My four and almost three-year old are obsessed with body parts. They are inquisitive about bodily functions, they want to understand how and why people are different shapes and sizes; we have had lengthy conversations about why Mom pees sitting down and Dad pees standing up. My daughters can properly identify their body parts.

The other day the two of them were playing on the porch. My four-year old has a strict policy at her school about using potty words inappropriately, and she has been working on refraining from using these words inappropriately at home and around her younger sisters. In the middle of playing my oldest daughter said something about changing her baby doll and having to wipe the baby’s vagina. My almost three-year old used this as a chance to tattle and came running inside, accusing her sister of using a “bad word.” This, of course, resulted in the classic argument: “did not,” “did too,” “did not.” I intervened and helped to guide the argument into a productive conversation about why vagina is not a bad word.

My almost three-year old, using her almost three-year old logic, tried to argue that because you pee out of your vagina, it is hence, a potty word. I have to admit, she’s gotta point! However, I explained to her about the vagina being a part of your body, a private part of your body and that saying the word appropriately, is not a bad thing, but rather a good thing. I have had similar conversations with my four-year old about using the words penis and vagina appropriately. I have always found it important that my daughters do not think it is “bad” or “gross” to properly name the parts of human anatomy.

What I never realized, until recently, is that encouraging children to appropriately and accurately name genitals is one of the most effective means of helping children to identify and prevent sexual abuse. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to help their children feel comfortable saying and identifying their penis or vagina, just as they would any other part of the body. This helps to teach children that while they are private, they are not so private or weird, that they have to feel uncomfortable talking about them. Parents should also teach children that genitals are private and that others should not be touching them, and children need to learn to respect other people’s privacy.

“Teach children early and often that there are no secrets between children and their parents, and that they should feel comfortable talking with their parent about anything — good or bad, fun or sad, easy or difficult.” If your children have been raised feeling open and comfortable discussing their private parts, they will be much more likely to confide in you if they feel that something inappropriate has taken place. I will continue to help my daughters feel comfortable talking about their bodies, and I allowed myself a gold parenting star for the day and noted this conversation as a small parenting “win.” However, I was not given the chance to boast for long, because I had to heed the battle of inappropriateness. Immediately following my dynamic anatomy conversation, my almost three-year old went running out onto the porch, spewing: vagina head, yucky vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina.

“What?!” she turned and smirked at me, “you just said, vagina is not a bad word!”

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