Updated: Apr 5, 2021
Has this ever happened to you: a kid barges in your room while you are changing and starts asking you about your own body parts? Perhaps your child takes a bath with a sibling and questions arise about each other’s bodies. When these moments come up with your children, do you freeze a bit or perhaps feel uneasy? What should you tell your kids? What is appropriate for them to know at this age? Let’s look together at how to start the talk about body autonomy with your kids (and why you should).
How we handle situations like this are some of the first, most basic steps in teaching our children body autonomy, and setting them up to be strong, capable, independent people in the future. So many of our own insecurities, and poor body/sex education, come into play when these topics arise with our own children. I believe there are some steps we as parents can take to not only be prepared for these moments, but to be able to educate and empower our children.
1. Educate yourself, as the parent, about your own body, and the bodies of others. If you are an adult female, and cannot even name or locate all of your own body parts, or an adult male, and the same can be said of you, then you need to do a little research yourself.
Those with female anatomy should be able to locate and properly discuss their vulva, labia minora, labia majora, clitoris, urethra, perineum, anus, vagina, uterus, cervix, breasts, areolas, and nipples.
Those with male anatomy should be able to locate and properly discuss their penis shaft, glans of penis, urethral opening, foreskin (even if you do not have it), testicles, scrotum, perineum, prostate, anus, and nipples.
Everyone should know the correct names, locations of, and the biological purposes of their genitalia, and those of others.
2. Practice until you no longer get weirded out, laugh, or make a face. If you can’t say “penis” without giggling, then say it a million times. If the word “anus” makes you get red in the face, say it until it doesn’t. Say the word until it loses its power over your emotional response. These are body parts, plain and simple. No different from nose, arm, or knee. They are not bad, shameful words.
3. Understand that your kids, if being raised in a safe environment, are not born with intrinsic shame, fear, disgust, etc. related to their bodies. Your children believe about their bodies, and what they can and cannot do with them, based on what we as parents teach them. The human body is amazing, and kids are born with a natural need to explore the world around them, and their bodies are included in that. So, please, don’t impart your own insecurities onto your children. Help them understand acceptable ways to talk about and explore their bodies, that are healthy and age appropriate.
4. Know what is acceptable and appropriate for your kids and your household. Every home is different, and every kid is different. Some mature faster than others. Also, the religious, spiritual, and life views of every family are different. A great starting place for just about all parents, though, is to focus on teaching our children body autonomy.
Body autonomy is the right for a person to govern what happens to their body without external influence or coercion. In basic terms, this means no forcing children to give hugs, kisses, high fives, or do anything with their bodies they are not comfortable, even with you. By teaching our children they are in charge of what happens to their bodies at an early age, we are empowering them and setting them up for success in the future. This will also minimize the risk of childhood sexual abuse or assault.
What did you learn about body autonomy when you were a child?
4A. To this point, a great starting point for body autonomy can be summed up in two practices. Once you are properly educated, teach your children the correct names and locations for all of the body parts, and be prepared with age-appropriate responses about the purpose of each body part.
Never assume your child wants physical contact or that they want to do something with their body. Also never force, manipulate, bribe, or beg your children to do something they are uncomfortable with. If they do not want to hug Grandma, do not make them. If they are uncomfortable going to a friend’s house, do not make them. And yes, if they do not want to hug or kiss you goodnight, do not make them. Let them know their body is theirs, and they get to decide what they do and what is done to their body, end of story.
5. Finally, establish rules for your home as far as safe body rules. For example, in our home, when we change, we shut the doors, more as an issue of consent than of an issue of bodies being “icky.” If our door is open when we change, someone could possibly see us naked whether they wanted to or not, and that is not their right.
Another example: our children have been told that they are allowed to explore their bodies and touch all of themselves, but only if they are alone in their room or the bathroom. This is for the same reason as not leaving your door open when undressing. Body autonomy is so important and we must begin to have these conversations and expectations with our kids.
These are just two of our rules. We also have other related to others, and what they can and cannot do with our children and vice versa. At the end of the day, each family needs to sit down and decide what rules are best for them, stick with them, and remind children of them often.
I hope there was some tip here that you found helpful, or that can get you started on your journey of having more open conversations with your children about their bodies. If you ever need help or guidance on body autonomy or anything else, please do not hesitate to reach out. Each child deserves to have a healthy relationship with their body, and that starts with us!