As parents, we spend a lot of the pre-5 years telling our child the name for things e.g. animals, toys, machines and parts of their body. From when they are very young we give them names for lots of parts of their body – eyes, nose, mouth, feet etc – and we tend to all use the same name, with some regional variations like ‘oxter’!
There is, however, a huge variety of words used by families to refer to the private parts of their body , in particular the penis or vulva – you’ll have heard flower, front bottom, winky, wee man, to name a few.
No other part of the human body has been given so many different names!
This can be confusing for children, particularly when they hear different words being used by other children at nursery.
Does it matter?
As you’ll know, there’s a fair bit of personal care involved in the pre-5 years, particularly from toilet training onwards, when you’re helping your child learn to wipe and wash their bottom and penis or vulva, so there’s everyday situations where you need accurate words to help your child learn new skills. It’s also the natural stage to help children start to learn that these parts of the body are private and what behaviours from and towards them are appropriate.
Primary schools now introduce the universal terms for private body parts at Primary 1 – penis, vulva, bottom and nipples. They have done this because they need to have a common language in school that children have permission to use and that is accurate. Some nurseries now use these terms with children.
Many adults were not taught these words growing up and can feel uncomfortable using them as they can be thought of as ‘sexual’ words.
Young children do not have these associations and usually consider these words to be as normal as ‘hand’, ‘leg’ etc.
If we want to be clear about what children mean when they talk to us about their body and touch, then we need to teach them accurate language.