Little kids like to get naked. They giggle and goof off when naked, and naked is normal and beautiful. My own children are both notorious nudists, often in public and often for my highest level of embarrassment. They’ve done normal naked stuff, like some impromptu skinny dipping while hiking around a lake and some spur-of-the-moment streaking around the neighborhood, with their mother and a bath towel in hot pursuit.
Needless to say, my children are more than comfortable in their birthday suits. But they also have limits. They have been taught the rules of their body (I’ll share these at the end of the post), the proper names of their body parts, and what is and isn’t appropriate. Both my husband and I feel comfortable talking to our kids about the human body and sex, although we really haven’t had much of the sex talk yet, as the kids are six and four years old. I get a lot of comments and questions from parents on how to approach this topic with kids, so I wanted to share a conversation we had at bath time the other night. This isn’t about scaring kids with the topic of sex abuse, it is about empowering them so they are less likely to become a victim.
Last fall Amelia (6yo) experienced a traumatic incident at the doctor when a nurse who was fed up said said she would rip down Amelia’s pants and stick her with the needle that held the immunization we had come to get. Amelia, having been taught the rules of her body, wouldn’t have it. Things did not go well that morning, and a couple of days later her now-former pediatrician had the audacity to say that if Amelia wasn’t so uptight about her body and I hadn’t taught her so much, this would have gone a lot easier for the nurses and the rest of us. Because you know, we should parent our kids in ways that make life easier for other folks.
I’m actually a big fan of preparing our children for life, in ways that are honest and respectful of their intelligence. So I wanted to share this convo, because when you talk like this often and openly, your kids grow with a really good sense of owning their bodies and using their voice.
“Mom, when I was playing with Friend, she showed me her gina,” Amelia announces out of the blue.
“Oh yeah? What were you girls playing?” I ask, trying not to sound too interested, or reveal any emotion.
“Nothing. We weren’t playing anything. She just showed it to me,” Amelia shrugged.
“Oh, huh. What did she do after she showed it to you?” I ask.
“She giggled,” Amelia informed me.
“Oh, was Friend trying to be silly?” I ask, not sure where this is going to go. “So what did you do, after she showed you her vagina and she giggled?”
“I told her it made me feel uncomfortable, and she needed to stop and put clothes on,” Amelia said.
“I think that is a good answer. Did she ask you to show your body? Did your tummy voice tell you anything?” I ask.
“No. I told her I didn’t want to play that way. I said it was inappropriate,” Amelia says, and she seems pretty calm and relaxed and was making eye contact with me.
“Well, that’s a good answer. What room were you in when Friend did this? Were you going potty together, or changing clothes?’ I try to gather more details.
“We were in the house and just playing. Maybe I should have told you sooner?” Amelia asks, now trying to process things a bit more. It is tough to get a straight story from little kids, which is why it is so important to stay calm and ask open ended questions.
“Well, I’m really glad you are telling me now. I like when you talk to me, and I’m glad that you remember you won’t ever get in trouble with Mommy or Daddy for telling us something. So maybe next time we play with Friend, you can just say a reminder that clothes need to stay on,” I suggest, fairly certain the girls were just changing clothes for dress up and nothing scandalous happened. We know this family very well, and at this point in the convo I feel this was age-appropriate little kid nakedness and giggling.
“Oh hey, Smalls. So I just wanted to say, a friend or grown up should never touch your vagina or your bottom or your boobie spots. And they should never ask you to touch their bodies, or their private parts. Or, like maybe if your playing with a friend, you should never touch privates with hands or toys, okay?” I say while drying Benny off with a towel, him nodding in agreement with me.
“Oh my God, Mom, you are so gross,” Amelia says.
“Yeah anb you nebber feed your penie to dogs or alligators,” offers Benny.
“Right, Benny. Well, I think we’ve got this covered then. Thanks for talking to me, Smalls,” I wrap the convo up, confident my kids know their boundaries, and will never feed their genitals to dogs or swamp creatures.
Here’s what I want parents to take away from this story:
1. Please, please get comfortable talking to your kids about their bodies, private parts, and sex. You might need to get honest with yourself and move past some issues you may have in order to have this ongoing and evolving conversation with your child. Do that.
2. Please, please teach your children about their bodies, the correct names of their body parts, what appropriate and inappropriate touches are, and their right to say no. They are little kids, so they might say the words a bit differently than you do (“bagina” instead of vagina and vulva), but be consistent with how you refer to body parts.
3. Please, please get honest about the fact that these inappropriate touches 90% of the time come from people the child will know and consider safe. This person can be another child or playmate. Your child must know that he or she will never be in trouble for being honest with you.
4. When a situation happens that is uncomfortable to talk about, get uncomfortable and talk about it. Allow your kids to express their emotions, and ask questions about what happened. Ask questions that are opened ended, require more than “yes” or “no”, but do not include the answer in the question (“So what happened then, he didn’t ask you to touch him, right?” Don’t lead the child with your questions). Help them interpret their actions and the actions of the others involved. Their being a child does not diminish their rights.
5. YOU are your child’s biggest advocate. You are their voice in situations they cannot fully understand. Children see the world differently than we do. Show them respect and see things from their eye level. Use your voice to stand up for them. It will teach your child they are worth fighting for, and that you speak up and speak out when something doesn’t feel right or is unjust.