A2: Stop it, soon. If you don’t have pseudonyms for eyes, elbow and knees then why use euphemisms for vagina, vulva, penis and testicles. You can’t maintain a child’s innocence by keeping him in the dark. Ignorance doesn’t add to innocence. It can only be dangerous.
A3: Studies show that children touching and playing with their own genitals are a common phenomenon. Children do it because they feel good. It is ‘unselfconscious pleasure’. Discuss with your paediatrician if the behaviour seems obsessive or out of balance. However, you cannot be too abrupt and direct in asking them to stop touching it. It’s a battle you cannot win.
A4: You can use this opportunity as a springboard to teach your children about ‘privacy’. Tell them the name ‘private parts’ suggests it is not for everyone to see. Every family has a different policy of being naked around their children. And there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to it. It’s not about your comfort; it’s about not making your child feel uncomfortable around you. I picked up an excellent book called ‘It’s Not the Stork’ to teach my daughter about gender, sex and our bodies.
A5: This situation is profoundly common and typical amongst children. However, don’t pass it off lightly. Try to ask open-ended questions. You want an explanation and not just a monosyllabic answer. Let them explain in their own words. Maintain a calm and even tone of voice throughout. Teach them that it is ok to be curious. But it is not ok to let someone touch their privates and for them to touch other’s private parts. Legions of parents talk about ‘good touch-bad touch’- steer clear of these phrases, it confuses a child as these touches may not hurt or feel fallacious. I prefer a term like ‘secret touch’, to render an accurate account of what might happen.
Parenthood is difficult and having these conversations with your children will make it uncomfortable too. But I think children are at a greater risk without these talks. Parenthood is about walking away from your comfort zone for the sake of children. One more step, to develop healthy attitudes and positive behaviours towards sexuality.