How To Talk To Children About Their Bodies: No Shame, No Blame, All Good!

In today’s modern age of technology and instant information, many children find out the “facts of life” long before their parents sit down to give them the talk. If you’ve been postponing this chat because you’re unsure how to proceed, or worried you’ll overwhelm your child, or concerned you will misspeak and give them mistaken information, (or all three) welcome to a very big club! Plenty of parents nervously anticipate discussing body parts and sexual health with their children, so you’re not alone.

Here are some ideas to keep in mind when you’re getting ready to to talk with your child about their body:

1. Use proper names and correct terminology.

Even if you have to refresh your memory about names and processes, it’s important that you use the right words, like penis, vagina, vulva, and so on. Using euphemisms or nicknames sends the wrong message, that perhaps you’re embarrassed or ashamed. And be prepared for them to repeat the terms loudly and in public, which is what children do when they learn new words and gain knowledge!  Brace yourself, don’t cringe, and instead smile broadly when they announce to grandma, “I have a penis!” The same principle applies when you’re explaining how babies are made. Keep it simple and age-appropriate, but use the correct terms and don’t hedge.

2. Books are a terrific tool for learning.

Going through age-appropriate books with them, books that teach them about their private parts, books that send the message that their body is theirs, and they should be proud of it, is a great way to take some pressure off yourself. Be sure to leave it on a shelf in their room, so they can have a read without you, if they become curious when you’re not there.

3. Body image should be part of this discussion

In this day and age, it’s more vital than ever that children understand the concept of privacy and self-protection, without scaring them, naturally. Explain that no two bodies look exactly alike, and that theirs is beautiful for all kinds of reasons. Then, name those reasons! Don’t be vague – tell them that their curls are beautiful and that being big means they are strong and capable, or whatever physical trait you may choose to highlight.  This is particularly important for girls, because unfortunately, we live in an era in which girls as young as seven and eight are being shamed, sometimes at school and sometimes online, for not developing breasts or hips, or for having too much of one or the other of those physical traits. Society is trying to raise our children to be sensitive and kind, but there are still plenty of instances in which girls, in particular, are bullied for their appearance.

4. Be comfortable but appropriate with nudity.

Allow your child to enter the bathroom when you’re bathing, and if they have a question about your body, answer it honestly. Simple, short sentences are always best, with no hesitation or stalling. For example, if your child asks about your scar from a C-section, tell them candidly – but briefly – what it symbolizes.

5. Check your attitudes toward others’ bodies when your child is nearby.

Have you caught yourself saying something unkind about a neighbor’s shape within earshot of your child? Make sure you model the behavior and manner of speaking you expect of your child, whether it’s about body image or bodily functions.

From the time your child is very young, they should begin learning the names of their body parts, and that includes their genitals. For some parents, even today, this can be a big challenge, sometimes because they worry that arming their children with accurate information will somehow put them in jeopardy.

But as studies show repeatedly, the opposite is true.

The more your child knows their body and understands how miraculously it operates, the more respect they have for themselves, and the other people they meet as they begin to grow and bloom into young, thriving adolescents. It can be a little daunting, we know, but have faith and trust in yourself, and prepare yourself for whatever questions they may have.