Before my husband and I had even conceived Willow, one of the things we talked about was how we would talk to our future children. We had both decided that we wanted to talk to them with respect, with our full attention and to also use proper terminology where and when possible. More than that though, we wanted to always be honest with our children so that we didn’t find ourselves far down a path unweaving an overwhelmingly large web of untruths.
Fast forward to today and my daughter Willow is now just over two. When she talks about her vagina she calls it her va-jay-jay (she can’t quite say vagina). When she points at mommy or daddy’s private parts and says, “Dat?” we tell her that it is a vagina or a penis. We don’t say that it’s a birdie or a wee wee or a Peter. Nope, it’s a vagina or a penis. She is still breastfeeding so she knows that my breasts are called breasts or boobies (that is easier for her to say) and she knows that boobies have nipples.
Sometimes when we are changing her diaper, she’ll reach down and touch the top of her vagina and say, “Willow’s va-jay-jay” and although a reaction from some might be to pull her hand away and tell her not to touch, we don’t. We don’t encourage the behaviour but we also don’t shame or embarrass the behaviour either. To us, and to her, it’s just another part of her body. As she gets older and understands more and is at a time in her life that is age-appropriate, we’ll explain the purpose of the various body parts but for now, it’s just a part of her body — like touching her knee or her toes.
We live in a society that is very shy about talking about these things and I think some of it is due to how over-sexualized our society is. To touch a private part is, to some, a shameful thing and not something that should happen at all or, if it were permissible, to be done in private only. To call our vaginas a birdie and our penis’ a wee wee may remove the discomfort for you in the moment but it places the future discomfort on your child’s shoulders.
I remember being in grade seven or eight and getting my first period. I tried talking to my friends about what was going on but I was far too embarrassed and back then, couldn’t say the word vagina without blushing, cracking up or both. It was simply that I wasn’t comfortable enough with the word to say it without fear that I was doing or saying something bad. Having a daughter, I know that I don’t want her to feel the same way. I’d prefer her to be able to talk about her body without shame, without fear and without embarrassment.
My hope is that if we talk to Willow in this way now, she will grow up feeling less embarrassed by those words. I am also hopeful that she’ll feel more able to be open with us and talk to us about things that she may not feel comfortable with if we glossed over some of the terminology.
Are you honest with your children about the names of their body parts or do you use cutesy words instead? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.