Helping Your Child Navigate Body Exploration

As they grow, children start exploring their bodies, including the parts it's not considered polite to touch in public. Mighty Mommy shares tips for taking the shame and stigma out of natural exploration while keeping your public dignity intact. 

Cheryl Butler
7-minute read
Episode #528
Girl measuring herself on wall

Talk to your child about body safety

When your child begins to explore her own body, typically between the ages of 3 and 5, it’s the perfect time to begin teaching her about body safety. We teach our kids not to play near busy roads, how to use their words, and how to swim so they can stay safe near deep water. But experts say that parents wait longer than they should to teach their children about body safety, including what unsafe touch is and what to do about it.

One of the best resources I’ve found on this topic is from child therapist Natasha Daniels. She offers easy-to-understand guidelines for empowering children to manage body safety at a young age. Here are some of her important suggestions gleaned from Do You Teach Your Kids Body Safety? 10 Things Every Child Should Know.

Use anatomical terms to talk about body parts Make sure your child knows the proper names for their body parts instead of slang terms. If a child needs to disclose abuse, vague language can make their story confusing.

If child needs to disclose abuse, vague language can make their story confusing.

Teach them that private parts are private Private parts are called that for a reason—they're not for everyone to see. Let your child know that mommy and daddy can see them naked, and so can doctors who are checking their body while mommy or daddy are present, but other people should not see them without their clothes on. 

Teach boundaries Let your child know that they are in control of their own bodies and no one should touch their private parts. By the same token, make sure your child knows that no one should ask them to touch someone else's private parts. Daniels says that parents often forget the second part, and sexual abuse often begins with the perpetrator asking the child to touch them or someone else.

Make sure your child knows that secrets are not okay Daniels says, "Most perpetrators will tell children to keep the abuse a secret. This can be done in a friendly way such as, 'I love playing with you, but if you tell anyone else what we played they won’t let me come over again' or as a threat: 'This is our secret. If you tell anyone I will tell them it was your idea and you will get in big trouble!'"

Make sure your child understands that body secrets are not okay, no matter what anyone else says. And don't forget to tell them to let you know if anyone else asks them to keep something about their bodies or someone else's a secret.

You should also make sure your child knows they will never get in trouble if they tell you about a body secret or a time when they felt uncomfortable or unsafe. "Children often tell me that they didn’t say anything because they thought they would get in trouble, too," says Daniels. "This is often reiterated by the perpetrator." 

Helpful Resources

Finally, if you’d like to check out some additional resources on this delicate subject, you might find the following helpful and interesting.  

Amaze.org offers fun, animated videos that give you can help adults communicate openly and honestly with kids about puberty, reproduction, relationships, sex and sexuality.  

Sex Positive Families offers a reading list that features over 100 books for children and parents to support sexual health talks.

How do you handle your child’s curiosity with self-touch?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section at quickanddirtytips.com/mighty-mommy, post your ideas on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page. or email me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com. Visit my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT.

Are you listening to the Mighty Mommy podcast? Let me know what you're loving or what you want me to cover. Leave me a voicemail at 401-284-7575. Your message could be featured in a future podcast!


About the Author

Cheryl Butler

Cheryl L. Butler is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. Call the Mighty Mommy listener line at 401-284-7575 to ask a parenting question. Your call could be featured on the show!

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