Talking to Your Child About Their Body
It is fair to say that we all have very different attitudes to talking about our body and body parts. It is the same for our children.
In some cases children are very open and curious, while for others this is an uncomfortable and awkward topic of conversation.
One of the most effective ways of talking with children about their bodies can be to identify what an individual child is comfortable with and to have the conversation in a way and at a time that works for them. Some children may prefer a one-to-one chat in the car, while others may be happy to sit down and talk about this at home.
It can be helpful to make bodies a normal and regular topic of conversation for children, by introducing the subject from a young age. It is important, however, that the subject is treated in an age-appropriate way. A child’s understanding of issues related to their body will evolve as they grow.
When you start off talking about our bodies with your child/ren, you may decide to use everyday words such as breasts, vagina and penis. Some people prefer to give these parts of the body nicknames, to make conversations a little less awkward. There is no right or wrong here, again, how you proceed may be determined by whatever feels most comfortable for you and your child.
Children often receive talks in school on sex education and relationships. This may lead them to ask more questions at home. It can help to prepare for this and have a think about what level of information your child needs and how are you going to explain it to them.
It is also possible that children may happen upon information online at a very young age. They may be exposed to adult content on social media, music videos or video streaming websites. It can be helpful, therefore, to keep lines of communication open and to be ready to answer any questions your child/ren may have. Parental restrictions can be set on devices to help ensure children receive age-appropriate information online.
As children get older, they may become aware that certain body parts are private and different to others. This may begin when they are toilet training and start to close the door when using the toilet. As your child grows up, their need for privacy increases. For example, they may prefer to change in their own bedroom with the door closed or have a private changing room at the swimming pool. This is all very normal and part of growing up.
Addressing questions and topics directly, at an appropriate time and in an age-appropriate way, can help to avoid confusion for children.
As children’s bodies change as they grow older, they may develop a sense of their own body image. Our body image is our perception of how we look and how others see us. Often, young people become particularly aware of their body when puberty arrives and their body begins to transition from that of a child into that of an adult. They may take an increased interest in their clothes, their weight and their hygiene.
Having a healthy and balanced body image is an important element of growing up. If you are concerned that your child has an unhealthy body image, you may find it helpful to talk with them about this and to empower them to let you know how they feel. This may be the first step in helping them to access the support they need to feel more positive about themselves.
As puberty develops, boys and girls may start developing romantic and sexual attractions towards others. The concept of boyfriends and girlfriends may become apparent to them at a young age. While some children may find this exciting, others may be uncomfortable with the concept and may find they are not yet ready for these kind of relationships. It can help to discuss this with your child and to empower them to know they can set boundaries and that they do not need to do anything they do not feel comfortable with.
As bodies and emotions develop, children may feel as though they would like to find out more about what is happening to them. You might like to give them a book, or some additional resources, which they can access independently to familiarise themselves with the idea of puberty and developmental changes.
Conversations with your child/ren about the human body can begin from a young age and continue throughout the teenage years. It can be helpful to let your child/ren know that they can talk to you about how they are feeling about the changes they are experiencing.
You can read how we presented information about bodies to children and young people through our Childline.ie site here.