Toddlers are curious beings. They are learning about themselves, their families and the world at large. Their vocabularies are growing right along with their bodies. Parents may notice their toddlers love being naked, touching their genitals, and showing off their bodies. All of this is normal behavior. How you react, however, will guide your child’s feelings about his or her body and modesty. Here are some things to consider when teaching your toddler about modesty.
Never make your child feel bad for enjoying being naked or touching his or her body
These are natural things to do at a young age. You may discuss situations where that behavior is inappropriate — for example, public settings. You could also teach that germs can be passed along by touching genitals. If your toddler loves the freedom that comes from shedding clothing, make time at home for him or her to run around in just a diaper. Touch is important, so be sure to give your child appropriate amounts of affection — including hugs, tickles, a soft back rub, or kisses.
Answer questions honestly, but at a toddler’s level
Your older toddler will start to realize that boys and girls are different, and want to know why. They will ask “What’s that?” about private parts just like they would about any other body parts. The best thing to do is tell them the anatomical term. Some families have another word they also use. Discuss with your spouse what you’d like to do in your family. We use bum or bottom in our house.
Set a good example for your children
Different families have different comfort zones. I am comfortable with my toddler being in the bathroom with me as I dress and get ready. My sister is not. I’d rather not use the anatomical terms for genitals often with my children, although they know them, so we’ve come up with others. If you would like your children to keep their clothes on and dress modestly, you will need to do the same. If you don’t want your teenage daughter to wear revealing swimsuits, you might not want to dress her in them as a toddler.
Teach about appropriate touch
Even very young children can begin to learn that their private parts should stay private. Teaching children to keep their clothing on during play dates and outside of the home might keep them more protected. Parents, doctors and trusted caregivers are people who are allowed to see and touch children’s bodies. I remind my children of this every few months, and ask them if anyone has made them feel uncomfortable.
Toddlers sometimes get obsessed with talking about their bodies or running around naked. If you don’t react strongly, either by getting upset or being very entertained, they will quickly outgrow the phase. My youngest daughter used to show me how she could shake her bum every time I changed her diaper. After a week or two with little reaction from me, the novelty wore off.
Instruct toddlers about privacy
My 2-year-old sometimes wants the door shut while she gets dressed. I respect her privacy, but stay close if she needs help. Toddlers often want to be where the action is, including the bathroom. Teaching them that others want to be alone will help them learn patience and respect.
Helping toddlers enjoy and appreciate their bodies will guide their feelings as they grow physically and sexually. In an age where modesty is seen as outdated, parents will have to set an example and have on-going discussions with their children. Toddlerhood is the perfect time to start discussing and modeling modesty. These ideas will help you get started in your own home.
Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.