Parents and caregivers want to know how to talk to kids of all ages about reproductive rights, freedom, and abortion access. Here are tips on how to start and keep the conversation going.

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I was recently trying to talk my 6-year-old into wearing a collared shirt to a formal event. Yes, I was that mom. After hearing me out, he turned to me and said firmly, "Mom, consent!" I instantly felt a wave of pride that he understood a core tenet of my parenting practice. I was focused on what I wanted from him, and he reminded me that, when it comes to his body, his choice is the most important.

An image of parents with their child holding a sign during a Women's March.
Credit: Getty Images.

As caregivers, we often look for teachable moments, and this was one for me. Consent is a huge part of reproductive rights. And it's more important than ever that we take time to teach our kids about reproductive rights—our legal rights when it comes to reproduction and reproductive health—as this freedom and abortion access are being threatened in the United States. More than 650 events took place all over the country on October 2 for the Rally for Abortion Justice in response to the Supreme Court allowing Texas's six-week abortion ban to go into effect. Those events sent a strong message: the ongoing attacks on reproductive freedom and abortion access will not be tolerated.

The Center for Reproductive Rights discusses a world where "every woman is free to decide whether or when to have children and whether to get married; where access to quality reproductive health care is guaranteed; and where every woman can make these decisions free from coercion or discrimination." Reproductive freedom also must include people of all gender identities and expressions, including trans men and non-binary people who can get pregnant.

Talking to kids about reproductive rights, including one's right to have an abortion, is grounded in a few core tenets: consent, control over one's own body, and respect and dignity. Experts offer tips on how caregivers can navigate these conversations.

Start the Conversation Early

Lessons on consent can start at birth, using simple questions like, "Can I give you a clean diaper?" Even if your child doesn't respond verbally, building a culture of asking can be a powerful practice. I started asking my 2-year-old daughter if I could change her diaper and I soon learned that she had preferences as to how she wanted it changed. Some days, she flips on her belly and likes an accompanying back rub. Some days, she likes to lay on her back.

Also, teach your kids that they don't owe anyone physical touch. "Over time, when young people experience the ways choices for their own bodies are respected, they learn to respect others' choices," says Sara C. Flowers, DrPH, the vice president of education & training at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "These lessons become building blocks for teaching the tenants of reproductive justice—defined by SisterSong as the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities."

Discuss Abortion in an Age-Appropriate Way

For kids under age 8, it's best to use simple words about abortions, recommends Sarah Harris, LMFT-S, a registered play therapist who works with kids and teens. A parent or caregiver can explain that sometimes a person may not want to be pregnant, and a medical professional should help the person with this choice. You can also use books to help. What's An Abortion, Anyway? by Carly Manes and illustrated by Mar, two full-spectrum doulas, is a non-judgmental, gender-inclusive, and medically accurate resource to use in discussions with children about abortion.

Pre-teens are likely already aware of abortion from conversations with friends or social media. "Ask about what they already know and invite them to share some of what they have read online. Maintain a curious and non-judgmental stance. Provide facts," says Harris.

When it comes to teens, explains Harris, they may not have accurate information about abortions. "Introduce information in a conversational manner that still allows for critical thinking," advises Harris. Caregivers can start the conversation by saying something like, "I wonder what might happen if a person doesn't feel like they have a safe place to end their pregnancy if they so desire. What do you think?"

Talk About Injustice

It's important to also talk about the fact that access to reproductive health care is disproportionate for communities of color, young people, the LGBTQ+ community, people with low incomes or in rural communities, and those with varying immigration statuses, among others. Caregivers can say, "Not everyone gets access to the care they need to make the choices they want for their bodies."

Seek Out Teachable Moments

Moments to talk about these issues may randomly present themselves and caregivers should jump on the opportunity. "Over the summer, my 8-year-old saw an anti-abortion demonstration and turned to me to make sense of the group's messages," says Dr. Flowers. "I responded by sharing that our family believes all people have the right to make decisions about their own bodies and lives. I also explained that an abortion is something a pregnant person can have if they don't want to continue a pregnancy. When she asked questions, such as how abortion worked and how long it takes, I gave her the factual information she deserved in a way that was easy for her to understand, and appropriate for her age."

Remember, it's OK to not have all the answers. Don't give inaccurate information or information you haven't fact-checked. You can say that you need to do some more research and will come back to them soon.

Nurture an Open Environment

Create a space at home where questions and hard conversations are welcome. Don't talk at or lecture your child and ask open-ended questions whenever you can. Older kids may read things in the news and may have comments and questions so be sure they know they can come to you with these.

Tamika Middleton, the interim deputy director at Women's March, whose kids are ages 8 and 14, weaves these conversations into her ongoing parenting practice. "They're surrounded by people thinking about the news and having these conversations, so they feel free to ask questions when they arise," she says. "It's not about certain conversations being adult conversations, so the kids [are told to go elsewhere]. They have access to these conversations, and they are always invited to come and bring their thoughts."

It's also important to check your own biases. Even if you yourself would never get an abortion, note that it's important for everyone to have that choice without limitations.

These steps can encourage your child to come to you in a time of need—even in the case that they want to have an abortion. In that situation, experts suggest caregivers let them know that abortion is health care. "I recommend checking in with them about how they're feeling and what support you can offer them," says Quita Tinsley Peterson, co-director of Access Reproductive Care-Southeast. "Listen to them and then connect them with the resources they need. If they need help paying for the procedure or finding a clinic, find your local abortion fund and abortion providers (not crisis pregnancy centers). Affirm them in the decisions they're making for themselves and provide any additional information they need. And just be there, supporting them. Everyone deserves to be supported and affirmed in their decisions for their bodies and lives, especially young people."

The Bottom Line

As you approach conversations about reproductive rights with your kids, remember that you are setting the tone and the framework for how they view reproductive freedom and abortion access. Approach them with love, an open heart, and faith that, when you teach kids how to fight for justice, they will become the changemakers the world so desperately needs.