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 one mom, Nicolette G., who said, "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 moms 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?