I remember the first time I heard the words penis and vagina. I was seven and my family was watching the movie Three Men and a Little Lady. The girl in the movie had learned those words and said them at a party, making all the adults very uncomfortable. I was smart enough to put together what those words must mean and from the adult reaction that I saw on the screen, I knew that they must be words you shouldn't really say. That made sense to me, because I had already been told by my grandmother that the things my uncle did were not to be talked about to my mother. It was another lesson in silence for a little girl who was living in constant secrecy.
It is so important to begin telling your children the proper words for their body parts from the beginning. Why does it matter?
- You wouldn't tell your daughter that her nose is called a Hoo-Ha and then send her out in the world. Then why is it okay to say that about her vagina?
- You want your children to be open and honest with you and come to you with any questions. That process starts with you being open with them, and showing them there is nothing uncomfortable about having those conversations with you. If you don't use the proper words, they will know that you are uncomfortable when they get older and that will make them uncomfortable.
- Sexual abusers often try to make the abuse into a "game," and using silly words can be a part of it. If you only use the proper words with your child, and one day they use a different word, that is a good indicator that someone else has been having conversations with them about their private areas.
- If someone touches your child sexually or makes your child touch them, how can they tell someone what happened if they don't have the right words to explain it? How can they explain it to you, to a teacher, doctor, or some other adult? If someone touches your son, and he tells the teacher that a person touched his talleywacker, the teacher might just think he is being silly; when he is actually asking for help.
I know that a lot of you out there grew up similar to me. You might not have been sexually abused, but you had a family that didn't say those words. Maybe you have never even really said them. Sure, you know them, but say them? Nope! Not you.
I have a little advice for you. It comes from Peggy Hill.
Get in front of your mirror and start practicing!
Did you notice that Hank comes running in, and accuses her of cussing? That is all part of the preparation. There will be people who are shocked that you would teach those words to your kids. Those people might even be related to you. You have to be strong and try to educate them. If they won't change their mind on this, ignore them.
Those words are not cuss words. They aren't dirty. Saying them doesn't make you dirty, and it will not make your children dirty.
I recently watched a video about using cutesy names versus proper names, and read all the responses. One of the responses really got to me. The woman said, "I totally use nicknames for private parts...I like the point that Lou makes about school-age children needing to know proper names for their genitals so that they can address an abuse issue. That completely makes sense, and I'll be sure to roll over the use of "ween" into "penis" once he is potty-trained." This is such dangerous thinking!
School age children don't need to know proper names in case of abuse issues - ALL AGE children need to know. I was four when the abuse started. Many kids don't go to school until they are five or six. I know lots of survivors of abuse who were younger than that when it started.
Please do not wait until your children are going to school to teach them about their private parts and talk about what to do if someone abuses them.
I always used the proper names with Katarina. When it was time for potty training, this stepped up a notch. This is what I told her:
When you have a bowel movement, the "poop" comes out of your anus, in the back. When you urinate, the urine comes out of your urethra, in the front. In the middle, you have a vagina. (I know that some people use the word vulva, and as she has gotten older I have added that to her vocabulary, but for ages one and two it was urethra, vagina, anus.)
This is also a great time to address the fact that boys are different. Boys have an anus. They also have an urethra, but it is located in their penis, which girls don't have. Also, boys don't have a vagina.
*We also use the word breasts - never boobs.
Using the proper words from the beginning makes it easy to transition into a discussion about private areas. What areas are private? Anything that is covered up by a bathing suit. It makes it easy to start that conversation where you explain that no one should look at or touch their private areas (even if they keep their clothes on), and that no one should ask your child to look at or touch theirs (even with their clothes on). I am not going to go into that entire talk in this post, but I hope you are having it with your children often.
All of these conversations are a good stepping stone to "The Talk!" Do not wait until your child is thirteen to have that talk. By then, someone else has probably had it with them, and if it was their peers, it is possible they were given misinformation. Start talking early; that will cut down on the uncomfortableness. Remember our Peggy Hill lesson? If you feel uncomfortable just thinking about it, practice looking at yourself in the mirror and saying what you need to say. Then practice with your spouse or a close friend. Make sure that you can get all of those words out without flinching, and that you know all the details you want to cover before you begin. Your child will pick up on your emotions. If you are nervous, scared, and uncomfortable talking about it, they will be, too.
Do you use "proper" names or "cutesy" ones? Have you thought about it? Is your family on board with the words and names you have chosen to use?