It is important that we teach our children from the get-go not to be ashamed of their own bodies. One way of doing this is to label body parts with proper terms, not nicknames. Teach your toddler that certain areas of their bodies are private and should not be shown or touched by anyone else other than trusted caregivers; even then, only under specific circumstances like shower time.
If you have small kids of different sexes at home, there may be situations where your kids are in the shower together or the older child watches you change diapers of the younger sibling. If they raise questions about the difference in anatomy, you can explain that boys and girls have different body parts because we were made to be different. Even though you may feel embarrassed or want to rush or hush the conversation, do avoid doing that because you want to lay a strong foundation for open communication in your family.
As they start pre-school and their world expands, your child may ask again about body differences between boys and girls. Their language ability and vocabulary increases rapidly during this stage, so continue to use proper names for parts of the body. While they can be full of questions, their cognitive ability is still developing so keep your answers short and simple. Approaching it from a factual point of view, you can point out that our bodies have different functions, for instance, women have breasts that can provide milk for babies and their bodies can grow babies, like how they grew inside Mummy’s womb.
At school, they should also be taught to respect each other’s privacy when using the toilet and during shower time. On your part, teach them the concept of self-respect which includes knowing how to protect their modesty, and how to say no to hugs or requests that make them uncomfortable.
You may also want to take the opportunity to correct any unhelpful stereotypes your child might have picked up, for instance “boys cannot wear pink” or “girls should not play soccer”. We want to encourage the development of our children’s individual identity and interest and help them to grow to their full potential.
During the primary years, you could go into more details about body differences as their thinking becomes more sophisticated. An easy way to do so is to look for a biology book with clear anatomical diagrams and explain what goes on inside our bodies in those parts that look different.
Depending on your child’s maturity, you also may want to start introducing the word “sex” in your talks since it’s a word that they will probably hear about soon. You can explain that boys produce something called sperm in their bodies and women produce something called ova. When these two get together, that’s when there’s a chance a baby can be made! If your child should ask how a girl gets pregnant, we have a useful article here for older kids too. If you have a daughter, this is also a good age group to start talking to her about periods.
Continue talking to your kids about how their private areas are that — private — so no one else should ask to touch or see them. As they grow, seize teaching moments to talk to them regularly about body safety and modesty.
In a few short years, your child will be undergoing puberty and may become more self-conscious about their bodies. To prepare them for that teenage introspection, it is vital that we help him or her build a healthy body image. So celebrate their uniqueness and affirm their natural beauty.
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