Ummm, at what age do you let your child of the opposite sex no longer see you naked?
Right now my 17 month-old son is with me in the bathroom & as I get dressed. He's starting to point "things" out and I'm starting to wonder if I need to change my routine! I don't want him to develop body issues…but…
Any thoughts would be appreciated as your site is the BEST parent advice site I've found that doesn't have a bunch of negative comments!
(I left that last bit about "best parent advice" and the lack of negative comments because it's so important for you to KNOW what we've created here together. A safe-yet-honest place to talk about raising kids. That's a big deal. I am always in awe of the quality of the conversation — thank you for your collective awesomeness.)
The answer obviously varies by culture, personal boundaries, and age of kid. In my experience, kids take their cues about body issues from us. How we feel about our bodies, our body parts, and about nudity in general.
When kids are young, pointing out "stuff" about Mom's and Dad's bodies helps them learn in the most natural way possible. A low-key, straightforward answer usually does the trick. It might feel a little weird, but so do plenty of other kid-parent conversations about personal subjects. Doesn't mean they shouldn't happen.
As kids get older, the conversation changes. The body parts discussion veers toward bodily functions. This, too, is best handled openly and without embarrassment (as much as possible). Give kids only as much information as they ask for. Less makes them wonder why you're being vague, more isn't necessary. They'll ask for more soon enough.
TMI alert for the next couple paragraphs. Just sayin'.
I have a 12 year-old son and an 8 year-old daughter. We generally get dressed in our own rooms. But we only have one full bathroom in our house, and when my husband or I shower, the door's often open so other people can brush their teeth or whatever. Sometimes a kid will see a parent post-shower-pre-towel. We don't make a big deal about it.
HOWEVER, I regularly ask both kids if they're OK seeing us naked, and with us seeing them naked. Does it bother them or make them feel weird? If either of them said yes, I would respect it and make a bigger effort to keep the door closed, or to give them privacy when they need it.
Especially as kids approach puberty, it's crucial to be mindful of physical boundaries. My son does not want my husband or me around when he's getting dressed or showering. No problem. But if he's got a physical or medical problem or question, he's comfortable talking to us about it, and showing us if necessary.
Another angle on the boundary issue: parents' sexuality. Every kid cringes at the thought of his parents having sex. While I think it's important and wonderful for the kids to see us being affectionate and loving toward each other, anything sexual or otherwise gag-inducing stays private.
Setting the stage for up-front communication about body issues makes the eventual sexual questions a lot easier for everyone to handle. I think it's comforting for my kids to know that if they ask one of us a potentially embarrassing question, we won't get all twitchy and evasive, or over-emotional (neither sentimental nor judgemental). We'll just answer them and move on.
So, there you have it: way more than you ever wanted to know about us naked.
What about you, Parenthackers? How do you talk about nudity and body issues in your family?
Related: Talking to your kids about puberty
And: When children ask "what's sexual assault?" — how do you answer? Amazing discussion.
My older son is 4 1/2. We don’t make a big deal about nudity or bathroom stuff in our house, but he knows he can ask for privacy and we’ll leave him alone, and vice versa. We each have our own comfort level about privacy, which might change from day to day, so this has worked well for us so far. As he gets older it may change. (We did go through a very awkward period when he was very curious about the hole where pee comes out of me and kept asking to see it, and couldn’t understand why I kept saying no. Eventually he accepted that it was private.)
My kid’s only 4, so we haven’t really thought much about it yet. We all sleep in the same bedroom so far; and nakedness is not a constant, but it’s certainly very common.
I tend to think Americans have a really strange phobia of nudity; and I don’t intend to pass that on to my son if I can possibly help it. (And yes, I’m American – but a fairly uninhibited one where this issue is concerned.)
So does that mean we don’t change things at all as he gets older?? Not sure yet; but it would be great, in my mind, if that worked out. (He’ll get his own bedroom at some point; but I don’t see that as leading to rigid space boundaries.) We’ll be flexible though, if our liberality seems to warp his norms too much….
Our master bathroom doesn’t actually have a door except for the toilet part. It’s really like a massive loft almost. Right now our kids are 4 and sub-1 and our thought is we will let them decide. By that I mean that right now we try to keep covered except for in our room and bathroom and expect that they will learn that. So, they can avoid our bathroom during morning/evening times and be safe. Voila! And the four-year-old varies about wanting privacy and not carrying the least bit when it comes to himself. Great topic!
Great question! My Husband and I were discussing this only recently as we both regularly get a little visitor in the bathroom when we’re taking a shower. Grace is 15 months so we’re in a similar place. Thanks for prompting us to take action :0)
Britiney @ Consider the Lilies says
I have 3 boys ages 11, 9, and 6. Even though my husband and I have a bathroom off our bedroom, my boys sometimes come in to ask me questions when I’m in the shower. Since they’re getting bigger I’ve started asking them to wait for the answer until I’m dressed, but I’m glad they’re not uncomfortable with their bodies and not embarrassed about occasionally seeing me. We’re getting ready to have “the talk” with my 11 year old and I expect his comfort level will change after that, but right now they’re open about their bodies and not embarrassed if they see mine. I agree that it makes it easier for them to ask questions about their bodies and about bodies in general.
I’ve also been wondering about this. My son is 5 and he actually doesn’t ask too many questions yet. He knows the body parts and isn’t terribly interested in them. Once in a while he’ll ask something and we try to answer, as you say, in a low-key but thorough (age-appropriate) way. Frankly the discussions about death and where babies come from are way tougher.
I find that young kids talk about all these difficult subjects and don’t understand that they are a big deal at all – they are just asking about things they see and hear and don’t see why they are more important or difficult to explain than why the leaves fall off the trees. If we don’t act like they are difficult or uncomfortable subjects, then they won’t end up thinking they are either.
At 17 months, the damage he could do to himself or to your stuff if he’s left unsupervised while you’re in the shower is a greater risk than the risk to his developing psyche if he sees your naked body. Even if you wait until he’s napping to shower, which is certainly an option if it makes YOU uncomfortable, he could wake up and get into mischief. I knew a woman whose 2 year old twins opened up their diapers and smeared poop all over their rooms while they were supposed to be sleeping! I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to clean that up!!
Many women breastfeed babies of both genders well past 17 months, so if it’s 2nd base you’re worried about, that might set your mind at ease. As for your “lady garden,” (as they say on Saturday Night Live) could you dry off and put on panties right away, to avoid uncomfortable pointing and staring?
My son is 11 months, and I still shower with him (easier and warmer than baths). They don’t remember anything at this age. I’ve asked my oldest (who became very verbal very early) and she doesn’t remember breastfeeding, which we did until she was 28 months, so you’ve got about a year, at least, before you have to worry about him remembering you showering with him in the room.
This is the scene from my bedroom this morning with my 7 yr. old daughter:
Me: I’m trying to get dressed here! Go grow your own!
Point being, things are made to be uncomfortable or dramatic by the parent, not the child. I don’t make it a point to purposely get dressed in front of my children but I also don’t make them feel uncomfortable when it happens either. I don’t want to raise kids who are self-conscious, insecure and afraid to get dressed in the school locker room. : )
Sarah S. Chicken says
Our household is very private, so the kids (9 and 6) haven’t probably ever seen us naked. My daughter, the 9 year old, usually doesn’t change in front of anyone, but sometimes wants everyone to leave the living room while she changes in there. I’m like “use the bathroom if you want privacy!” I still help them with the shower but that’s about it.
We have a 5yo boy, and we’ve made a point to be very open about nudity and body parts, when it’s appropriate, which is in the bathroom and bedrooms. We try to minimize “mad streaking” (by our 5yo) into the living room, so that those boundaries can be set. We have one small bathroom, so it can be like Grand Central at times. We want to be open and honest about bodies and their functions, and not create any hangups…so for now, we shower with the bathroom available, and get dressed communally.
A great resource we found on this topic is Amy Lang (http://www.birdsandbeesandkids.com/). We attended one of her sessions in Seattle, and found her to be a wonderful, knowledgeable, low stress facilitator on the topic of kids and their curiosities. (I don’t work for her, or will benefit in any way…just passing on, what i consider to be, a valuable resource).
On a lighter note…our nephew (who is now 11) was going to shower with his mother, who is very modest…there definitely wasn’t much nudity in their household. He was 3 or 4 at the time, and he had a gravelly, Louis Armstrong-like voice. I don’t remember the exact sequence, but he pointed to her nether region and said, “What all that hair doing down there?”. She promptly took him out of the shower, and that was the last time he showered with her. Not a learning moment, but it cracks my wife and i up to this day…
Our 2-year old son sees my husband and I naked regularly since he gets his showers with one of us daily. We also change in front of him. I don’t have an end date for this in mind. I figure I will just know when it’s best to stop and take cues from his own desires to be private. I don’t want him to think that the body is unnatural. But at some point I expect to have a conversation of when and where and with whom nudity is appropriate. For now our home is pro-nudity.
We’ve been pretty relaxed about this topic in our house. We don’t allow our kids to frolick through the house naked but they frequently pop in while we’re in the bathroom and both boys ages 4 and 17 months shower with either parent. My older child got a little too interested in my anatomy around 3.5 so for a month or two I just avoided showering with him and had my husband do it or I gave him a bath as a fun treat. Eventually he got over whatever it was and I was okay again. I just felt like he was staring too much but rather than make him feel like he did something wrong I just creatively avoided the situation for a bit. The one thing I am a total prude about is not letting either child OR my husband see me using the bathroom during my monthly cycle. I am NOT ready to explain that to a four year old and I prefer to not have my husband going around with that particular mental image of me. There’s something to be said for feminine mystique. I just lock the bathroom door to keep the kids out when I need privacy. We’ve told our four year old that it’s okay for family and our doctor to see his parts but that no one else should be looking because it’s private. Sometimes he wants privacy in the bathroom or when he’s changing and sometimes he’s doing a silly naked dance while standing on his bed with the door open. Kids are just funny like that. On another note – we’ve encouraged our kids when they were close to age one to come in the bathroom to learn about using the potty. It helps them to see what is supposed to happen. Our four year old loves giving potty lessons to his little brother.
My two year old daughter regularly showers with me, my husband, or both of us. We also will walk naked in the house (like from the bathroom to the bedroom, or to the kitchen to get something out of the dryer). We just feel we’ll take our cues from her own comfort level with nudity as she gets older. Currently, I’m greeted by a naked toddler shrieking with laughter when I get home from work almost every day – nudity makes potty learning easier, so if she’s fine with it, so are we! We do try to clothe her when non-immediate-family are visiting, though.
Asha Dornfest says
Wow, thanks for all of the great stories! Interesting to hear about people’s varying levels of comfort, and about the funny things those darn kids say.
I should point out that even if kids are NOT asking or talking, they’re still learning. Just *seeing* mom’s or dad’s various parts (private- and non-) and observing their comfort levels teaches kids about their bodies before they even think to be curious.
my kids' mom says
I have two boys, 7 & 10. My husband and I sleep naked and so when the boys come in when the alarm comes off, there is a good chance they’ll see not just my husband, but me, still undressed. They have yet to care. I generally wait until they leave the room to get out of bed, but they see me dressing regularly. They’ve both learned all about the birds and bees, and we use correct terms for body parts. They got a bit too curious about how I peed when they were each 4 or so, but I explained that my body was private and the phase passed. Both are nudists at bedtime, caring not in the least who sees them running around without clothes. I expect that they’ll want personal privacy someday soon, and when I see them closing doors for their own privacy, I’ll start requesting my own. But until they care, I don’t care either.
We are also very low-key about this. Our 4yo daughter still regularly takes baths with her dad. Now I ask for privacy when I am using the toilet, but I let her watch me when she was younger and I think it helped with potty training. The most is she knows she can ask for privacy when she wants it.
We have a three year old boy and a one year old girl. We are religious, so we call genitals “holy bear parts” (holy parts of our little Bear). We have explained to our son that holy bear parts are just for God’s glory and that he is the only one allowed to touch them, except that Mama, Poppa, and the doctor might touch them to help him clean himself and for health purposes. He knows he has a penis, scrotum, and bum, and that his sister and I have vulvas and bums with baby pouches inside, although he usually classifies his sister as a boy since he doesn’t see her naked often. He sees us naked and asks questions, which we answer straightforwardly. He also knows he can ask for personal space when he needs it, and he often gets on the potty by himself with the bathroom door shut and locked.
I was sexually abused as a child, and the term “private” was misused and confused with “secret” to try to silence me (I told anyway when I was four -thank God!). I know that most people will not abuse the “private” moniker, but I wanted to find a way of naming genitals for our children to be less vulnerable to the machinations of pedophiles.
I share this not so y’all can mock me for being weirdly religious or overly cautious, but because we are all creative in our names for genitals, and I think there can be really healthy values and boundaries set up along lines that borrow from a family’s belief system rather than just public law code of public/private. Our beliefs help our children feel safe and respected, and I think they will continue to guide us as the children grow older.
I think 6 was the age of discovery for both of my girls and the point where it became a Big Deal to them to be naked or to see us naked. For me, I figure they have the whole rest of their lives to have body image issues, and I’m going to try my hardest to keep from contributing to it by adding shame to the mix.
My son just turned 4 and lately I have been noticing that I am more uncomfortable being undressed in front of him. I don’t really know why, but I have so I avoid it if possible.
Anita B says
I am so encouraged by all of your posts. I’ve made a point of not making a big deal out of nudity because I grew up where you didn’t talk about it, you didn’t mention it and you sure as heck didn’t let anyone see anything. Sexuality was labeled nasty and evil so you can imagine the strides I made in my ten years of marriage. Now my son is 5 and we live in a one bedroom apartment together (recently divorced). There are certain things that 5 yo boys do with their genitals that I do not freak out about, but he knows if he needs privacy, I will give it to him. Unfortunately, my bedroom is the living-room for now, so he is inevitably going to see me and I him. You can see how I was beginning to feel guilty about this when you look at my childhood, but I know in my heart that it’s not a big deal. As long as you don’t make an issue out of it, let your children take those first steps (as long as your comfortable with it). Thanks again for all the comments, very encouraging.
toilet time is private but showers and changing is done quickly without fuss. we don’t walk around naked but we don’t make a big deal of it either. our children are 3-5 and much like other posters, we shoot down any nudity drama. other times we also discuss stranger danger, inappropriate nakedness and keeping your hands to yourself. so it’s a lot of information. but we definitely don’t believe in body shame.
We have a 7 and a 5 year old and they regularly see us naked if they wander into the bedroom while we’re dressing.
We don’t make a big thing about it, and I can’t imagine we ever will, I honestly don’t understand what the fuss is about to be honest.
a mom says
So glad to read through this discussion. I grew up never having once even seen my father’s exposed buttocks, let alone genitals. Bathing and toileting were done behind locked doors. My mom bathed and dressed in front of my brother and I. And I remember being told from an early age that it was “nasty” for my brother to see me undressed. The male nude body was completely invisible in my house.
This is in stark contrast to the way we live now. We have a 4 1/2-year old daughter. My husband and I shower with and dress in front of her. My husband, however, has a strong aversion to clothes and often prefers to be naked at home (we were married ten years before having our daughter).
I have questioned over the past year whether it was okay for my husband to continue being openly nude in front of our daughter, especially when I prefer to wear clothes including bed time. I do worry whether it sends a mixed message when her biggest role model for body acceptance is not the same-gendered parent.
While I want my daughter to be very comfortable with her own body, I was raised with such a strong message to the opposite, that I get uncomfortable when it comes to her seeing her dad without clothes on. She, however, shows no embarrassment at all. And has once even said to her father, “I don’t really want to see your penis right now.” To which he said, okay, and threw on a robe.
In other words, I probably should have asked this question. But I never would have had the guts. This discussion has been helpful.
Nudity is absolutely no big deal to us. We tell our kids if they don’t want to see us naked, don’t come in our room when we’re getting dressed. If either of them is uncomfortable with us seeing them naked, then don’t come out of your room naked. Our main goal is to keep it low key and no big deal. Bodies are bodies and every one looks different.
But our daughter threw us an interesting curve ball. From a very young age, my daughter has masturbated. I’m talking from the time she was maybe 18 mos old. This makes my husband and I EXGTREMELY uncomfortable. That being said, we knew it was really, really important to never ever make her feel ashamed of it, so we told her that it was something she could ONLY do when she is by herself, in her room. She used to just want to lay down on the floor in whatever room she was in and get to it. We would just tell her to stop, pick her up and bring her into her room and close the door. Now she calls it her ‘by-herself-thing’ and she never does it anywhere other than in her bed by herself. We’ll address proper names for what it is, etc. as she gets older, but for now, it’s working and she is really not ashamed of it. She’ll sometimes be tired and ask ‘can I do my by-myself-thing’? And we tell her that unless she is by herself in her room, she can’t do it.
It’s a tough one. We’ve also addressed how no one else should ever, ever touch her there, even if it feels good, etc etc.
Glad to see there’s no big rush! My 17-month-old is at this exact stage as well. She has recently begun pointing to my post-shower nether region and saying “button,” as she does with belly buttons. Her reaction to my occasionally visible post-shower is more of a wordless “WTF?” and I’m trying to figure out what is the best course of action, and should same-sex nudity be handled differently than opposite-sex nudity. Thanks for all the input!
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Wow! My privates are alway’s covered. I hate people other than the doctor seeing them.