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By When Should Kids Use Proper Names for Their Privates?

By When Should Kids Use Proper Names for Their Privates?

Almost as soon as children start talking, they start asking questions about their private parts. But deciding when it’s time to toss euphemisms like "pee-pee" and "woo-woo" in favor of proper anatomical names can be a delicate matter. While many moms feel strongly that you should just teach the correct names from the start and save yourself the trouble of having to back track later, quite a few prefer to wait  sometimes forever. Just ask Circle of Moms member Nicolette G., who says: “My daughter is now 6 and we still refer to her private parts as 'Gogga' or 'Tolly.'

So is there an age by which children should be taught the right names for their privates?” Here, a look at the range of views on this question.

Never  Let Them Learn on Their Own

Some moms maintain that kids will learn the names on their own, from peers, and that parents should just let it happen naturally. “I don't think my seven-year-old will be an adult or even a preteen calling his stuff a ‘pee-pee,'" says Circle of Moms member Teresa W. “My younger sister named hers a ‘kitty kitty’ but now as an adult. . .  she uses correct terminology."

U.K. mom Clare R. agrees: "A lot of British adults want to preserve the innocence of children as much as possible. There is a time and a place for everything and I would think it could be embarrassing for a parent if your child says in the middle of a shop ‘mummy my vagina/penis hurts.' If it is nicknamed, then people won't really know what your child is talking about, thus saving your embarrassment. They will understand as they get older what is the correct term for their private parts."


By the Time They're Interacting with Other Adults

Other Circle of Moms members, including Krista E. and Sharon C., believe that for safety reasons if for no other reasons, kids should know the right words by the time they are interacting with adult caretakers other than their parents. As Krista explains, "Heaven forbid, what if someone was hurting your child and she wasn't comfortable telling you, but told a teacher, ‘so-and-so kissed my 'tolly’? The teacher would probably think that someone had kissed her dolly and would say, ‘Isn't that nice?’

Sharon sketches out a similar scenario, “Let's say a small preschooler goes to the school nurse because his ‘bits’ or ‘tail’ hurts, what does that really mean?” Their pinky toe, tummy, or something more extreme like a penis or vagina? If a 6-year-old girl's ‘bits’ hurt, is it perhaps a medical issue, urinary tract infection, or god-forbid, a possible sexual molestation?

Some moms, like Sherri C., teach their children the proper names to be used at school, but still use nick names at home. “My kids know the correct names, but in our home we do not refer to them. We still call them 'pee-pees.'”

When Your Child is Ready

If you're reluctant, the key to knowing when to push through that reluctance is to pay close attention to your kids, many Circle of Moms members say. As Lisa W. explains, "I just believe that your child has to be comfortable. You know your child. If it seems to be too much, or information that they may not be mentally mature enough to process and hold on to, then wait until they are ready. You can tell them, but to force them to use the appropriate terminology before they are ready is unnecessary (in my opinion) especially if they have their own terms that they understand.”

Heather B. says the sign of readiness is when a child starts asking questions. “I've taught my son the correct anatomical names for everything on his body, when he asked. I answer his questions with the same matter of fact attitude I do when telling him what his nose is and what it does." To get a handle on her own discomfort with the words, she planned ahead: "I figured out exactly what I'd say about all those awkward questions ahead of time so he wouldn't see a topic make me uncomfortable and then harp on it because I reacted funny.”

Lisa, who felt age four was the right time for her daughter to learn the proper terms, used the euphemistic phrase, "your personals," up until that point, but as a teaching tool. “This was my way of training her to understand that certain areas of her body were her personal body parts and no one was allowed to touch or view those areas without her permission and without my presence."


From the Beginning

Many Circle of Moms members believe it is important to skip the nicknames and use the appropriate names for all body parts right from the beginning. JuLeah W. says that becoming a parent is the perfect time to leave your own discomfort with these words behind. “Even if you're uncomfortable, forge ahead. Remember, you're setting the stage for open, honest discussions in the years to come.” She believes this sends a positive message to children about their bodies, while cutesy names do the opposite: “Teaching fake names gives the impression [that] there is something here we can't name, can't talk about, is full of shame. You don't want to send that message.”

Several moms say that giving kids this knowledge early on helps protect them from sexual abuse. Kerri L. explains: “I attended a seminar on keeping kids safe from predators, and the woman who spoke made a great point: we need to use the correct terms for private parts (penis and vagina). Kids who don't know what their private parts are called are more likely to be taken advantage of by predators who give these parts ‘cutesy names.’"

Before attending the seminar, she herself was uncomfortable with the anatomical terms, but says that while using them "felt a little strange to me at first. . . the group of moms my kids and I hang out with all use the correct terminology too, and it's no big deal.”

When is the right age to teach your children proper names for their private parts?

Image Source: Sage via Flickr/Creative Commons

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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AnnaGrillot AnnaGrillot 4 years
Why does anyone care what another person's child calls their sex organs??? Get a life, those parts and what we call them are both "private(s)" and personal(s)". My kids know they have penises, scrotum, testicles, vulvae, vaginas, breasts and nipples. If they want to call them wieners, bean bag, balls, lady parts, ninnies, or fried eggs, it is their choice. As long as it isn't the D word, P word or Tits, I couldn't care less. And my kids new from practically day one that no one was allowed to touch them, they were not to play with (yeah, I said it, and I mean it!! Same way they are not to flip their eyelids or pick scabs or chew their nails, or pull hairs out. Distracting, and dirty habits.) And they needed to keep them hidden from 99.999999999% of the population, and keep them clean.
MeggyRobertson MeggyRobertson 4 years
What is a 'proper' name? Does it matter in the slightest what they call them? As long as it isn't obscene or offensive I don't care!
ChristineOBrienFlynn ChristineOBrienFlynn 4 years
When my children were young I attended a class on how to keep your children safe. I was told to always use the correct words. I child molester will tell the kids to keep it a secret. They explained that if the child used the right word the pervert would realize that the children were comfortable talking to their parents about private issues and would be more likely to tell. This class was run by an organization that deals with this issues.
JodieStreet94468 JodieStreet94468 4 years
I believe as soon as a child can talk, they should use the proper name for their private area. There's nothing embarrassing about it.
LilaVolner LilaVolner 4 years
I taught my son to call his a penis, however at preschool he learned that his peers call it a wiener. Since wiener is more fun, that nickname stuck. When my daughter was born, for some unknown reason (maybe we didn't want our 4 year old son refering to his sisters as a vulva) but we started calling hers a "cootie". The family joke was that "boys have penises and girls have cooties". She still uses cootie, but as often just refers as her "privates". I was a sexual abuse investigator for 16 years and most courts will allow the use of personal nicknames as long as the child can point to a chart what that nickname is refering to.
RachealCologne RachealCologne 4 years
They always should use correct terminology!
KimKuney KimKuney 4 years
and having made up names for them does not help to keep the innocence
KimKuney KimKuney 4 years
my 3 year old says he has a pemis, and his 1 year old sister has a gyna. it was helpful when he got a UTI that he could say, 'mommy, my pemis hurts.' what's the big deal. they are what they are. stupidity will not change that.
StephanieBurford StephanieBurford 4 years
I want my kids to know the proper terms and they do. But they dont use them. My children are 6 5 & 4. My six yr old and 4 yr old girl have the name that they chose for thiers and its Lulu. and my son says his boy. its cute at times but its how we know what they are speaking of. When they get middle school aged and start asking the questions we will tell them. Till then thier innocence means EVERYTHING to us.
ErinBerrySchade ErinBerrySchade 4 years
I have only ever taught my kids the proper names. As far as those who feel they shouldn't be taught proper names until they can say them correctly...does that mean you don't want them speaking at all until they do it correctly? Where do you draw the line. Not everyone uses the same cutesy names which can pose problems when interacting with other children. Suppose a young boy decides to name his penis "yoohoo" and his sister believes that is what it is called. Now a young boy asks her if she wants his Yoohoo (the beverage)...can anyone else see the problem here? The boy offering the drink is making an innocent gesture but the girl doesn't realize it because yoohoo has a different meaning in her home. Or if you call it a winkie then bedtime nursery rhymes are out because of "wee willie winkie". Boob is another word for idiot and I know for a fact I don't have 2 idiots on my chest. Balls are toys, not male body parts. They need to learn the proper names at some point in their lives. Why spend time correcting our "white lies" when it would be easier, more correct, and more sensible to call things what they are from the get go. In our house penises are called penises, breasts are called breasts, vaginas are called vaginas, just like noses are called noses and ears are called ears.
CoMMember13627804510538 CoMMember13627804510538 4 years
while bathing my 5 month baby boy my 2 year daughter came in the bathroom she likes to help by handing me the baby shampoo etc, and she noticed he was different from her she pointed towards his waist and I told her those are "boy parts" she accepted that and for now it works later on or next time she asks i will tell her the correct language with a book or something,
CoMMember13615827755505 CoMMember13615827755505 4 years
I use the correct terms. I think the word penis is one of the most spoken ones in my home (try potty training twin boys without using it). I have been known to utter phrases like 'dont pull your brothers penis' and 'you can play with your penis in the bedroom or the bathroom, but not the living room and not when you are eating'.
MaryMcCreery98630 MaryMcCreery98630 4 years
Put me in the "when they're ready" camp on this one. I tried using correct terminology at the beginning. It didn't work. My kids couldn't pronounce the words or got the terms confused with other unrelated words. So I fell back on words that they could say & (since other kids used them) knew. This made it easier for them to communicate with me. My children were able to tell me something was wrong when they began developing a rash or urinary infection, etc. I was able to communicate with them in a way they understood. As they're communication skills & comprehension of their bodies improved, I was able to teach them the appropriate words. I find that sometimes my ideals of the way parenting is supposed to be have to take a back seat to what really works best for my kids.
WendyMcLane WendyMcLane 4 years
I totally agree with Pilvikki Young.
KristinMorton96490 KristinMorton96490 4 years
I think that it is important for your child to know the correct term for their privates. It is ok to call the private area a nick name, like pee-pee, woo-woo, etc...but for their safety they need to know that it's a penis and a vagina and it isn't ok for someone to touch it.
pilvikkiyoung pilvikkiyoung 4 years
why the big deal? has anyone complained about "tummy ache" , instead of abdomen distress? do we worry about pinkies instead of digits? does you child have 'stinky breath', instead of halitosis? come on, this endless, useless and stupid fretting and worrying is what's damaging! whatever floats your boat works - even though the word Vagina is really, really a bland word and sounds more like a fungus than a body part.
KellyWatson41679 KellyWatson41679 4 years
Its hard to know what to do in this case; my daughter is one year older than her cousin, and for discomfort reasons of his own, my brother referred to the vagina as a 'ladybox', lol. I was willing to let that slide, but when he and his wife had a son and told my daughter he had a 'manbox' I had to draw the line. At 5, I gave her the correct terminology and explained why boys are different from girls in a way I thought she could understand. That just sounded ridiculous!
JodiBroschart JodiBroschart 4 years
@Christine - I totally agree! Vaginas have nothing to do with issues that little girls will have. If they have discomfort urinating due to UTI or other, it's not correct to tell them their vagina hurts.
ChristineEvans78797 ChristineEvans78797 4 years
My problem lies in that the correct terms aren't used to describe little girls' parts. The external portion that the girls can see is called the vulva. The vagina is internal and cannot be seen by a girl without using a mirror. If parents absolutely insist on using the correct anatomical terms, then they need to get educated and use the correct terms, not just the terms they are most familiar with. Otherwise, they are no better than the parents they are negative towards who use nicknames.
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