July 29, 2014

Private Parts: Talking to Your Child About Their Bodies, Behavior, and Babies

It is important to start speaking with your children about their bodies and behavior at an early age. If you create an open dialogue, without shame, your children will feel free to bring you their questions throughout their lives. This is often an uncomfortable topic for parents, so I have created a list of books and resources to help you get through it (scroll down). I also encourage you to discuss any questions you have on the topic with your child's pediatrician (we are always here to help!).

Some tips:
  • Watch out for everyday opportunities to teach your child about privacy and hygiene.
  • Encourage your child to ask you questions, to learn that they can feel comfortable coming to you with their thoughts.
  • Try to be calm and open about the topic (pay attention to your body language and tone of voice).
  • Give simple and short answers.
  • Make sure your answers are age appropriate.
  • Young children take everything you say literally, so avoid metaphors.
  • Avoid shame and ridicule.
  • Become closer to your child by showing them that you accept & support their feelings.
  • Set rational and consistent limits.

Here is a great blogpost by Dr. Claire McCarthy on getting started with the conversation: "6 Tips For Talking To Your Kids About Sex."

I also recommend looking at the website "Empowering Our Children," which is designed to teach parents how to protect their children from sexual abuse.

My Book Recommendations:

For parents to read overall:

  • “Everything You NEVER Wanted Your Kids To Know About Sex (but were afraid they’d ask)” by Dr. Justin Richardson & Dr. Mark Schuster
This is the best book for parents to read on the subject. It tackles every sexual stage of development from infancy (yup, some babies masturbate) through adolescence, as well as age-less topics, such as homosexuality. I recommend starting to read this book when your child is young, although it’s never too late to learn.

For parents to read on tough questions kids ask in general (not on sex):

  • “The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask” by Dr. Susan Bartell
  • “Questions Children Ask & How To Answer Them” by Dr. Miriam Stoppard
These books cover tough questions that kids bring up in general, like spirituality, fear, and growing up. The first book is good for uncovering the real meaning behind some questions, and figuring out the best way to respond.

Books to read with your children (or for them to read by themselves), by age group:

Toddlers & Pre-Schoolers:

  • “Amazing You: Getting Smart About Your Private Parts” by Dr. Gail Saltz
My favorite overall book for toddlers. Teaches basic anatomy, privacy, and even how babies are born.



  • “When You Were Inside Mommy” by Joanna Cole
A very simple book on pregnancy and birth to read to young children. No lies (e.g the stork), but no anatomy or private parts mentioned either.

  • “What Makes a Baby?” by Cory Silverberg
This book is great for families that conceived via IVF, adoption, surrogacy, or traditional means. It talks about sperm, egg, uterus, and birth, but each as its own thing, and at the end it asks, “Who was waiting for you to be born?” Technically accurate, but simple, with cartoonish illustrations.

  • “Where Did I Come From?” by Peter Mayle
This is the classic “how babies are made” children’s book, but take a look through this book before buying it, as it is may be too explicit for some families (see the anecdote at the end of this blog post).

  • “My Body Belongs To Me” by Jill Starishevsky
This book discusses inappropriate touching/abuse. It does not discuss development or how babies are made.


School Age Children:

  • “It’s So Amazing! A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families” by Robie Harris
Covers all of the basics, including proper anatomy, mostly with diagrams, and a little cartoon guidebird.


Tweens:

  •  “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” by Robie Harris & Michael Emberley
Very similar to the school-age version by Harris (above), but with more words, less illustrations, and more details.

  • “The Care & Keeping of YOU: The Body Book for Girls” by American Girl
My tween patients report that they love this book. It goes over what to expect in puberty and how to take care of girls’ changing bodies. This book includes discussions on hygiene and how to use menstrual products. There is a new version with the number 2 on it, and a version for boys.

Dr. Stuppy and the Mighty Girl website also have good posts on discussing puberty.

An Anecdote:

When I was 3 years old, my mother (who is a pediatrician as well) read me the book "Where Did I Come From?" I went to my religious nursery school and proceeded to tell everyone, "I was the fastest sperm!" Some of the other parents were not happy when their own children went home and repeated the same thing to them. My mom got a stern 'talking to' by the school. We still laugh about it, to this day. The moral of the story? Teach your children about their bodies and development before anyone else does, or you may not be happy with what they learn ;)


For newer blog posts on the subject, as they come out, you can also follow my pinterest boards on Teenagers, Parenting, and Kids' Health.