teaching children about private parts - pants
by Doctor Mummy | 18:00

There’s a channel 4 documentary about the female body that has sparked a lot of discussion recently, mainly because it features photos of women’s ‘private parts’.  I find it disheartening that this documentary is incorrectly named – it appears that even in a documentary about women’s bodies we still can’t correctly name the parts of the female body.

 

It’s got me thinking about the importance of teaching children about private parts.

 

Why do we need to teach children about private parts?

 

Raising hand

 

Teaching children about their private parts is important to keep them safe – sexual abuse is a real issue and something we need to guard against.  However, more than that teaching our children about their bodies is a way to give them ownership and a sense of control of those bodies.

 

In my work as a GP I have encountered many grown women who do not understand the difference between a vulva and a vagina (much like whoever chose the title for the channel 4 documentary discussed above).  I have never yet met a man who doesn’t know the words penis and testicles!

 

This matters.

 

It matters because by refusing to teach girls about their own bodies we
are also teaching them that their body is something to be ashamed of, to
keep secret, to avoid talking about.

 

That sense of shame is hard to overcome – I once had an elderly lady consult me about her ‘flower and honeypot’.  She was mortified and distressed and I was struggling to work out the exact body parts she was referring to.  It rendered her powerless – she couldn’t communicate or explain the problem clearly and that is a grown woman.

 

Imagine how much harder it is for a child trying to explain an incident that has upset her.

 

We need to give our children – male and female – the confidence and the knowledge to understand and respect their bodies if we want them to be able to keep themselves safe.

 

How to teach children the names for their private parts

 

teaching children about private parts - naming body parts

 

I was at a mum’s group recently and the topic of what we are teaching our children to call their private parts came up.  Boys was fairly universal – ‘willy’ being the most common, although many mums hadn’t taught their sons a word for testicles and were using ‘willy’ to describe any part of his genitals.

 

The range of words used for girls was staggering – front bottom, flower, private bit, vagina, down there, down below, bottom, private part, secret area… the list goes on.

 

When it got to me, I explained that I have taught my three year old daughter, L, that she has a vulva, a vagina and a bottom and that when she noticed and asked about her brother’s different body parts I explained that he has a penis, testicles and a bottom.

 

There was a slightly awkward silence and then one of the mums said ‘but aren’t you worried that she might say vagina in public?’  Well, no more so than I’d be about her shouting about her ‘front bottom’ or ‘private part’ in public.

 

This is obviously a very personal choice, but I want my children to know what their body parts are called – I wouldn’t teach them that their elbow is called a shoulder for example, so why would I teach them that their vulva is a vagina or their testicles are a penis?  It makes no sense and they deserve to know the correct names for their own body parts.

 

It also means that (heaven forbid) if my daughter tells me that someone tried to touch her vulva then I’m not confused or trying to clarify what she’s referring to, I know exactly what she’s telling me and I can respond appropriately.

 

If you find talking about these things with your children difficult, then the NSPCC has some useful resources to refer to.

 

How to teach children about protecting their private parts

 

 

Whichever terms you choose to teach your children to use for their private parts, it’s important to get across both the concept of privacy and what to do if someone wants to see or touch their private parts.

 

There are lots of resources to help do this, like the video above, but you can also keep it simple.

  

Even young children are capable of understanding the concepts of rules and right and wrong.  When my then two year old daughter started asking about her body, we named her private parts and I explained that they are just for her.  I explained that she can touch them but no-one else is allowed to look at or touch them and that no one should ask her to look at or touch their private parts.

 

I told her that if anyone tries to look at or touch her vulva, vagina or bottom or if anyone tries to show her their private parts then she should run away and tell me, her daddy or her nursery key-worker right away.  We talked about how as long as she tells the truth then she will never get in trouble and that it’s OK to say no and tell someone that that part of her body is only for her.

 

She loves this concept – we turned it in to sort of a game in the bath where I ask who’s allowed to touch and she says ‘just me’ and then I say ‘what about…’ and name various children and adults and she shouts ‘no, just me’.  She has now expanded it to include asking who’s allowed to touch her baby brother J’s private parts and chanting ‘just J and no-one else’.

 

It’s a light-hearted way of getting the key message across without scaring her too much!

 

We’ve also talked about times when it might be OK for someone to look or touch, for example if she goes to the doctor because of a problem with her bottom.  We talked about what would make that situation OK – if she’d gone about a problem with that area, if the doctor asked permission to look and if me or daddy were there the whole time.

 

This may not be the perfect approach, but it’s given my daughter (and will in time hopefully also give my son) the language and confidence to talk about and to feel ownership over her own body.

 

 

How to teach children about touching their own bodies and avoiding public displays!

 

teaching children about private parts - pants

 

Kids are interested in their bodies and even young babies and toddlers will be especially interested in their private parts – after all, these bits are always covered by a nappy so they’re relatively unknown!  As soon as the nappy comes off children often grab and touch their genitals – a bit of a nightmare if you’re changing a dirty nappy!

 

Give them nappy-free time before their bath so they can explore their body if they want to.  Normalise it and don’t make it seem like something bad or disgusting, but do teach toddlers to wash their hands after touching their bottom.

 

By the time your child is a toddler (or older) they are old enough to understand about privacy.  Explain that it’s fine to touch their genitals but that they should do this when they’re on their own and not with other people around, as those body parts are just for them.

 

This is also an opportunity to explain that we don’t talk about our genitals in public and that it’s fine to talk about them with (mummy, daddy, any other trusted adult you wish to include), but that because those body parts are just for your child, they shouldn’t talk about them when out and about.

 

Keep it simple, keep it fun, keep it relaxed

 

positive parenting skills - smiling sunflower

 

When teaching children about private parts, try to keep explanations simple and not too intense.  The more comfortable we are talking to our children about their bodies, the more comfortable they will feel to talk to us about them in return.

 

Use any resources that you’re comfortable with and find helpful, but remember that you have the tools you need to teach your children yourself, sometimes books can over-complicate things.

 

I hope that you’ve found this article helpful, if you have any questions or suggestions for other ways to teach children about private parts then leave me a comment below!

 

 

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Comments

Thais Gomez

Hi Dr. Mummy, this is so important. I like your explanation about using the right terms and teaching our kids the same way, no silly names. If we make it a taboo or something that we can’t call it by its name then we make it like something prohibited not allowed to talk about and we need to teach our kids that if something happens they have to trust parents and tell them the truth. I will follow your advice of leaving my son free of nappy for sometimes during the day, with his underwear, and I’ll show him the song 😀 it was so cool. And he loves dinosaurs so he will like this song. Should we also keep the conversation going with our kids as they grow up? And maybe find resources that fit their age? I’m just worried about how my little boy will change as he grows and goes to school. I hope he will find good friends that will influence him positively.

Mar 20.2019 | 11:48 pm

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Thais, thanks for commenting again and I’m glad you found the article helpful. My son loves the dinosaur video although I’m sure at one the message is going over his head a bit and he just likes the dancing dinosaurs! I absolutely agree that we need to keep these conversations going as our kids grow, but I think the earlier we start normalising these chats the easier it is to keep them going as they grow up. I’m sure your little one will be fine, we all worry about them but all we can do is raise them as best we can and you’re clearly doing that!

    Mar 21.2019 | 08:20 pm

Ashton

I like how you went into detail about an uncomfortable subject for many. I set out with this idea and did well with my son but find it more uncomfortable to say those correct words for my daughter. Weird I know, especially since I have all those parts as well. I am going to work on doing it right and use some of the tips you have mentioned here.

Mar 21.2019 | 12:16 am

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Ashton, thanks very much for commenting. I think lots of people find it harder with daughters than sons, there’s still a strange sense of shame about the female body in society and that inhibits us in these conversations. However I think it’s great that you’re talking to your kids about these things and I’m sure you’re doing a fantastic job!

    Mar 21.2019 | 08:14 pm

stefanie taylor

Hi there, I think it’s amazing the way you have explained this delicate subject so well. Really impressive!
When I was a kiddy we never ever discussed our private parts (which was normal back then) and to this day as a 43 year oil woman I still have a sense of shame around sex, and am especially mortified if the subject comes up around my parents. I literally burn with shame. It’s not their fault though, but it does make me think how different I would feel had it not been such a taboo subject.
What you are doing for your kids is probably the very best that can be done in this kind of situation. Yes, it’s probably a bit awkward, but that more than likely because you feel that and because society has made us feel like that rather than them feeling awkward.
If everybody taught their children the same way you are then their would be much less sexual abuse cases going undetected.
Thanks so much 🙂

Mar 21.2019 | 09:58 am

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Stefanie, thanks for commenting again. I’m really glad you liked the article and I’m sorry to hear that you’ve struggled with feelings of shame – none of us should have to feel that way about something so natural! I think that with each generation these conversations become easier and obviously education in schools plays a big part in normalising these discussions too. Thanks very much for the support!

    Mar 21.2019 | 08:12 pm

Jen

Thank you for sharing this information. It’s true that parents often skip over teaching their kids about their privates mainly because of embarrassment and shame but there is nothing to be ashamed of. My son is almost two he he does reach when I remove his diaper but I don’t pull his had away because I know he is just curious. When the time comes i think you have a great idea of teaching about the different parts so I will keep this handy.

Mar 21.2019 | 01:28 pm

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Jen, thanks for commenting and I’m so glad that you’ve found the post helpful, I hope it will help you with talking to your son as he gets older!

    Mar 21.2019 | 08:08 pm

Suzanne

Very important information to get across. Pantasaurus should be required viewing – not just once, but periodically – in early education. Ownership and knowing the names of our private parts (no matter what our age) is most important for various reason that you have pointed out above. Thank you for this post.

Mar 21.2019 | 08:59 pm

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Suzanne, thanks for your comment and I agree that Pantasaurus is great and such a useful way of getting the message across to even young children.

    Mar 22.2019 | 07:08 pm

Madysen Wilcox

Hi Dr. Mummy, this was so eye-opening and great info! I have an 8 month old daughter and the thought of having this discussion later down the road has crossed my mind a couple times. It can be an awkward conversation to have but I think you put it perfect when you mentioned calling an elbow a shoulder. There is no need to put a taboo connotation around having the conversation of body parts. I think it was great when you talked about the fear of your child saying vagina in public. The fear would still be there even if they used a “softer” term. So needless to say it is beneficial to talk to them about the correct terms and body parts. I think your delivery was great and this post was very helpful. Thanks for sharing!

Mar 21.2019 | 09:57 pm

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Madysen, thanks for your comment and I’m so glad you found the information helpful. Good luck with having this chat with your daughter when the time comes!

    Mar 22.2019 | 07:07 pm

Shaun

Hi, thanks for sharing such a useful post about teaching children about private parts.
I’m a father of a 4-year old boy, and i realize that it is time to teach him well understand his private part. As this will help him to build up a better sense of self-recognition and a more mature view when dealing with other kids.
As you said, we should keep explanations and teachings simple and not too intense. Normally, i will buy some comic books about this aspect or sharing some carton videos with him. I think this will make the process i little more interesting and easier.

Mar 22.2019 | 12:07 am

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Shaun, thanks for your comment and glad you liked the article. I think using comics or cartoon videos is a great way to help communicate with your son!

    Mar 22.2019 | 07:06 pm

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