There are few things that get a good, old fashioned Grandma clutching her pearls quicker than a toddler saying “Penis” or “Vagina.” The use of these anatomical names are often seen as vulgar, uncouth and definitely NOT for the mouths of babes.
So why would I recommend that you teach your children to name their body parts accurately from the beginning?
Two reasons: Safety and Body Positivity.
Obviously none of us wants to consider the chance of a sweet, innocent child being violated by a predator but studies show that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are the victim of sexual abuse as children. That’s a BIG number, and it’s also likely a bit higher considering not all cases are reported to authorities. So although this is absolutely worst case scenario– it’s also something that we must acknowledge and be proactive in preventing.
One of the first lines of defense is giving your child the vocabulary to be able to accurately disclose any abuse to any trusted adults. If you teach your child that her vagina/vulva is a cookie and she tells her teacher that someone touched her cookie- the teacher is likely to dismiss the disclosure. Not only is this a missed opportunity for the child’s abuser to be stopped– but it gives the child the impression that she isn’t going to get help even if she reaches out.
Consider how that comment would be handled if your daughter said to a teacher that someone “touched her vagina or vulva?” It would raise ALL the alarm bells. This fact is enough for a parent to want to teach their child to correctly name their body parts.
Additionally, there is a psychological aspect of teaching our kids the correct language for their bodies. When we treat a penis as just another body part, no different than an arm or foot, we are teaching them that there are no parts of their body that are taboo, or that they should be ashamed of. These early messages play deeply into their feelings about their bodies over time. Psychology Today states that teaching the anatomically correct names for body parts encourages body positivity, self confidence and openness. It also, as stated previously, reduces the susceptibility of your children being molested. When a child has the needed vocabulary, they can easily articulate the things they have experienced, and even discourage a potential predator from violating them in the first place. A predator doesn’t want to be caught, and knowing that your child can out them correctly could be enough to scare them off.
How do you teach them that they should not be ashamed of these body parts, while simultaneously teaching them that those parts are not to be shared? I’ve spent some time considering that dilemma in my years as a mother and what I have done is tell my children that their penis/vagina is a private body part that isn’t for anyone to touch except themselves, occasionally the doctor and their parents if something is wrong with it and they need help. Striking a balance is tough, but it’s about being calm and not making a big deal when your toddler runs across the room naked in front of company. Simply, firmly saying that they must wear pants is no different than saying they must wear shoes.
The key here is to remain calm and not ever treat their body as anything that is to be ashamed of. Remember that you may have to explain to older relatives why you’re teaching them to say these traditionally “inappropriate” things, but in the long run its for the child’s safety and wellness.