Questions and Answers About Sex: Can I Use Nicknames for Body Parts?
Author: Andy Smithson
Question: Do you remember the hit comedy “Kindergarten Cop”? If you do, you’ll remember the unforgettable scene where the five-year-old boy in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s kindergarten class informs him, “Boys have a penis, girls have a vagina.”
I was 10 years old when that movie was released, and I can remember that line like it was yesterday. I can remember the tone of the little boy’s voice, and the uncomfortable laughter that came from the audience.
Parents often feel conflicted about whether they should teach – and whether their children should use – nicknames, or “slang” terms, for private parts, or if they should insist that their children use anatomical, “proper” names for the various parts of the body.
So, is it okay to use nicknames for body parts?
Answer: Many people felt a little humorous discomfort with the child in “Kindergarten Cop” announcing to everyone the anatomical differences between boys and girls. Many parents struggle with, and experience, some embarrassment when their child proclaims in a public place, “My penis hurts,” or “My vagina itches.”
In early childhood (ages two through six), children are potty trained, which can necessitate frequent discussions about private parts of the body. They also share feelings of discomfort and have a fascination with private parts of their body. This is normal factors of child development, and may make it more convenient and comfortable for parents and children to communicate, especially in public, due to the frequency of the “private” discussions.
Words like “Pee-pee, bum, private parts, or privates” may serve their purposes from time to time, and it is wise to refrain from more vulgar or silly nicknames, which could be degrading or disrespectful. Vulgar and / or silly nicknames send the message that those parts and functions are shameful, bad, or flippant.
Many experts suggest that parents should use “proper” names for private parts with our kids throughout their lives. Although many parents feel that it is social taboo to use proper terms for private parts, especially in public places, a Gallup poll showed that 67 percent of parents use actual names when referring to male and female body parts. However, many families still may feel that this is inappropriate with young children because of values they hold, which may define sexuality and human bodies as private, even sacred, and should not be thrown around carelessly in public.
One of the developmental milestones two- through six-year-old children experience is “parroting,” meaning they are more likely to repeat things that hold some kind of shock value, as displayed in the “Kindergarten Cop” example. For parents who are not comfortable with their children sharing statements like “My Daddy has a penis” with peers, relatives, and random shoppers in the grocery store, it is age-appropriate with these young children to focus on function, rather than naming. This means that we do not shy away from questions about our bodies, nor discipline kids for asking questions, but that we maintain that private parts and sexuality are indeed private.
As children mature and are able to better understand when it is socially appropriate to talk openly about private parts and sexuality, and when it is not, we can then teach them the proper names and the sexual and nonsexual functions of those body parts in a scientifically- and value-based manner. How and when we teach our children these things depends on their questions, maturity levels, and the parent’s desired discretion.
It is important to keep clear lines of communication open between parents and children, to ensure that:
- children can express medical concerns and receive appropriate help when needed.
- kids can accurately report instances of sexual abuse or inappropriate touching.
- developing children will feel comfortable talking to parents about sexual curiosities and developments in body functions, when needed.
- parents have created an environment of comfort and safety for teaching and the passing on of important family and moral values.
Using proper names for body parts, just like all other sexual information, should be age-appropriate, and shared in appropriate pieces as the child matures and develops. An easy benchmark to go by is to wait for your child to ask the questions, or if you find yourself a practical setting that feels like the best time to educate your child. Even though using nicknames, refraining from answering questions, or dumping it all on the kid at once might increase a parents comfort and convenience, comfort and convenience have never been two components of promoting great success. Parents will usually have a significant impact on their children’s respect for their bodies, and the bodies of others, if they are willing to go slightly out of their comfort zone.