Ask the Expert: Caught in bed by 10-year-old daughter
Try to listen and suss out what explanation she needs about what she saw. Some children know what was happening and just need a matter-of-fact acknowledgement from their parents that it is all normal and fine – ‘This is what mums and dads do and is a sign they love each other.’ Photograph:Getty Images
Q My daughter, who is almost 11, walked in on my husband and me when we were having sex. It was late at night and we assumed she was asleep. It was all quite embarrassing and we are not sure how much she saw or how long she was there when we spotted her.
In the moment, we were both very flustered and shouted for her to go back to her room. Eventually, when I followed her in I was too embarrassed to say much and she just said she had come into our room because she “wanted a drink of water”. She went back to sleep and that was it.
Now I wonder should I talk to her again about it. She is the eldest and still quite innocent and though we have had the “where babies come from” conversation, we have not spoken much more about this. Can she be affected by what she saw and should I raise it with her again?
A Being interrupted by one of your children when making love can be an acutely embarrassing situation for most parents. In hindsight, it is of course entirely preventable as you can put a simple lock on your bedroom door or have a privacy rule that children should knock before entering. However, many parents only bring in such rules after they have been interrupted once.
How children are affected
How a child is affected depends very much on their age and what they know about sex. A toddler/preschooler may not notice anything unusual and just accept what he/she saw without question.
A child who has started school may wonder what was going on out of curiosity or could worry about what he/she saw and even need to be reassured that mum and dad were not fighting or hurting one another.
At 10 years old it is likely that your own daughter has a good sense of what was happening, though may still be surprised, embarrassed or worried about it especially if she feels she got a negative reaction from you.
Raising the subject
Though you might be tempted to just leave it, it is probably a good idea to check in with your daughter about what happened, especially if you feel you reacted badly in the moment. Ideally, a follow-up conversation should be matter of fact and take place soon enough (for example, the next day) so it is not made into a big deal.
It is useful to start by you apologising –“Sorry that you came into our room last night, when mum and dad were having some private time – we should have locked the door.”
This approach lets her know she has done nothing wrong and might make her comfortable to talk herself. Try to listen and suss out what explanation she needs about what she saw. Some children know what was happening and just need a matter-of-fact acknowledgement from their parents that it is all normal and fine – “This is what mums and dads do and is a sign they love each other.”