How to teach children about their private parts, proper names and all

Posted in Learning and Development.

If you have young children in the house, chances are, going to the toilet and having showers is typically done with kids in tow, who have a slightly different understanding of the need for privacy than you do!

While I’m not the ‘walk-around-the-house-naked’ sort of person, I’ve tried my best to appear at ease with my body when the kids decide to visit me while I’m showering. Having heard all the stories about encouraging positive body image and not wanting them to think that naked bodies are shameful, I’ve tried to be as open about it all as much as possible – no matter how uncomfortable I actually feel!

Cue awkward commentary from the small people:

‘Why are your boobies bigger than mine?’

‘Is that your penis?’

‘I love your tummy, it’s so squishy!’

‘I hope I don’t get hairy, Mummy!’

Yep. It’s all fun and games when you become a parent, right?

So I started thinking – as much as I’d prefer to avoid the whole topic of naked bits and pieces, what am I supposed to tell the kids about private parts? And how do I make sure they develop a healthy relationship with their body?

I decided to do some research about it, and here’s what I found out:

Be straight with them

Experts seem to agree that teaching kids the proper names for private parts right from the start is the best way to go. So while it might feel strange to talk about your vagina or chat about your son’s penis, it’s best to treat the whole topic as completely normal and factual. Pretend you’re talking about astronomy if you feel yourself blushing. Being straightforward with them will help your kids better understand their bodies. You can also explain that their body will change as they get older and let them know you are available for questions when they come up.

Be aware of negative body talk

A long time ago, being told my tummy was squishy might have offended me, but when my kids tell me this while they’re cuddling me, I push any negative thoughts I have about it right to the back of my mind and just appreciate their honesty instead. If we want our kids to feel good about their own bodies – whatever their shapes and sizes – then we need to at least appear to be doing the same thing. That means holding back from criticising your body in front of the kids and instead talking about how much you like the way you look and how your body works.

Use teachable moments

The advice is not to hold back when it comes to talking about the human body with your children. Children are naturally curious and will need their questions answered by you. So if your five-year-old asks you about your tampons, this is your chance to educate her. You don’t have to explain the nuts and bolts of reproduction, because most of this will go over her head. The rule of thumb is, avoid making up a story and give them a basic version of events instead – so a quick run-down on what periods are and how tampons help will do the job. Just keep it simple and know that kids don’t get embarrassed the way we do. The more honest and open we can be about it all, the more positive they’re going to feel about their own body, plus, it will also keep the flow of communication going between you so that when they’re older, they know they can come to you for with any private concerns about their body.

Don’t freak out when they’re curious

On the topic of kids being curious, it’s important not to freak out when they start to notice the private parts of their friends … or start getting to know their own. If you catch your kids ‘playing doctor’, or inspecting each others’ genitals, ask them to get dressed and invite them for a drink and something to eat, which should distract them enough. You can follow this up with a conversation around privacy and whatever rules you have about appropriate play.

If your child masturbates, again, don’t freak out. This is considered normal behaviour in young kids and as long as they understand not to do it in public, there’s nothing for you to worry about.

Go with what’s comfortable for everyone

Some families are big on privacy for showers and getting dressed, while others are more at ease with being naked around each other. As kids get older, they tend to become more aware of their naked bodies and may request to dress and toilet in private, and this could mean they’re more appreciative of your need for privacy too. So when it comes to privacy, be guided by your kids. If it’s something that you’re all starting to value a little more, then this is your cue to close the bathroom door if it makes you feel more comfortable.


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