If I make a mistake in that in a term, I go up, sorry, I missed that. And I own it. I check it and we, we move on. And so to the parents out there thinking like, I can’t, there’s no way I can. First off we have a real, I have really lovely PowerPoint, which I’m happy to send you.
This is something that I share readily with the families that I work with because I want. There’s no way you can keep all of this in your head. I’ve been doing this professionally for a decade and I can’t keep it all in my head. So use the tools at your disposal and, and because knowledge is power in this particular circumstance.
Sophia Elliott: [00:52:38] What’s the three biggest tips that you would have for parents as we depart from this conversation?
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:52:45] Three biggest steps first is to,
is to own like, own your awkwardness, right? That’s the key piece of this, he’s gonna hate that I’m telling the story, but my dad is a clinical psychologist, right. So when he decided to have the sex talk with me, we drove around in the car. Cause that’s what men do. Right. We stare straight ahead.
And after a while I was like, so. A lot, a lot of pretty girls in your grade. And I was like, dad, no stop, fully shut down. Which meant he totally shut down. And he dropped me off at home and I did some homework. And later on, there was a Playboy on my bed that I certainly didn’t buy. And that’s what sex ed looked like in 1996.
But what that showed me was that that was hard for my dad, but he still did it. And that meant that a couple months later, when a girl at school had a crush on me and I didn’t know what to do, I could talk to him about it. And, and it’s the sort of thing you might sit there as a parent thing. Like if I don’t do this perfectly, my kid’s not going to talk to me.
Your kids are desperate to talk to you about this. Right? So even cracking the door a little bit, then lets them in. So own the awkwardness. Second thing is there’s this perception that it is just a singular talk, right? You download all the information. Like we can’t even do this in an hour, right. Let alone.
So it’s a series of conversations about biology, about relationships, about passion, about pleasure, and, and knowing your yourself, knowing your own values and preferences around those, around those areas. That the beautiful thing about sex education is that it, it gives us an opportunity as the adults to sort of check in with ourselves and say, well, how do I feel about this?
How do I feel about, my daughter bringing her partner over and. And they want to have a sleepover or they want to go to a dance together, or they want to go on an overnight ski trip or beach trip together. And has parents, if we have these conversations, now we’re aligning ourselves with our values early, rather than having to make a snap judgment in an emotionally charged situation, because your daughter’s like, I’m going, you’re like, aye.
Aye, aye. Aye. Aye. Aye. Aye. Right. So we get to align with ourselves. And third is you don’t have to go it alone. There are. So there are a lot of really great sex, positive, pieces of information that are written for parents that are written for kids to be to themselves. There’s great stuff for teens.
There’s great stuff for LGBTQ youth. We just, it was just announced that, DC comics is doing a, a pride focused. Series of comics over the summer for pride month. I’m so excited for that, that’s right. And that’s in, in your kids can guide you in where these conversations go because the information is out there.
So don’t feel like you’ve got to read 13 books and watch and watch this podcast over and over and over and over until you’ve memorised it until you remember. Though obviously feel free. But there’s information out there. So don’t feel like you have to go it alone. Yeah.
Sophia Elliott: [00:56:17] Excellent. And like permission, not to feel like you have to be seen to be the perfect parent, like to others or to your kids, like embrace our humanity in this moment, role model being a bit clueless or not really knowing, but being willing to find out and have awkward conversations because it is really important.
So. That’s just been an incredible conversation. Thank you so much for your time today. Like just wonderful to get information and start that narrative. Uh, I want to just end with tell us a little bit about the work that you do and how people can get in touch, because I know obviously we’ve talked a lot about sex ed today, but you’re a psychologist, you’re a specialist in gifted.
So tell us a little bit about that.
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:57:08] My practice is a mix of therapy consultation and intelligence testing. And, I’m a, I described as a, I’m a grown-up gifted kid. The reason I do this work is I want to be the professional that kids like me would have benefited from growing up and.
So and sometimes that means sometimes therapy is classic therapy and we talk about depression and anxiety, and sometimes it’s more, you’re a really smart kid who wants to talk to a really smart adult for an hour once every other week. And that’s okay too. Right. Cause being gifted can be very isolating.
There aren’t that many of us, so creating community and plugging ourselves into these, these networks, even if they’re halfway across the world is a cool and beautiful thing. So I’m on Facebook at Dr. Matt Zakreski and my website is www.drmattzakreski.com. And please feel free to email me at email@example.com because, the information is out there to support our kids in the classroom and outside of the classroom. And I think that whatever we do as parents and professionals. To support our kids and make them more well-rounded citizens. It just, it brings joy to our lives and our kids’ lives.
And isn’t that why we’re all here?
Sophia Elliott: [00:58:32] Oh, 100% totally. And you talk to people over zoom it’s the world of zoom. It doesn’t matter where you are, what time zone, you can do this sort of conversation. So
If you want me to come to Brissy or Adelaide
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:58:44] please feel free.
I mean, that, that would be lovely.
Sophia Elliott: [00:58:47] That’s true. Let’s do it. We can do maybe there’s an Our Gifted Kids conference in the future.
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:58:53] Yeah. There we go and I miss Tim Tams so much!
Sophia Elliott: [00:58:58] Yeah, totally. They are. They’re something to be missed. So I hugely appreciate your time today. So if you’re want to get in touch with Dr.
Matt, I will put all of those links in the show notes so that you can find him easily and, we’ll continue to share his stuff through our page. And, and hopefully we’ll talk to you again about, I don’t know, part two gender and sexuality I feel, yeah. Wonderful. Thank you so much for today. Hugely appreciate it.
Dr Matt Zakreski: [00:59:32] This was an absolute treat and I just, I mean, thank you for. Thank you for not only having me, but being willing to have a difficult conversation, it’d be really easy to sit here and talk about, how do we do science for gifted kids, but that’s out there this too easy.
Would we not be gifted kids if we didn’t challenge ourselves and like really like get out there on the ledge?
Sophia Elliott: [00:59:55] Yeah. A hundred percent. And, thanks mom for the, the popup book when I was a young child, so that I can have these conversations now. So wonderful. Thank you.