Posted: Oct 04, 2013 10:00 AM
 
Who-ha, va-ja-ja and hee-hee may sound cuter to you then the anatomically correct “penis”, and “vagina”, but are these the right words to teach your toddler? Experts weigh in on what you should call your child’s privates and why.

As if naming your child isn't taxing enough on the brain, some parents take to naming their child's genitals as well. We all know those parents who refuse to say penis, vagina, testicles or vulva — choosing instead to use pet names like pee-pee, wee-wee, bits or pooter. The reasoning for this practice varies. Some parents themselves may not be comfortable using the anatomically correct names. Some may see teaching these terms early as taking away their child's innocence. Others may label genitalia with cutesy nicknames to avoid hearing "Mommy, I just fell and hurt my penis!" at the playground. But whatever the reason, this common practice isn't recommended by experts for two very important reasons: physiological self-image and in case of sexual abuse.

Pride in what you have

Author, Clinical Psychologist and parenting guru Dr. Laura Markham of Aha!Parenting.com says on her website "What's best for children psychologically as they learn words for their body parts is that they feel comfortable with their bodies, genitals and all. That means that we need to be as straight-forward in naming their genitals as we are in naming their other body parts. Using euphemisms signals our own discomfort."

A child should view their entire body as healthy and there's no particular part of their body that's shameful. Everything has a name and they should use the correct name

Dr. Bob Sege, director of the division of family and child advocacy at Boston Medical Center echoed this opinion in a recent interview with TODAY saying "A child should view their entire body as healthy and there's no particular part of their body that's shameful. Everything has a name and they should use the correct name." Simply put, putting real names to the body parts shows they aren't taboo.

Should the worst occur

By naming the private parts, we let children know that it is okay to talk about them. If they are sexually abused, they will be able to better talk about what happened.

The more frightening reason to teach children proper names for their genitals is the threat of sexual abuse. The Advocacy Center, a New York-based support, advocacy and education group for survivors of child sexual abuse, lists teaching proper names for genitals as a key component of reducing a child's vulnerability to sexual abuse. "By naming the private parts, we let children know that it is okay to talk about them. If they are sexually abused, they will be able to better talk about what happened." According to Dr. Sege "It makes communication clearer because they can tell someone 'He put his penis in my vagina'."

Laura Palumbo, a prevention specialist with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, encourages the use of standard anatomically correct terms as well. She says in the event of abuse it "helps children and adults navigate the disclosure and forensic interview process". Imagine the time that could be wasted trying to determine if "touching Kimmie's 'cupcake'" was a desert-related offense or something more nefarious!

Start the conversation

It may not feel completely comfortable to everyone, but natural opportunities to talk to your children about their genitalia always present themselves. Use moments like potty training or a trip to the zoo to discuss these usually covered body parts in an open and candid way. Use the anatomically correct names to empower your children with the knowledge they may need if they are ever violated, and lay the foundation for a positive self-image of their entire body.

More on sex talks

The sex ed talk you never thought about having
Sexual abuse of children: an "acquaintance" danger
When do you talk about masturbation?

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