Do you refer to your nose by something other than its given name? Do you call your ears your "flowers"? Strange, right? Okay, we tell others to use their "noggin" when asking them to think, and thanks to a certain nursery rhyme, a long time ago toes became "piggies" that went to market.
I draw the line with private parts, refusing to use fluffy words to describe what are otherwise simply parts of the body, just like the nose and ears. Sorry moms, no matter how you say it, a penis is a penis, and a vagina is a vagina. By any other name they just aren't the same.
Just Say Penis!
Kids are curious creatures. Their little bodies are playgrounds of exploration. When my son started asking questions about the tug toy between his legs, I didn't mince words. "That's your penis," I said. Fast forward a few years to a bath with his baby sister, when she noticed the very apparent differences between his and her downtown landmarks. "You're a girl so you have a vagina," I explained. "Your brother's a boy and he has a penis."
Wow, did I receive lots of wide eyes and dropped jaws from other moms when the private parts topic came up at playgroups. "You used the real words?" one mom incredulously asked. I didn't realize this approach to talking about body parts was so avant-garde to some and offensive to others.
The Problem Is Yours, Parents
When did the words penis and vagina become so dirty, so taboo? Some parents can't use the words because they think their kids aren't old enough to understand them. But doesn't the word "flower" lead to more confusion when you talk about planting a flower garden in your backyard?
Others admit not being able to say the words without feeling uncomfortable. Doesn't this approach just pass the anxiety on to our kids? If we want our kids to understand their bodies, shouldn't we start with the simple step of using proper terminology? What point does words like "pee pee" or "flower" have when talking about our bodies? Just because you explain to your three-year-old that he or she has a penis or vagina doesn't mean it's time to sit them down for a talk about practicing safe sex.
Straight Talk About Private Parts Makes the Sex Talk Easier
The playgroups have since dissolved as my kids are now in elementary school. And believe it or not, the sex talk has already come up. All I can say to parents of toddlers is that if you think you can delay chatting about the birds and the bees until middle school, think again! Your child will already be in the know, thanks to lunch table conversations with friends.
Your choice of words isn't going to omit the embarrassed giggling. I think kids are born knowing that private parts, just like belching and flatulence, are sources of humor and discomfort.
So far my eight-year-old son knows that sex is how mommies and daddies make a baby. That's as far as we've gotten, as far as his comfort level allows. He knows that private parts are involved, but I could tell the timing wasn't right to explain how the puzzle pieces (literally) fit together. When it is, we'll start with what he's known since he was a baby: "A man has a penis and a woman has a vagina."