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  • How You Protect Your Child When You Stop Using Cutesy Words for His Private Parts

    You’re not doing him any good by calling his private parts a “pee-pee.”
    by Kate Borbon .
How You Protect Your Child When You Stop Using Cutesy Words for His Private Parts
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Before a baby turns 1 year old, parents try to teach their kids different things, like words, colors, shapes, and names. But what about the words for private parts or genitalia? We think it is a sensitive topic and not appropriate for their age, so we don’t discuss it, or we give it other names. 

    Why children should be taught the proper names for their private parts

    We often have “cute” terms for private parts that we likely got from our parents whose moms and dads probably thought it is best to talk to kids this way. According to experts, however, doing so can cause a child more harm than good.

    Not using the proper name of a private part signals to a child there is something to be ashamed of

    Experts agree that when parents, caregivers, and educators use cutesy language like “pee-pee” (for the male genitalia), “flower” (for the female genitalia), and “boobies” (for breasts) signal a sense of discomfort and even shame about those private parts.

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    “We sometimes give nicknames for body parts — like ‘piggies’ and ‘noggin.’ But, just like we also teach children those parts are actually called ‘toes’ and ‘head,’ they need to know real private-part terms as well,” Lydia M. Bowers, a sex educator, tells HuffPost. “If we’re using cutesy names because we’re embarrassed or ashamed to say the actual terms, we’re perpetuating the idea that some body parts are dirty, bad or shameful.”

    However, when children are taught from a young age how to refer to their private parts appropriately, they can discuss them openly and gain a deeper understanding of their bodies.

    As the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) writes, “In early childhood, parents can teach their children the name of the genitals, just as they teach their child names of other body parts. This teaches that the genitals, while private, are not so private that you can’t talk about them.”

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    Saying or talking about a private part like you would any part of the body encourages kids to talk about their needs

    When a child knows the proper names of his genitalia, he can speak to his parents if he encounters pain or itchiness in those areas, or if he undergoes specific changes, especially during the puberty stage.

    Sex educator Melissa Carnagey tells HuffPost, “Using accurate terms also better prepares them to talk confidently about changes they may experience to their body as they grow, especially to medical providers or in settings where they may be learning about their health.”

    In an article for Psychology Today, developmental psychologist Dona Matthews, Ph.D. mentions that children who feel awkward or uncomfortable discussing their private parts — for instance, those who giggle or squirm at the mention of those body parts — also tend to feel embarrassed about asking questions.

    If you want your child to openly talk to you or to a medical professional about the bodily changes he experiences, teaching him to use terms like “penis” is a helpful first step.

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    Using proper names for private parts helps protect your child from sexual abuse

    The AAP says teaching children the appropriate terms for their private parts is one way for parents to protect them from instances of sexual abuse. When a child can identify his body parts, he can communicate to adults if he has been touched inappropriately or if he experiences sexual abuse of any form.

    “Without proper terminology, children have a very hard time telling someone about inappropriate touching,” Sandy K. Wurtele, a psychology professor, tells the New York Times. “If a child says someone touched her cookie, it would be very difficult for a listener to know.”

    Scary Mommy also points out that teaching a child these proper terms for genitalia can help ward off potential abusers. “Offenders looking for victims are less likely to pick confident, informed kids who obviously talk openly with their parents about their bodies, and who have probably been told that other people touching their private parts is not okay.”

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    Using proper names for body parts makes kids confident about their bodies

    Dr. Wurtele says that a child who is taught how to refer to his private parts correctly is a child who learns how to see himself and his body in a more positive light. “It helps children develop a healthy, more positive body image, instead of using nicknames that their genitals are something shameful or bad,” she tells Scary Mommy. “It also gives children the correct language for understanding their bodies and asking questions about sexual development.”

    Studies have shown that children who use proper terms for their private parts are “more confident, more body-positive, and more open.” And what parent doesn’t want their child to be comfortable in his own skin, right?

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    How to teach your child the proper names of his private parts

    Teaching a child about his body, especially his private parts requires honesty on the part of a parent or caregiver. Keep these five tips in mind when teaching him the ability and confidence to discuss his body openly and comfortably with you.

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    Start early

    Your toddler may not understand everything just yet, but as we all know, children learn quickly. Aha Parenting suggests playing a game with your child while you are in the bath together, where you will ask him to point to different parts of his body. If there is any embarrassment or awkwardness, it needs to be pointed out that it is coming from you, not from your child. But he will feel it and take his cue from you. So relax and be as comfortable as you can talking about bodies because it will give him protection.

    Understand that curiosity is normal

    It is normal for young children to be curious about their body and the bodies of their peers. According to Justin Richardson, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, children between ages 3 and 4 years who express interest at specific body parts are simply curious, even if you find him and his friends inspecting one another’s bodies.

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    If you encounter a situation like this, try to react calmly (even if you might be feeling anything but). Have your child put on his clothes and act as normally as you can instead of making them him like he had just been caught in a shameful act.

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    Avoid cutesy language and euphemisms

    Again, referring to your child’s private parts might only do more harm than good. There’s a good chance your child won’t be able to process the things you are teaching him entirely, but at least you are starting a healthy culture of openness and positive body image in the home!

    Promote bodily autonomy in the home

    Promoting bodily autonomy means encouraging the members of your family to respect each other’s body boundaries. For example, if one person feels uncomfortable being touched in a certain way, the rest of the family should be able to respect that. This may be a bit tricky in a country where we are taught from a young age to share affection with others through hugs and kisses on the cheek, but it is a critical step in teaching a child how to respect himself and the people around him.

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    “In our home, for example, we have an agreement that no one should have to repeat ‘no’ or ‘stop’ before the boundary is respected,” Carnagey tells HuffPost. “It may take some reminding and redirecting at first, but when it’s consistently practiced, children become more mindful of the boundaries of others and come to expect theirs as well.”

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