Few topics are more tender
to tread with our kids than sex and bodies. And yet, as parents, the way we
deal with these topics could impact our children's relationships for the rest of
I asked Jennifer Wiessner,
certified sex therapist, LCSW and presenter of the Raising Sexually Healthy
Children workshops, about some of the burning questions parents of young
children have about these sensitive topics.
My kid keeps
touching his privates in the living room. What should I do?
Children aren't born with shame; they learn it from adults.
Say, as calmly as if you were asking your child to come to dinner, "I see that
you are touching your private parts. Remember that you are welcome to touch
your private parts, as I know it feels good. It is something you need to do in
your bedroom or bathroom." If this is the first time it's happened, it's a
great time to talk about how touching themselves is healthy and normal, and it's a private thing we do in our
bedroom or bathroom.
This is an important
conversation that needs to be had without judgment or shame. Children aren't
born with shame; they learn it from adults.
my son and daughter stop taking baths together?
When they ask to!
Developmentally, children go through stages that include periods of curiosity
and periods of inhibition. Follow your children's cues. If your kids can
respect guidelines in the bathtub, like remembering that it's healthy
and appropriate to touch themselves but not others, then I recommend
allowing the children to continue to bathe together.
Most kids will eventually
ask for privacy around toileting and bathing. It can often happen around
7 to 8 years, but sometimes younger and sometimes older. Lead
with their good example.
parental nudity? Is there an age when we shouldn't be naked around our
We bring our baggage to these interactions and put our adult view on something that is innocent and developmentally appropriate.
Assuming the dynamic in
the home is healthy and nonsexualized, your children can again lead. This also
depends on the culture of your family. I know European families who have never
considered covering up and their children are now healthy adults. We bring our
baggage to these interactions and put our adult view on something that is
innocent and developmentally appropriate.
It is a good idea to let
your children know that what is acceptable and appropriate in your home may be
different in other people's homes. Nudity may be fine in your own home, but not
in someone else's.
If you have a child that
is staring frequently at your private areas, you can open up a discussion about
what he or she is observing or curious about. If you notice your
child is uncomfortable, that is a cue for you to cover up; trust your
child and your gut.
Lastly, if you bring
embarrassment or struggles with body image to these interactions, it would be
in your child's and your own best interest to seek help from a therapist so you
don't pass that discomfort on to your child.
somehow got in the habit of calling our butts our "boom booms." Are nicknames
for body parts ever appropriate, if you mostly use the correct terms?
If we weren't embarrassed, why wouldn't we call the body part by its proper name?
I can't think of any
reason for nicknames to be used for body parts. If we wouldn't call an elbow a
"bendy," I don't know why we would call a vulva a "hoo-hoo." Using nicknames breeds shame. If we
weren't embarrassed, why wouldn't we call the body part by its proper
getting comfortable using correct anatomical terms in your
child's infancy. If you feel uncomfortable, find a private place. Then say the
names of the body part that tweak you the most over and over, until they start
to sound normal.
Using proper terms
empowers children to be proud of their bodies and view all parts as
equal and healthy.
Children who are more educated about their bodies and
about what constitutes safe and unsafe touch are less likely to be targeted by
abusers. Kids who
have learned about healthy sexuality without shame have an intuitive sense
of what touch is healthy and appropriate, so if they are
approached with what feels like unhealthy, coercive touch, they
will draw from that positive sense of sexuality and assess that what they are
experiencing may be dangerous. Teaching kids that their bodies are
amazing creations that are theirs to discover is a great way to build healthy
self-image and sexuality.
My 6-year-old keeps grabbing my breasts. How do I nip (so to speak) this in
the bud without shaming him?
Boundaries are key for
allowing children to understand what they can and cannot do in order to keep
them safe and to learn how to get along physically in the world. We, as
parents, are their teachers.
Begin with teaching
children about consent and touching from a young age. You can say, "Johnny,
since your body belongs to you, you can tell people when you would like to be hugged
or kissed or tickled. If you do not want those things, you can tell me (or
another family member or close friend). Your private parts are part of your body that no one should touch except Mommy,
Daddy or your doctor to help keep your body clean and healthy until you can do
it yourself. Does that make sense?"
Then you can use yourself
as an example: "You know how you like to grab Mommy's breasts sometimes? Since
my body belongs to me I would prefer that you not grab me that way. I would
love a hug instead, or if you want to tell me what you
would like in those moments, I will try to help."
What do we
tell our kids if they walk in on us having sex?
Two things: 1. Don't lie,
and 2. Get a lock on your door!
We want our children to
trust us and feel like they can count on us for the truth. If your kids are
anything like my kids, they can smell a lie from a distance. If your child
is under age 7, you can consider an answer that is truthful without giving
too much unnecessary information: "Mom and Dad are having some alone
time and this is one of the ways adults love each other. That is
the reason the door is closed. Please knock next
The message we want to
send is, no one should feel ashamed of sex. If you just disappear
and say nothing, then sex becomes a secret, which is not what we want to teach.
Be truthful. If your child is over the age 7, being honest about sex
is appropriate. What you want to share depends on what you have shared so far
It's also best to lock up
your fun-time adult toys. A small safe from a local store can save you loads
of embarrassment and your kids chasing each other with the leather crop
and wrist restraints you got for Valentine's Day. You can always tell them you
are a superhero by night!