by Charlotte Hilton Andersen, REDBOOK
Changing my son's diaper in the middle of a playdate was already tricky (Do I go in the bathroom? Use the floor? Carry the diaper out to outside garbage can?) but I hadn't considered the ramifications of changing him in front of my friend's four young daughters. As soon as the diaper came off, they all gathered around to stare (should've used the bathroom!).
"What is that?" the youngest said, pointing down.
"It's his penis," I said as matter-of-factly as I could manage.
"His what?!" exclaimed another sister as their mother motioned to me over their heads.
"We don't use that word here," she stage whispered. "We call it a 'peter'."
Now it was my turn to gasp, "His what?!" But the little girls were still waiting for my answer so I finished, "You know, the part that makes him a boy."
After a long silence the eldest said, "Well my daddy's a boy and he sure doesn't have one of those!"
I'm sure they won't understand for years why both their mother and I hit the floor laughing. "I think you should ask your daddy that when he gets home," I managed to squeak out.
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This has not been the only occasion in which trying to decide how to talk to very little ones about sex, and in particular what to teach them to call their genitals, has led to hilarity. I won't tell you about the time I caught my son in the middle of the shoe store punching himself in the crotch because "it won't stay down!" (Okay, so I just did. Shh.)
Some parents go academic, feeling that honesty is the best policy like Matthew Morrison's (Mr. Schue from Glee) dad: ""My birds and the bees talk was epic. My dad is a midwife who delivers babies for a living so he would come home every day and tell me about a 12-year-old girl whose baby he delivered." I feel for you Matthew; my mom was a public health nurse in charge of the pregnant teens at my school.
This can be a good strategy according to Parents Ask expert Dyan Eyebergen who says that teaching children the proper names for their genitals is best because it tells children those body parts are no different than other parts and are not shameful, it conveys to kids that their sexuality is not taboo or shameful, it allows them to speak accurately about their bodies to medical professionals, it connotes respect, it lessens confusion especially when talking with others and can help them in reporting abuse among other things.
On the other hand, many parents either are not comfortable being that direct or simply like keeping things light like Rachel Moststellar from Parent Dish who explains, "Nicknames are fun! Nicknames are silly! Nicknames are great when describing genitalia!" Having spent a lot of time in public bathrooms over the last decade of potty training (potty training is the bane of my existence!) I can attest to the fact that many, if not most parents, use some kind of nickname. "Willy" "peepee" and "winkie" are popular for boy parts and "hoo hoo" "bottom" and "business" are popular for girl bits. But my favorite by far is the one my old roommate uses for her son: inker inker, accompanied by a finger gesture straight out of Clueless.
- No, we think it's important to use the proper names.
- Yes, we will use nicknames until the kids are old enough to have a "birds and bees" talk.
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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.