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Your Burning Questions About Kids, Sex and Bodies

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 their lives.

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.

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When should 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.

What about parental nudity? Is there an age when we shouldn't be naked around our children?

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.

Our family 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 name?

Start 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."

RELATED: 5 Things Every Mom Needs to Know to Have Great Sex

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 time."

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 about sex.

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!

Photo via Twenty20/his_beat

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