How do I talk to my child about their “private parts”?

Parents are often uncomfortable talking to their children about the ‘private’ parts of their body and may refer to them with different euphemisms. We have all heard endless varieties of these terms- ‘doodle’, ‘wee-wee’, ‘hoo-ha’, ‘fanny’… you don’t need me to continue! The problem with this roundabout way of talking to children about their private parts is that we are implicitly teaching them that these parts of the body are rude, shameful and something that should not be talked about. Unfortunately, when we do this, it means our kids are less likely to talk about any issues they may have with these areas (including the nightmarish situation that someone has done an indecent act to them or abused them). More broadly, it teaches your child that they can’t talk to their parents about some things, and hinders open communication, the effects of which can continue into adolescence.

So, what do we do? The first important thing is to call body parts by their proper, anatomical names. That’s right- penis, testicles, vulva, vagina, anus. By doing so we are teaching children that these are body parts- just like our tongue or our knee. We can then explain that these are parts of our body that are usually covered, and that only certain people (such as parents or a doctor) can see or touch these. By being willing to talk about things that make you uncomfortable, you are teaching your kids that they can talk about ANYTHING with you. Bath time or getting dressed can be natural opportunities to talk about these things, as can appearing at ease with your own body. Take cues from your kids regarding when to have these conversations- as they get older, this may include discussing names that other children may call these body parts (to reduce confusion). The more open and honest we are with our kids, the more likely they are to reciprocate and feel confident and knowledgeable about their own bodies.

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and is a strong believer in the importance of working collaboratively with families and other professionals to ensure a holistic approach to child wellbeing. She is passionate about advocating for and working with children presenting with anxiety and/or neurodiversity (e.g. ASD, ADHD and specific learning disorders) and their families. Olivia strives to make therapy sessions engaging, effective and applicable to everyday life, and views the relationship between child and therapist as key to success. Olivia is also a trained and registered SOS Feeding Therapist.

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