This past week we traveled to my parents house for Spring Break and Easter. Truthfully, we skipped town, because there was a nasty case of Hand Foot Mouth going around our circle of friends, and I did not want anything to do with that. So we hightailed it out-of-town for a nice little break.
While we were home, my 4-year-old and I were in the kitchen with my parents, and like many kids her age, she was fidgeting with her privates parts. I responded “Don’t play with your vagina in the kitchen” and my parents laughed. I then explained to them I tell her she can play with her vagina in the bathroom or her bedroom, but that’s it’s not appropriate to do in front of people in a main living area.
This sounds a little odd, I get it; however I do this for a number of reasons. First, we ALWAYS and I mean ALWAYS use proper terminology when it comes to discussing her anatomy. We don’t refer to a vagina as a “flower” or her “tee-tee” or any other cutesy name, it’s a vagina. It is important for her and other children to understand the names of body parts without shame. Private parts are private, and yet it’s also important to understand that there is no shame in using correct anatomical terminology. Using correct terminology without embarrassment teaches children from a young age can open the lines of communication with their parents. Unfortunately, as parents, these euphemisms for private parts often reflect personal discomfort and this is reflected in the ways children are taught.
What this also does, more importantly is make them less vulnerable to sexual abuse. I read a NY Times Article discussing that prospective offenders understand that children who are comfortable with anatomical terminology are also comfortable discussing something they feel may be inappropriate with their parents. Teaching them the correct names, also lets you know that when they say “someone touched my vagina” you know something is wrong. If a child says “someone touched my flower” you could think a variety of things that does not get to the important issue. Without being taught the proper language, children have a difficult time disclosing abuse. I’ve known from my studies that most childhood sexual abuse occurs not from strangers, but from someone the child knows. Unfortunately, after a very careful google search about child sexual abuse, I found staggering, terrifying statistics. The younger the child the more vulnerable they are to abuse, and this abuse occurs primarily by people the child knows, family or family friends. According to the American SPCC, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be abused before their 18th birthday, this is horrifying. As I write that, it makes me sick to my stomach.
Obviously there are a number of other ways in which we need to protect our children from predators. Changing the way we speak to our children about their bodies, teaching them there is no shame in our bodies is just one way we can add an extra safeguard. So I continue to tell my daughter(s) that we don’t play with our vagina in the kitchen, and you should too.