I’ll Show You Mine, If You Show Me Yours

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.

Comments

  1. Benny cracks me up. I almost choked on my coffee! :-)

  2. THANK YOU for this posting! This is a very important subject. Parents teach their children about “stranger danger” all the time [to the point kids are wary of talking to people]; but, it’s not as common to teach them about their own physical autonomy. And, it’s important. Because, as you stated, whether people want to acknowledge it or not, inappropriate touching most frequently comes from someone that they know.

  3. KC Newton says:

    Yes, thank you! What a wonderful article. I’m so glad you were able to address what can be a serious & scary issue in a matter of fact & humorous way. I try (and hope I’m able) to talk to my kids like this as well…however, I have neglected the warning concerning dogs & swamp creatures. Considering my sons’ naked forays into our neighborhood and the fact that our neighbors tend to ignore the leash laws and that we live near a small bayou, it may be well worth my time. :)

  4. Great blog! We have a lot of our conversations at bath time also…seems like a natural time and location I suppose… We recently had an experience where another little girl asked my daughter, who is 4, to show this girl her underpants while they were playing in the children’s corner of a resale shop. My daughter immediately came to me and told me. We have had so many of those conversations about our body parts and underwear, etc… She also asked me if it was ok to go back and tell this other child that we don’t show people our underwear, even if someone asks nicely. I told her that was exactly what she should do. Afterwards I let her know how proud I was of her and we sung her praises to her dad and grandparents etc… She felt very proud of herself.

    • Laura -
      She should be proud of herself! As you should be, too, because you taught her that day that her voice matters, and that she is the boss of her body. We need every little boy and girl to get that message.

  5. This is great. I so appreciate your website. We had a similar incident with my 4yo daughter and a playmate that involved some ambigiously unwanted touching. Because both families practice these principles, we were able to talk to our daughters about appropriate touching, help them establish healthy boundaries with each other, and maintain our friendships. I’m really grateful we’ve prioritized honesty and straightforwardness on this topic with our kids. I’ll be buying that book, too!

    • Lauren -
      I’m so glad the situation turned out well for both families, and both the friendships of the children and the adults stayed in tact. I think that can happen, as it did with us, when we are open and straightfoward and respectful. Part of this is just normal kid developmental stuff, and nothing shameful or abusive. Sounds like your situation was handled very well!

  6. I cannot imagine keeping a straight face after Benny’s comment.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Melissa, thank you for writing about this. Kids do need to know that it is OK to say no to anyone, even another child when things seem “innocent.”

    I’m a regular reader of your blog and follow you on Facebook. I’ve been active in many a conversation that has begun as a result of your status updates. But on this issue, I couldn’t come out from the protection of anonymity. Why? Because I vividly remember situations like these from my childhood – times when I remember being over at a male friend’s house at five years old and napping in the same bed without any pants on either of us. I’ve never considered anything that happened to be sexual, but then why have I never told anyone about it before today including my husband? And then there was the girl friend that pushed boundaries with me when I was about ten years old…

    My parents were big on telling me sex is bad unless you are married, but that was where conversations like those ended. I was left with no information about what to do in situations like what I encountered. Once again, thank you for shedding light on such a vital issue.

    • Hi -
      I’m glad that you left the comment, because I believe there are many, many of us who had similar experiences in childhood but were not taught how to talk about it. I know I did. Especially when the boundary pushing involves another child, and more to the point, a child of the same sex.

      Thank you for following the blog!

  8. Elizabeth T. says:

    My 7-yr old has become very interested in movie ratings, after I explained “some movies aren’t for children”. This led to – of course – what do the different ratings mean. Sex, drugs & violence being the Unholy Trinity of the MPAA. This meant explaining sex and drugs as inappropriate things. Not hitting people is already covered in our house.

    Sex #1 — Preparing kids for the facts of life in a controlled manner is important before being confronted with it out of the blue. AND — BE prepared to have the same discussion several times in different ways. We had read a book to him explaining where babies come from earlier in the Summer, which made this simpler.
    him: Mom, why does That Movie have an R rating?
    me: Because of how much sex and violence is there.
    him: What’s sex?
    me: Do you remember reading the book about where babies come from?
    him: yes
    me: What men and women do, when they make babies, is really private and we don’t do in front of other people. You need to understand when it’s appropriate before seeing it in a movie, so you can understand what’s going on in the story.
    him: oh, okay.

    Sex #2
    Despite living in a rather socially diverse section of the most gay-friendly place in the Midwest, we haven’t covered homosexuality in the concept of the sex part. Someone having two Moms came up, to be argued:
    him: You can’t have two moms!
    me: yes, you can. Most people don’t, but you can.
    him: but you told me you had to have a man and a woman to have a baby.
    me: uhhh… yes, you do – but that’s the part about making the baby, not the family you grow up with.

    Sex #3
    It’s equally important to reenforce desirable behavior from little children:
    A teacher at my son’s school informed some parents that their son had asked one of the girls in his (2nd grade) class to show him her privates in a rather pushy manner. The mom was utterly shocked – not so much that he asked (there’s that curiosity giggly factor), but the pushy part. She said she had to repeat to the son in greater detail, what is and isn’t appropriate behavior. She said she had sent a note to the teacher, explaining what she had done, emphasized that she and her spouse took it seriously, and specifically asked the teacher to convey to the little girl’s parents that she appreciated their daughter telling the teacher.

    The mom wanted to be sure the girl’s parents congratulated or praised their daughter for her behavior. Who knows? Maybe the girl had been afraid to, but did it anyway? Her courage should be affirmed. Maybe the girl hadn’t told someone before, when truly inappropriate touching/demands had been made? Maybe the girl’s parents had recently had the same discussion with her and would be happy that their instructions had taken root?

    btw — It’s perspective. Explaining sex and recreational drugs was FAR, far simpler than explaining the concept of war & why people fight wars. Sex (in the absence of violence) can at least be presented as a positive, enjoyable activity.

  9. I am so glad you posted this and that you are the mother you are and the blogger you are. As a survivor, as someone who has taught childcare staff about child abuse prevention, as a mother – I can say, “right on!”

    Sometimes I think we emphasize “being nice” too much; children deserve to know that they have rights, too, and they don’t have to let people violate their boundaries, wherever they are, just to be nice. Respect, not obedience – that is the goal! Respect for others flows from respect for self.

    So thank you for another wonderful post.

  10. llamagirl says:

    I’m so glad I’ve read this. Having been abused as a child I want my son (and any future kiddies) to know what is appropriate and to be able to tell me or their dad, but without making it into a big scary issue. How to approach this has been worrying me quite a bit lately, but I think this approach is the one I will be going with. Thank you so much!

  11. I think that you’re setting up such a great dialogue with your daughter not only for the present but for when she’s a teenager and is dealing with her own sexuality, peer pressure, etc. Knowing I could talk to my mom about anything (even when it was embarrassing) was one of the best things I had going for me in HS and college.

  12. This is so, so important. I’m sure you remember what happened to BG last summer. Thankfully we had these talks and she felt very comfortable coming to me, AND she knew something was wrong. This is all great advice.

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