When it comes to a toddler’s curiosity about his or her privates, exact language is often the first victim. Some moms and dads will encourage their kids to use euphemisms, such as weenie, pee-pee, peeny, winky, wiener, willy, wee-wee, dinky, down there, gi-gi, buh-gina, doodle, peeper, jay-jay or simply, the business.
Is there a correct way to teach your preschooler about private parts, and an appropriate way to react to his or her questions?
Use accurate language
Stephanie Mitelman, a certified sexuality educator at McGill and Concordia universities in Montreal, says children start to differentiate between the sexes and genitalia at about age three.
“At this age, there’s a lot more investigation and imagination,” says Mitelman. She says it’s important to use accurate language – penis and vagina – from day one and to identify specific sexual anatomy so a child can tell us, for instance, if his scrotum is swollen.”
The goal, Mitelman says, is to open channels of communication in an honest and forthright manner and to emphasize that it’s OK to talk about your body.
Don’t ignore questions
Mike Evans, a health educator and director of the Health Design Lab at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, says that ignoring a child’s questions about their anatomy and then changing the subject are common first instincts for parents. But this approach will backfire, he warns, because your kid’s questions will continue to crop up. The number one priority is creating a scenario where kids can talk if they have any problems or issues, Evans says.
Never too early
And Mitelman stresses that it’s never too early for these conversations. She advocates using such times as “teachable moments” for discussing healthy sexuality. “If you say too much, kids will tune out, but if you say too little, they’ll start to ask questions,” says Mitelman. “When you have a little kid who can name every one of Thomas’s trains and every Pokémon character, they certainly should be able to talk about all their body parts.”
Stay in touch
Subscribe to Today's Parent's daily newsletter for our best parenting news, tips, essays and recipes.