Bathroom words? How kids talk about their bodies

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk wants her four-year-old daughter to use proper terminology for body parts.

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Photo: iStockphoto

“Some of the senior kindergarten boys say ‘penis,’” my four-year-old daughter announces. “But that’s a ‘bathroom word.'”

Anna’s in junior kindergarten, in a split class, and most of the senior students happen to be boys. I remind her that we’ve talked about this before. I tell her that words like “penis” are only considered “bathroom words” at school. I’m cognizant of setting different rules at home that may go against the ones enforced by my daughter’s school, despite the challenges that may create. But I feel strongly about using proper terminology when it comes to body parts—and I don’t want Anna to just associate these terms with the bathroom.

At home, Anna and I refer to these as “body words.” Anything referencing body parts and bodily functions fall under this umbrella. We talk about privacy, appropriateness and how not everyone likes to openly talk about bodies. I believe including the proper terminology in open conversation saves kids—and adults—from feeling shame or confusion about their bodies. While I have no idea why the boys in Anna’s class were saying “penis,” I’m happier to hear that story from my daughter as opposed to “the boys are calling people bum-bum head.”

“Bum-bum head,” for what it’s worth, is neither a bathroom nor body word in our home, mainly on account of it not being an actual word. If my daughter has questions, concerns or curiosities about bodies, I want her to have the proper language to bring to the discussion. It’s my hope that, when she’s older, she will feel comfortable learning about her body on her own, without feeling confusion or embarrassment. Additionally, I want to know if something feels wrong to her so she can verbalize to me (or a doctor) what she is experiencing. The idea that Anna will be properly equipped with the correct terms brings me comfort.

I teach Anna about appropriate vs. inappropriate touching because, even though the conversation isn’t always welcome on her part, I want her to understand the difference. I teach her not to be gross for no reason when using the proper terms, and to allow people privacy when it comes to talking about their bodies. I want her to recognize that words for genitals and bodily functions have actual meanings, and shouldn’t be used as insults. I don’t want her to feel that “bathroom words” equal “bad words.” I would rather teach my daughter not to hurt peoples’ feelings than police her language. I know there’s concern for some parents that teaching words like “penis” and “vagina” result in kids growing up too fast, but I believe not teaching them could result in a fear, shame or confusion over their own bodies.

I’m not defending those senior kindergarten boys for throwing the word “penis” around the classroom, but I do commend their parents for teaching them the proper word.

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a four-year-old. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice, and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.

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