With summer coming, many children will go to new places and meet new people for summer camp. Many parents ask me how to talk to their pre-schoolers about touching and about private body parts. This is a great time to begin the lifelong conversation about their bodies and their relationships with others. It is imperative that parents do their part in talking to their young children and giving them the tools to protect themselves and to have a healthy body image. I recommend starting as early as age 3, but certainly by age 7 or 8 (usually before puberty), you should be having these types of conversations with your child. Some very natural times/places to have this conversation are when you are bathing your child, helping them get dressed, or when you give them new clothes/underwear.
1) Teach your child the real anatomy of their body parts. Using the real words such as vagina and penis tells them that there is no shame in the parts of their bodies. If you give body parts nick names, it may give the child the sense that you are embarrassed to say the name. You may be subconsciously telling your child that there is something to be embarrassed about, or talking about this makes you feel uncomfortable, or there is something shameful of their body part.
Telling them the real words teaches them that they can talk about that part of their body (and what happens there) with the same ease and lack of embarrassment as their scraped knees.
2) Answer their questions about their body and ask them "Do you have any questions about your body"? This is a perfect type of conversation to have before bed when other children may be sleeping and you have more one-on-one time with your child. This can be a very empowering way to open the conversation. They understand that you are here to listen to them and that you are a good person to ask when they have questions. You can answer questions very frankly and simply and if you're not sure what to say you can say "I need more time to think about that" or "let me write down that question because that's such a good one and I'll get back to you tomorrow." Be sure to come back and answer that question the next day! This teaches them that they can trust you and that you are knowledgeable.
3) Teach them that there are three types of touches: good touches, bad touches, and confusing touches. Say good touches are like your mom hugging you, your dad changing your diaper, or the doctor checking your body. Bad touches are like when someone hits you or kicks you. And confusing touches are where you might not be sure because it might make you feel confused, sad, or uncomfortable.
4) Don't allow secrets. Tell them that if someone tells you to keep something a secret, it means that you should tell your mommy and daddy. Tell them there are no secrets between you and your child.
5) Tell them you love them no matter what! It is important to tell your child regularly that your love is unconditional. This will help them have the confidence to tell you something that may make you upset.