Flower, wee wee, winkie, tootie, hoo hoo, noodle, ding ding, front bum. Spend any quality time with the preschool set and you are likely to hear all manner of colorful vocabulary for body parts.
Many parents shy away from using anatomically correct words like “penis” or “vulva” with their children because they find these words too clinical. Just saying “penis” or “vulva” aloud can make many adults uncomfortable. But there are good reasons to get over that discomfort. Increasingly, experts are encouraging families to teach even very teach young children what they call the “standard terminology” for their private parts. Here’s why:
First, medically accurate words are helpful in medical settings. If a child says that her “down there” itches, it’s difficult to know what exactly “down there” she’s talking about. Having the right words helps doctors, nurses and even moms and dads diagnose problems and teach proper toileting hygiene.
Knowing and using “standard” terminology may also make children less vulnerable to sexual abuse. Would-be perpetrators know that a child who uses words like “vagina” or “testicles” has likely had conversations with their family about consent; and is comfortable enough talking about their bodies to report back to those families. When we use euphemisms or whispered words for these parts of our bodies, we teach them that parts are shameful or bad. If children absorb the message that these parts of their body are taboo or not to be discussed, they are less likely to report inappropriate touch. Knowing the right terms also helps children and adults navigate the disclosure and forensic interview process.
Finally, and super importantly to us here at More than Sex Ed, studies show that knowing the correct anatomical terms enhances kids’ body image, self-esteem and openness. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics: "In early childhood, parents can teach their children the name of the genitals, just as they teach their child names of other body parts. This teaches that the genitals, while private, are not so private that you can’t talk about them."
There are no body parts that are dirty or nasty. And when young children are comfortable talking about their bodies with their families, they become older children and teenagers that know they can turn to their families with questions about puberty and relationships without shame or embarrassment.
Moira Potter has more than ten years’ experience in education, serving primarily low-income, at-risk Middle and High School students with a wide range of English language proficiency. She has taught English, as well as health and sex education. She is truly passionate about empowering young people with the tools and information they need to make informed, independent decisions about their own lives and bodies. She holds a Master’s Degree in Education from U.C. Berkeley and is now a student again, pursuing a career in nursing.