Private Parts and Privacy: Talking to Your Kids

boy shower

Talking to kids about sex?? Most parents of younger kids think they have YEARS before they have to worry about that! Many of us choose to wait until our kids are in the middle elementary school years (or later) to explain how babies are made or what our private parts are “for.”

On the EverydayFamily Facebook page, parents have been asking great questions about younger kids and body privacy issues.

I want to know how can I tell her about all this in a “right way”?

How can I explain to my two year old what constitutes as private? He gets that it is ok to check out his body and explore, and he also gets that sometimes it is not okay, but I don't know how to teach him what “in private” is.

In developmentally appropriate ways, there are dozens of opportunities to help preschoolers learn what is important, what is allowed and not, what is OK regarding our own and other peoples’ bodies.

Start at your first chance. When your toddler notices a difference between boy bodies and girl bodies get into conversation.

Use the real names of body parts. This will empower your child as they get older, and sends the message that these are not parts that need to be hidden by “pretend” names. Boy bodies have penises, girl bodies have vaginas.

Explain which are “private.” Anything that is covered when a person wears a bathing suit is off-limits to touching on anyone else or by anyone else EXCEPT: unless your parent is with you and allows it (the doctor/nurse loophole).

Touch yourself when you’re “in private.” That means when you’re alone in your room or in a bathroom by yourself.  If your child is confused by this, you might compare it to bathing, or using the potty. This is not shameful, and everyone does it, but not in front of company!

This is not one conversation! This is lots and lots of short talks. You want to build your reputation with your child as the expert to go to with questions, one that will listen and answer respectfully.

Why does my daughter like to shimmy on the floor when she lays on her belly? She is almost three I am guessing she is “discovering” herself? Should I yell at her, kindly ask her to stop, or just let her be?

Sexual interest has its first peak between age 3 and 6. Masturbation, exploration, and questions are a normal part of development. The more your child gets simple, clear, and respectful answers at home, the less they will search for these answers elsewhere. Make your expectations about this clear.

If your family allows innocent touching of Mom’s or Dad’s private areas, make sure your child learns to ask first. He or she must ask permission every time before touching. The skill of asking first before any kind of touching or kissing (even hugging) is a great lesson for kids. Imagine a world in which teenagers always ask permission before touching someone else in a romantic way?

Talk about sexual and body issues early and often. It’s a great idea (as someone suggested on Facebook) to explain that not every family talks about this as freely as yours and that is why their curiosity and questions about bodies should be answered at home, not with friends.

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Private Parts and Privacy: Talking to Your Kids

Doctor G. (Deborah Gilboa, MD) empowers parents to raise respectful, responsible and resilient kids. Around the country and around the world, she works with parents to increase their knowledge and to utilize the parenting instincts they already have. Her acclaimed book "Get the Behavior You Want... Without Being the Parent You Hate!" is available now. As a Board Certified Family Physician, mother of four, author of Teach Resilience: Raising Kids Who Can Launch! and a professional parenting speak ... More

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5 comments

  1. LIZ says:

    tnx so much help learn how to talk because i dont really know where to start and how

  2. Doctor says:

    Rachel, I apologize, I understand why this is awkward. I mean to express that different families have different cultures and comfort zones. It is crucial for parents to draw whatever boundaries they believe in, but ALSO to explain that their own (possibly relaxed) boundaries are not always the same as the larger community’s boundaries.

    As far as "shimmying" or any other suggestive behavior that makes a parent uncomfortable: We can’t assume that kids put the same connotations as adults on their actions. We need to explain what is OK in public, what is OK in private and what is never OK. Those lines differ for different families, of course!

  3. Hopefully Dr.G will also be able to get back to you on this, but my assumption was that the private parts we’re discussing here include breasts and bottoms as well. My kids like to pat me or their dad on the bottom (it’s an easy height for them to reach!) or will touch my breasts when they are being held and ask if that’s where I made milk for them. I don’t mind it, but I do see that allowing them to do so when with us might mean them grabbing a teacher’s bottom or breasts without recognizing the distinction. Could be a little awkward!

    • My son was not-quite two and had recently weaned (about 6 months prior). A lady at the church nursery picked him up and gave him a little hug and he reached down her shirt and gave her breast a squeeze. I was mortified but she just laughed and said “Well – I guess we’ll have to work on teaching him modesty next.” She said all her babies were breastfed so she understood — thank goodness she didn’t totally freak out. I was a new mom and never thought he would think it was OK! But at that time I had JUST had a newborn so he’d been seeing me nurse her at home for the last two weeks. Man. LOL!

  4. Rachel Lang says:

    Allowing innocent touching of mom and dad’s private parts? Wait – WHAT? A little inappropriate in my eyes… Please explain what you mean. And the question about the little girl "shimmying" wasn’t answered – what do you tell her – to do that in private? These things are always a little awkward, so thank you for the advise.

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