Teaching kids proper body part names should be high on the parental to do list. In our family, the opportunty to do this came easier than I thought. I use the word penis more in a week than most people do in a year. Then again, I'm a boymom. Yes, that's one word. It seems my vocabulary has extended to words and phrases that have become commonplace and yet I still catch myself thinking, “Did I really just say that?”
You know what I mean, things like:
“Please put your penis away.”
“Why are you naked again?”
“Stop peeing off the front deck….go around the side.” (What? We're conserving water. Actually, I just gave up trying to get him to pee indoors.)
“Your penis is not a guitar.” (It sort of kills the mood when we're rockin' some Third Day.)
“No, you cannot make W's in the snow with your pee…”
“Your penis is not like a pencil just because they both start with P.”
Penis, penis, penis.
It's just another word that rolls off the tongue these days.
What about yours? Does penis, vagina, breast and the like roll as easily off your tongue as Barbie, Transformer, and Lego? They should.
If you're a parent you need to be comfortable with the proper names of anatomy.
What's Wrong With Penis and Vagina?
We don't call our arms “mookies” and our legs “loppers” so why do we instinctively want to make up names for private body parts? I believe it is because we deem them “private” and therefore shouldn't talk about them so we use euphemisms that make these body parts somewhat removed from what they really are.
When we add cutesy names to private body parts we make it hard to have real, honest discussions about those parts of our bodies.
I get that want to teach privacy in the sense that there are few, very few, people who should see or touch these areas. We also want to teach that other's girls and boy parts are private and should not be touched and looked at. But in an effort to keep girl and boy parts from being over exposed we've sensitized them to the point where we cannot talk about them without being called rude, crude or vulgar. We're not talking about porn, we're talking about anatomy.
Which one do you think is a more constructive, mature conversation? Which one (or version thereof) would play out in your home?
Young Boy: “Mom, my bipper hurts when I have to tinkle.”
Mom: “Oh Jonny, your twig and two berries are just doing their thing. Tell your father when he comes home. ”
or this one:
Boy: “Mom, my penis hurts when I have to pee sometimes.”
Mom: “Is it erect t when it hurts?”
Boy: “Motheeeer!!……Yes, it is.”
Mom: “That's why. A full bladder can trigger an erection. It can be painful but it should go away not long after you pee. You can talk to you dad about it when he gets home, he experiences the same thing.
Salvation Isn't Lost if You Say Vagina
Sometimes religion gets in the way. Much as I hate to say that because it's incredibly sad, it needs to be said. If we are too holy or righteous to say vagina our theology is seriously flawed. God created the human body, even bippers and va-jay-jays. We aren't going to lose our salvation or cost or them their innocence by teaching kids proper body part names.
Standard terms are not dirty words. When we add that stigma children shy away from using them or, conversely, they think it's cool to use them when they hear them used in a derogatory or filthy fashion.
Teaching Tact and Couth
Another motive for using euphemisms is that when children burst out with “My winkie hurts!” in the middle of announcements at church it feels like it's more appropriate than, “My penis hurts!”
Using standard terms like penis, vagina, anus and breast is not the problem here. We can teach our children to speak quietly and discreetly about bodily functions and urges without euphemisms. As our children age, there is a natural sense of privacy that sets in and they can become uncomfortable talking about their body, let's not make this worse by adding angst around standard terminology.
Sexual Abuse Alert
When we stigmatize the words it makes it all the more shameful and difficult for a child to express what happened if they are violated or abused. Shame and guilt are a big part of sexual exploitation and abuse. Our children need to know matter of fact what body parts are off limits to others and how to articulate if those parts are physically or visually violated without fear that they are saying bad words.
Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath or spirit of life, and man became a living being……. And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam; and while he slept, He took one of his ribs or a part of his side and closed up the [place with] flesh. And the rib or part of his side which the Lord God had taken from the man He built up and made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. Then Adam said, This [creature] is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of a man. Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall become united and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not embarrassed or ashamed in each other’s presence.
~Genesis 2:7, 21-25
We are God's masterpiece. Created by His very hand. These earth suits we walk in are not shameful or embarrassing to Him. Embarrassment stabbed Adam and Eve and every generation since thanks to Satan's trickery in the Garden. I believe young children are the closest we get to seeing what it was like to be a human, naked before God, before the fall. They are not ashamed of themselves, they do not hide. This body is theirs and every part is okay.
Our shame and embarrassment about body parts is a result of the fall. We now have to define modesty and purity with coverings from head to toe but that does not change the truth that these bodies are masterpieces of the greatest sculptor the world has ever known. We can call the parts what they are and know that God created them and He is not squirming on the Mercy Seat because we said vagina.
Help Your Children, Start Now!
Start now with age appropriate conversations about your child's body parts. Don't teach parts of the opposite sex if the time isn't right but do teach them the proper name for your child's private areas. If you're uncomfortable, stand in front of a mirror, your husband or your friend and say “penis”, “vagina”, “anus” or “breast” until you can do it without blushing, laughing or studdering. When it is your normal, it will be easier to make it their normal.
In your family, are you comfortable teaching kids proper body part names?
If you're struggling to start these discussions with your children, I encourage you to check out this new video course from The Gilkersons.