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Keep Private Parts Private, But Not the Conversations About Them

By: Jay M. Greenfeld, Ph.D., C.Psych.

Teaching our children about private parts and the areas below the belt continue to be a hot topic of conversations with parents, both young and old. How and when to have these conversations continues to remain subjective. As I have noted before, using the more accurate terms is crucial. Help your children learn the correct names to the private parts they are learning about both in school as well as within their evolving bodies. It continues to remain imperative that as parents you have these conversations with your children, both at a young age, beginning as early as two years old, but also at an older age as they, along with their classmates begin to go through changes with the onset of puberty. The latter conversation is as important so they know what consent means, what is safe, and what their boundaries are when it comes to interacting with others.

If your child is starting grade school or is close to starting the early years of their schooling (e.g., preschool), engage in these conversations with them about what their private parts mean, why they are theirs, and why they belong to no one else. Although you can make the conversations fun as noted in and excellent resource: My Underpants Rule (by: Rod and Kate Power), to help the content sink in. However, the conversations also need to be very serious so that your children know what is safe, especially with friends and family members. The knowledge of the content related to private parts needs to be candid, direct, and very clear. However, what gets missed is the concept of consent and what appropriate behaviour is both at home and away from home.

Following the conversations about identifying their private parts, understanding the differences that exist between children is an important first phase, but the second one is ensuring that you children know when to speak up for themselves if they feel uncomfortable or they are uncertain about certain actions by others. Not only is it very hard for children to know when to speak up, but more so they do not know what to say or who to say it to. Although a lot of parents assume that these conversations and the content is part of a health class curriculum or guidance lessons in school, often these conversations are not happening and our children are losing out. Helping your child identify what is acceptable (e.g., a green flag) and what is absolutely unacceptable (e.g., a red flag) is going to be crucial in their under understanding and how to express any concerns that may emerge for them. An excellent resource to help your children is I said No!: A Kid-to-Kid Guide to Keeping Private Parts Private by: Zach and Kimberley King.

All of the efforts you put forth now will not only protect your children in the shortñterm but more so will help them make better choices and have a greater sense of protection in the long-term. Moreover, ensuring that you are engaging in these types of conversations will also be important as a preventive measure from unwanted incidents that can sometimes shape their growth as people long into adulthood. If your child discloses any information about inappropriate actions from others, ensure that you are extremely supportive, provide some form of validation for their concerns and experiences, and ensure they see that you are active in responding. It is also crucial that if any actions are taken, that the content they share is consistent.

The more that your children can learn about healthy and appropriate boundaries, the more likely they are to be open and candid with you in the event anything happens in their lives or that of their peers. As your children progress through elementary and middle school, reviewing the necessary steps with them to ensure they are equipped to respond is essential. An excellent resource for navigating your childrenís experience with respect for boundaries and their bodies is: Letís Talk About Body Boundaries Consent and Respect: Teach children about body ownership, respect, feelings, choices and recognizing bullying behaviors by Jayneen Sanders. Never assume your children know, because having reactive conversations when they become tweens and teens is a lot harder than if you have the more difficult conversations (regularly) at an earlier age.

Once your children begin the process of puberty (with an onset earlier now than ever before), engage in the direct conversations about what is appropriate and how they define that when they are left to their own devices. Unfortunately, many of our children are gaining their information outside of school from the internet. We are learning more about how the algorithms of social media work leaving our children to be exposed to content that may not only be inappropriate but more so inaccurate. Explore the book: It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, Gender, and Sexual Health by Robbie Harris. As parents it is crucial that we are the ones informing them and the more open we are with these conversations, the more likely they will feel comfortable opening up to us about the uncertainties surrounding this topic. The earlier we can confront the discomfort they may have, the more comfortable and candid they are likely to be when it counts most. It is not just about their own health and safety but their role in advocating for and with others as well.


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