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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Anatomically Correct Lingo – to share or not to share with your children

Talking to Your Children
The Anatomy of a Conversation
Graphic Attributed to:
What a question!  Yet I feel compelled to ask you how you have handled this topic with your children and within your circle of family and friends.  When I was growing up, my two sisters, three brothers and I were introduced to my mother’s native Hungarian language.  This included identification of body parts and accompanying clothing.  It was only years later that my siblings and I questioned if we were exposed to actual anatomically correct terminology or some type of sanitized, cute label for our “private parts.”  

Turns out that the male reproductive organ (which I can’t even phonetically spell in Hungarian) was actually labeled as a “fireman’s whistle” because that’s what the baby’s penis looked like to my grandmother. (My grandfather was a firefighter.) Seriously?  Of course I’m sure that back then there was no way they could have foreseen the obvious double entendre. I don’t even know how the female part got its name so I called my mother to have that discussion.  She laughed and admitted that she didn’t know the history of the delicate part of the “feminine mystique.”  (Not my mother’s exact words. Just me using a little creative license.)

My mother commented that the Hungarian terms were more discreet for our family to use especially in public because few if any individuals would understand the language.  We were free to ask to use the bathroom or indicate any problems we might be encountering with our “areas of concern.”  Unfortunately, nobody understood us when it was time to go to school. 

As a teacher I faced interesting situations when it came time to encourage toddlers to learn about toileting.  I quickly discovered that it was in everyone’s best interest if I asked the parents what terms they used in their home to identify body parts and bodily functions.  Without these key bits of information there was little hope of helping the wee ones break the potty code and ultimately discover an amazing world of freedom from diapers.  

Perhaps parents everywhere could unite and collectively agree upon a universal code of toileting that could better facilitate the transition from diapering to underwear.  There would need to be quite a list of terms.  We didn’t even use the word “underwear” in our home but the Hungarian word is much too embarrassing the share here.  Then again, maybe that was a made up term too.

I promised myself that when I had children I would make a grand effort to correctly identify body parts and functions so that my children would grow up well informed, educated about the Human Body and its remarkable Anatomy, and infinitely more comfortable with their bodies that I was even as an adult.  I probably lost much of my inhibitions during pregnancy when there were many necessary opportunities to become less embarrassed and more confident in what the body is capable of enduring.  

Let’s be completely honest here. There’s not much room for extremes in modesty during this stage in life.  The sooner you accept this the better you can deal with the challenges of pregnancy and child birth.  Yet lately I find myself wondering about the benefits versus risks of using anatomically correct lingo with my children.  More specifically, I wonder when my two sons will get tired of talking about body parts.  Here’s a question for you.  What happens when children who learn correct identification of “private” body parts also learn how to create their own songs to “musically enhance” a conversation?

How could I have possibly predicted that two seemingly innocent parenting concepts would merge to create the perfect storm?  First:  I have always enjoyed making up my own poetry, songs, and parodies of popular tunes to help myself and my children accomplish tasks. My philosophy is that there’s a song for pretty much anything.  Music can provide a transition between activities and encourage waking up and getting ready for school.  I used music throughout my day when I taught Infant/Toddler classrooms.  Children respond well to music as an auditory cue and it also encourages active listening skills.  Second:  I have always taught my children to use correct terminology for their body parts and encouraged them to feel comfortable talking to me when they have questions related to their bodies.  Now do your math.  Add the first and second concepts together and mix in a healthy dose of normal silliness that identifies boys ages 6 -9 and you have an entire program of non-stop body part songs that can be turned into a musical.

I had three brothers so I can remember some of their antics…including the large summer sausage that emerged from the refrigerator to be turned into an extension of another body appendage and the conversion of familiar phrases, songs and restaurants into unseemly phrases (Steak n’ Shake became Shake your Steak.  Richard Marx “Hold on to the Night” became “Hold on to your nuts.”) You get the picture.  

So I had a little experience with this harmless behavior.  Yet I was totally unprepared for how far my children were willing to push the boundaries with their creativity.  There have been countless reminders to them to mind their language, be respectful, and tone down their musical styling.   I have sent them to a room for quiet time and taken away favorite toys or games.  Yet they persist.  But honestly they would probably have done the same if I had made up names for their body parts and functions instead of correct labels. 

I’ll talk to their Pediatrician about their behaviors just in case I’m missing something here.  But I’m still sure that this too shall pass and they will grow up to be normal, healthy individuals with a healthy sense of body awareness.

Until this phase passes, and probably beyond that, I will continue to remind them to respect themselves and others.  I will teach them to never allow anyone to touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable or ashamed.  I will remain open to listening to them and let them know they can come to me with any questions or concerns.  I want them to use correct body terminology so that they can communicate with medical professionals with confidence whenever necessary.  I hope they will feel comfortable with their bodies because it is a critical component to living a lifetime of good health.  

There are many parents who choose a different perspective when it comes to teaching children about their body parts and functions.  The most important thing to remember is that each family needs to find what will work best based on the comfort levels of each parent.  Children can sense discomfort and will react according to how a parent presents information.  
I hope that you will find your comfort level and identify ways to help your children grow into sensitive, respectful, healthy individuals who are aware of the amazing abilities of our Human Anatomy.  There are many resources available to assist us in our parenting endeavors.  Happy parenting to you and thanks for sharing your adventures with me.

Resource Alert

Teaching Your Kids About Their Private Parts | The Kid's Doctor