When it comes to talking about your child’s genitals – a topic that might make you uncomfortable – it’s best to stick to the terms you learned in health class. Vagina. Penis. Testicles. Uterus.
The reason, said pediatrician Patricia Hughes, is to avoid confusing your kids. A euphemism suggests there is something to be embarrassed about. Use the real term and avoid the potential for ambiguity.
“We always think it’s best to use the appropriate anatomical term. Everyone has their own parenting style, but the more comfortable you are, the more comfortable the child will be,” said Hughes, a doctor at the Ellis Pediatric Center in Schenectady. For example, you may refer to your son’s penis as his “weenie,” which sets him up for confusion when he hears a hot dog referred to as a wiener, she said.
When children bring other words into the house, Hughes advised holding the line. You might say, ‘”Junk’ as a term for male reproductive parts might be acceptable in someone else’s house, but not ours.”
Curiosity and self-touching are normal, too, Hughes said. When a toddler boy has an erection, it’s not a sexual phenomena, she said, it’s a sign of excitement. If your son wants to know why, refer to other physical reactions – how the pupils in our eyes change size, or we open our eyes wider when we’re excited, she said. Hughes recommended looking to nature for examples when a child wants to know why his or her body is different than mom or dad. A female duck looks different than a male duck, for example.
As puberty approaches, children can be encouraged to talk about the changes they are going through, Hughes said – particularly when they hear something from friends that might not be accurate.
The doctor said to tell your son or daughter it’s normal to feel overwhelmed,
“It’s a tough time because things about their bodies are changing more rapidly than they’re ready for,” Hughes said.
It’s also a good time to let them know it’s okay to touch their genitals, but only in the privacy of the bathroom or their bedroom.