Our expert says:
I understand the difficult circumstances, and how embarrassing this even will have been for you all. How to discuss this with her depends in good part in whether you have had any previous discussions with her about sex and relationships, or if this is uncharted territory. And on other actors, such as her relative emotional maturity, any previous exposure and reactions on her side to sexual matters ( even how she may have responded to intimacies seen on TV, for instance ). Has she possibly been exposed in any unpleasant way, to aexuality at school or elsewhere ?
This is why it is worthwhile, raher than aiming at one single session of "telling" a child about sex, to have a series of ongoing discussions that touch on the topic. varying according as to their level of understanding and experiences and questions.
A child might in a situation such as you describe be confused even anxious, but "upset and hysterical" makes one wonder what specifically she found so upsetting. Children can quite often mistake sexual intimacy involving their parents as violence, fighting, and potentially dangerous.
She knows you are her mother and a good person, presumably, from her long experience of you, so this is probably not at risk now.
Before you know exactly what to say, you need to understand, if possible what she thinks she saw and what is bothering her about it. You can say you are sorry that whatever she saw last night obviously very much upset her, and that this is not something you intended to happen, in any way.
Encourage her to talk about it if you can.
You don't know how to answer her questions until you know what those questions are.
Good responses from the other readers, so far.
Re-assure her that she is still greatly loved and of the greatest importance to you. Explain that you are also fond of your boyfriend, and last night the pair of you became too involved in expressing that fondness for each other, which you know you should not have done in front of her. Seek her questions, and concerns, and respond sincerely to those.
The reason I emphasize this manner of response is that in my experience, without searching for these concerns, in sexual and other matters, parents often answer the questions the kid misn't asking, and re-assure them about things they aren't actually worried about, while missing the points that really do concern them.
Do feel free to come back to the forum with a fresh posting, to let us know how things go with you
Explain to her that you are concerned that you made a mistake by
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