A lot of parents believe that by encouraging their children to use “pet names” for their private parts will help them to not only communicate but understand the different parts and makeup of their body. That’s not always the case, though. In fact, many child education experts, along with pediatrics, suggest that parents should teach their children the proper words when labeling the different parts of their body, including those that we consider private.
There’s the notion that if you use pet names for body parts that might be uncomfortable to give their real names, you are just giving wording that your child may feel more comfortable with. Unfortunately, parents who do so might be causing more harm than good because children who do not use the correct terminology for all their body parts have less of a chance from being protected from sexual abuse, may grow feeling shame in the natural and normal parts of their body, and having discussions around how to care for your body sets your kid up for better long-term health.
Protection From Potential Harm
The New York Times reports that children are more likely to correctly report abuse if they know how to appropriately use the right terms when describing their body parts. They suggest adults are more likely to take a child seriously if they say the anatomical words rather than a child who might use childish pet names. That and the adult would be more likely to understand exactly what the child is trying to say.
Many educational and childhood development experts believe that parents should help eliminate the stigma and shame when it comes to the human body and yes, all of the private parts that come with it. By using the correct anatomical terms, it can help enhance a child’s self-confidence and body image. According to Psychology Today, one of the first steps that parents should encourage their youngsters to use the right words the moment they start learning how to communicate.
Orlando-area nurse and mother of 3 kids, Elizabeth Robinson RN BSN CCRN, agrees. She tells Moms.com that parents should help their children develop self-confidence the moment they say their first few words and discover their own bodies. This can happen as early as a child’s first year. Reinforcing a healthy body image starts the moment moms and dads use the right terms to describe their own body parts, too.
Robinson explains further saying, “By using the correct terms we are teaching our children that our bodies are not to be ashamed. It also stops their need to giggle whenever the proper term is used. This ability to be comfortable with the names of their body parts enhances their self-image by teaching them that they have healthy, normal body parts even though they are private.”
Robinson adds, “Having a healthy dialogue about sexual development with parents where embarrassment is not an issue is very important. Many psychologists I’ve worked with believe that it can help protect your child against sexual abuse. The terms that are used or aren’t used also helps quickly identify children who have been abused, especially if a pet name is used. By removing the embarrassment associated with their genitals, children are less embarrassed to speak with their parents if they come across someone who acted inappropriately with them.”
Benefits Of Self Confidence
The benefits of using correct words at home stem well into the preteen years, especially once puberty kicks in. Mature children turn into mature teens. Many children often feel shameful when talking about the changes in their growing bodies and more often than not turn it into a joke or belittle the puberty process altogether.
While it’s unlikely that they will refer to their private parts as those same childish names when they were much younger, teens are less likely to talk about the changes that occur in their bodies and their natural curiosity. That’s why health experts suggest that parents make the anatomical words a common part of their vocabulary the same way they talk about an elbow or a nose.
More often than not, a small toddler also finds themselves feeling pretty embarrassed about their bodies during physical exams with their pediatricians. Parents should do their part in emphasizing that there is no shame in talking about their body, especially with a health professional and their parents.
How To Start The Conversation
While there isn’t much statistical data or research available on the topic, parents can take the right steps in emphasizing the importance of using the right terms for private body parts at home. After all, the human body is nothing to be ashamed of. This becomes increasingly important as children learn how to communicate more and more. Some of the things parents can do are look at picture books with their children and discuss the human body and the different functions.
There are also many differences between the male and female body and those points should be freely discussed too. There are plenty of books, games, puzzles, and even infographics that can help with the topic. The more confident parents are about the subject, the better their children will feel, too.
As children get older, they should also learn the importance of taking care of their body for long-term health. Children should understand that they’ve only got one body and that they should not only take care of it but also be proud of it, too. Taking daily showers or baths, washing their faces, brushing their teeth, trimming their hair and nails are just a few ways kids can learn to take care of the most valuable thing they have in their lives: their bodies.
Plus, there should be no shame in calling our body parts what they are. A foot is a foot in the same way that an arm is an arm. The earlier kids understand that, the better.
If parents or guardians have any further questions or concerns on how to talk to your child about their body, the best thing to do is to talk to your child's doctor or a trusted health professional.