Family, Kids & Relationships

How to talk to kids about body curiosity, consent, and safety — without shame

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A lot of parents might feel like deer in headlights when certain topics come up — especially things you were taught not to talk about, like “private parts.” But it’s going to come up — like when your child notices their own body parts or others’, is touching themselves, tries to take their clothes off in public, or simply is curious during bathtime.

Only using euphemistic words like “down there” or “wee-wee,” or acting embarrassed or grossed out when a kid asks a question about genitals, sends the message that there’s something wrong with discussing those body parts. Since genitals were such a hush-hush topic for many of us, we adults may have some catching up to do to be able to pass along the most useful information.

The truth is, body curiosity is 100 percent normal and shouldn’t be addressed with shame and fear. Kids need to be able to talk openly with you about it so they can learn about consent and other important health and safety topics.

So let’s stop the cycle of shame and talk about ALL body parts early and often. Here are some ideas of what to say in the scripts below. You can even practice out loud to yourself or your partner first.

Still uncomfortable? Think about it this way: These conversations will help you become someone your child wants to come to in the future with questions, so they don’t have to get all of their information from their friends and media.

Use the right words

“Let’s wash your belly button, now let’s wash your vulva, and then let’s wash your butt. All clean!

Some people have vulvas and vaginas, and some have penises and testicles. They’re important just like your elbow, your nose, or any other body part. But some body parts have special rules…”

Affirm their curiosity

“It’s normal to touch your own penis/vulva. A lot of people do that because they are curious or because they like how it feels. You can even look at it with a mirror if you want to.

But it’s something that people do in private. So that means you can feel free to do that when you’re by yourself in your bedroom, or when you’re in the bath or shower.

We keep our underwear and pants on when we’re around other people we don’t live with, because other people don’t want to see penises and vulvas in public. That’s why they’re sometimes called private parts.”

Discuss boundaries

“It’s alright for your parents to see and touch your penis/vulva sometimes because we have to take care of you. But we will always explain what we need to do and make sure you’re ready first.

Your doctor might need to look sometimes too to make sure you’re healthy, but one of your parents will always be in the room with you when you go to the doctor.

If another person ever tries to touch your penis/vulva, or your nipples or butt, or touches you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, that’s not OK. Tell me right away so I can help. Who’s another adult you would feel safe talking to about this?

There are places where it’s OK to see other people naked, like at home if your brother is getting out of the bath. But at school/church/on the bus/etc. everyone keeps their clothes on the whole time, right? Unless they’re going to the bathroom, of course.”

Remind them about consent

“You’re in charge of your own body, so you can always say ‘no’ and move away if someone is touching you in a way you don’t like or on a part of your body where you don’t want them to touch you, or if they ask to see under your clothes.

That’s true even if the person is someone in authority, like a teacher or doctor, or if it’s someone you’d normally trust like a friend or family member. They have to ask first and listen to your answer.

If ANYONE tries to touch or look at your penis/vulva, butt, or nipples, or anywhere on your body in a way that is not totally OK with you or that you’re not sure about, you should always tell me right away. I promise I won’t be mad and you won’t get in trouble!

Remember that you also have to ask other people for permission before touching their bodies, or looking at their body parts that are under their clothes. We want everyone to feel safe, and that means respecting each other’s bodies.”

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.