What’s in a name? Well, if you’re using “willy,” “diddle,” “hoo-ha” or other informal words to discuss private body parts with your child, they may cause confusion for your young one.
“I suggest parents teach their kids the correct names for genitalia,” says Dr. Resham Batra, a pediatrician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “It’s OK if kids have their own silly words, but they should still know the accurate terms and meanings so that they don’t think the names — such as penis, vagina, breasts and testicles — are ‘bad’ words or imply something bad.”
Dr. Batra says the best way to teach children about their private parts is to start talking about the subject early, usually between the ages of 3 and 5. She recommends that parents explain that the private parts are the parts of their body usually covered by a swimsuit.
There are several practical reasons for discussing your child’s body parts and the correct names for them. From preparing children for doctor visits and helping them develop a positive body image and better understanding of their bodies, to making them less vulnerable to sexual abuse, knowing the anatomically correct terms can help them live a healthier life.
Like Dr. Batra, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents to talk openly about body parts with their children and to use the proper names of parts when discussing the subject. The AAP offers parents the following tips for these discussions:
- Explain that it’s never OK for someone other than parents or doctors to look at or touch private parts.
- Discuss the circumstances when a parent or doctor may need to touch their private parts, such as at home during a bath or during a regular checkup or when they are sick.
- Encourage children to talk about those parts only in appropriate situations and with the appropriate people, such as with mom and dad at home.
- Do not laugh at your child’s questions or make your child feel ashamed about their curiosity, and don’t appear overly embarrassed or serious about the matter.
- Keep discussions and explanations brief, and answer questions in simple terms.
- Listen to your child’s responses and reactions, and ask them if they understand or have any questions.
Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you are unsure about how to comfortably discuss body parts. Together, you can help your child become comfortable with their body and its development, and understand that they have trusted adults they can turn to with questions or concerns.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Batra about teaching children the appropriate names for body parts for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.