The question comes up frequently, on parenting lists, in groups, at events. Implied in this question is, often, “How do I fit the words and concepts into my child's head so s/he will know everything necessary on the subject at 20 without overwhelming them now or leaving anything out?”
My short answer is 'you don't.'
The slightly longer answer is 'you don't all at once.'
Amongst my friends and family we have what apparently is quite a unique conversational style. As far as I can tell it's uncommon to revisit a conversation that's been had already-- for any reason--at a later date. I find this quite bizarre.
Many a topic-opener in conversations with a very long-time friend is 'remember we were talking about blah blah blah a few years/months/days/hours/minutes ago?' We restart conversations, kind of in the middle, as new information is discovered, new thoughts or ideas are formed or found out there in the world, or just because we're not satisfied with our understanding or expression of our thoughts on the subject.
Since this was a normal kind of conversation for my kids to be around for, whether or not they were listening, there was always a strong underlying reality in our world: the subject is not closed, no one has had the final word on the topic, and there are many reasons to re-visit the issue.
So, instead of feeling like I had to explain sex and death and taxes and drugs and etiquette and tact versus lying, or whatever, once and for all... I always knew the conversation was developing. Developing because the thumbnail answer any 3yo can absorb at a time isn't ever going to be the way the same child will comprehend the subject at 8 or 13 or 22 (or 48 or 77...) and that means the discussion continues more or less where it left off the next time there is some reason to talk about it.
Reasons for restarting a conversation:
- I saw in the news
- that movie we just watched
- a story book we are reading
- someone else was talking about it and mentioned a new way (to me) to think about it
- I stumbled upon new information online
- someone else was talking about it and said ______
- your friend is dealing with the same thing now
- another death in the social circle or celebrity media
- I was thinking about what you, I, or they said the last time we talked
- it seemed like the conversation ended abruptly because of some kind of interruption, and we aren't finished with it... so, as I was saying . . . .