Talking to Kids about Body Parts & Functions

Archived Q&A and Reviews

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Son, 6, wants to know how I pee

June 2009

My 6 year old son has been repeatedly asking me to show him where my pee comes from. Obviously I can't show him. And he's also been asking about where babies come from and all that stuff. I'm looking for a recommendation of some books with pictures or drawings or something that would answer his questions. Any ideas? Anon.

Why can't you show him?? He's 6 years old. If you hide it from him it will just make him more curious about why you're hiding it. It's really not a big deal, it's just a body part. Former Biology Student

My 4yo spends many happy moments online watching youtube medical anatomy videos. some are diagrams, some are medical procedures. She caught her Grandfather off guard by saying, ''yes, I think I do need to go potty, my bladder is full!'' She caught her fathr off guard by saying, ''Daddy, did you know TWO babies can be inside a mama?'' Some videos are geared toward kids, some to medical students some to patients. My child eats them up. happy mama of future doctor?

''It's Not the Stork: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends'' by Robie H. Harris (Author) & Michael Emberley (Illustrator) is a great book, and perfect for your son and his questions. It's for ages 4 to 8. My four year-old and his friend love this book. Check out reviews in and other sources. Andi

Dear Parent, I disagree with your approach. You say ''Obviously, I can't show him'' but that is your own opinion. There is nothing ''obvious'' about avoiding a normal conversation about the human body. For us, obviously you can show and talk about pee and poo, penis and vagina, just as you talk about mouth and teeth, eating and drinking. A prudish approach will only send the message to your child that there is something wrong with that topic.

Our children asked the same questions too at that age. We explained to them how there is a hole in the penis and one in the vagina for pee to come out, just like there is a hole in our butt for poop to come out. We didn't have to ''show'' them anything in particular, also because they had already seen earlier penis and vagina during baths, showers or changing clothes.

As for where babies come from, our children learned (at about your son's age) that just like plants grow from small seeds planted in the earth, children come from small seeds that grow inside mom's tummy. The seed comes from dad, who plants it in mommy's tummy where it stays warm and safe. That's all they needed to know at that time, and they were very happy with the picture.

In summary, genitals are natural parts of the body and conception is an expression of love that creates life. If you don't make a fuss out of it, your children won't. If you make it a big deal, they will pick up on that. If you yourself were led to view the topic as dirty or taboo, then you have a chance here to either continue the negative approach, or to break the cycle and explain the world to your children using kindness and reason. Keep in mind that even if you keep it from them they will learn by themselves elsewhere anyway (most likely in school). You might as well be the one who provides the information with competence and care. Hoping this helps - Simone

You may want to look at a wonderful series of books by Robie Harris and Michael Emberley that ''answer every question about birth, babies, bodies, families and healthy sexuality'' (that is lifted from the back cover of one of the books in our home library). The titles are ''It's NOT the Stork'' for ages 4 and up, ''It's So Amazing'' for ages 7 and up, and ''It's Perfectly Normal'' for ages 10 and up. We have the first two and will soon have the third. They provide factual and age-appropriate information in a comfortable and easy format. My 7 and 9 year old daughters love them and they are a great jumping off point for conversations with them. mom of curious kids

My girls are 3-1/2 and have the same questions. It all started when they were reading a book with a cat in it, and the cat had kittens. From there the flood of questions started!

This is a great book: Amazing You!: Getting Smart About Your Private Parts And there are others in the same series for older kids.

I've also picked up books about the human body in general secondhand - bones and organs fascinate them too.

You can take your son to the Hall of Health in Berkeley and explore how the body works.

And finally we have these very cool puzzles which come in boy and girl versions. They are anatomically correct.

Language to use for toddler's body parts?

March 2001

We have a 2 1/2 year old daughter who is beginning the process of potty training. As part of this she has become much more curious about her body in general and genitals particularly and asks lots of questions about hers as well as about boys' genitals. Since she was born we have referred to her genitalia (and everyone elses') as her po po. (Don't ask. We overheard a friend use it with her baby and thought it was as good a word as any.) But now I feel a little dumb (not to mention dishonest) using po po when she points and asks, what's this called, mama?

So far, I've just been straightforward: that's your vagina. that's your clitoria. those are labia. So, this poses a couple questions in my mind. With grandparents, other kids, or even other adults in her life, using clitoris or labia could create some discomfort. I don't really care much about the discomfort of others around names for body parts, but I'd hate for my daughter to pick up on it and draw the wrong conclusions. Vagina seems incomplete and my mother's old-fashioned private parts makes me shiver. The somewhat PC yoni works in that it's inclusive of the whole labia, vagina, clitoris and has a nicely unclinical and unerotic quality.

I'm uncertain what to say and would really love to know what other parents of girls have done. Somehow boys seems simpler -- maybe in my view there isn't as much of a taboo about talking about boys genitals -- but the grass is always greener.

Thanks, Kate

Why does Vagina seem incomplete? In my experience, in all but clinical settings, the word is understood to be, ...inclusive of the whole labia, vagina, clitoris and has a nicely unclinical and unerotic quality. JJ

With my now 3.5-year-old girl, we use the descriptive and poetic term of little flower. (my invention). We've been refering to my 2-month-old boy's as little chick and little egg (a loose translation from colloqial Chinese). Xinxin

When our now 2 1/2 year old daughter was a baby, we began referring to her pooty (don't know where that came from) and then I got kind of a shock when she (of course) began speaking and using it herself. Then the dilemma: Sure it's cute at 2, but also trivializing, etc. (insert pc rant here) and was that *really* how I wanted her to refer to her genitals? So I copped out and brought in the good old vagina: inaccurate and overly clinical, but somehow above reproach.

I like your solution of teaching the correct terms for all the external and internal parts of female genitalia as well as adopting a catch-all. The only thing is, the very non-pc pooty is likely to be our yoni. Katia

How about vulva? That refers to everything that's visible. She's not seeing anyone's vagina without a speculum anyway. L. Carper

I look forward to reading others' responses on this one. I just wanted to suggest that you reconsider private parts. We say privates in our family as a generic term for boy's and girl's genitalia and then also use more specific, clinical terms (though haven't taught clitoris yet, hmmm). I think it's useful to have an umbrella term, and private parts or privates works because they are/should be PRIVATE and so it's easy to tie in with teaching about touching.

A friend of mine once picked up her preschooler and was told by the teacher that she got a boo-boo on her wee-wee. The daughter corrected, No, I scraped my vulva. :) Deborah

We've used yoni for 8 years. I liked it better because it didn't have any overtones for me and it just sounds nicer. There's definitely an advantage to using a word that not everyone understands (particularly if your parents are like mine, extremely uptight, or for when your kids suddenly have a need to discuss their genitalia in a place that might not be friendly to that). We also always explained to them that other people use the word vagina, so that they would understand and use that word too. As long as your daycare provider understands the word, there's no drawback as far as I can see. We also use private parts frequently, as I think it does communicate an important message. It didn't have the shame overtones to my ear. Meghan

You mentioned that your daughter was potty training. Is she asking what her sex organs are, or just what she wees and poos out of? What about 'girlie willy' and 'bottom'? Equally 'private parts' seems to encompass the WHOLE region and lets your daughter know that it is for her only and not for anyone else. maria

This topic has interested me ever since a psychoanalyst friend told me (long before I had a child) about a study which showed that most parents don't give their daughters _any_ name for their genitalia, whereas almost all of them give their sons a name for what they have. She thought this contributed to a sense of inadequacy among girls -- that they simply lack something which boys have, rather than having something special of their own. She said that she used vulva with her daughter. At the time I thought this sounded much too clinical, but that's what we ended up using with our daughter -- we tried some cuter alternatives but somehow they didn't stick, and vulva has ended up sounding quite natural to us. But I think the important thing is that they should have _some _word for it. Hannah

I don't have daughters but I was one of four girls, and I had a good laugh about this thread. I grew up in the South and my very uptight mom used the word fanny to cover everything from stem to stern on us girls. But when my brother came along, we were advised that he had a penis in addition to his fanny (tush). So we invented for ourselves the more precise terms front fanny (vulva) and back fanny (tush) which provoked mysterious laughter from our parents' friends. As an adult I learned that the term fanny is considered vulgar in Britain and got a little pleasure in telling my Anglophile Mom about this feature of her supposed polite term. -Ginger

Perhaps this is too late for inclusion, but I so enjoyed the entries about what to call your daughter's private parts and I agree wholeheartedly with the person who said the important thing was to give it a name, no matter what. How can you talk about something if you don't have a word for it? Some friends of ours, who do not have a daughter of their own, gave us the excellent suggestion of minky for vulva. It has been assimilated well in our family vocabulary, as I think it has a certain appeal on all sorts of levels. Hilary