Teaching Proper Names for Body Parts

Categories: Take Two For Prevention


As part of our Two Minutes for Prevention series, Stewards of Children® author Paula Sellars provides additional insights and experience about the topic covered in the video below. 

Minnie and Willie?

For little boys, I’ve heard it called everything from pee-pee, junk, Willie, and ding, to man muscle, tender, and guy stuff. For little girls, I’ve heard downstairs, peach, hooha, garage, pocket book, Minnie, girly bits, and cookie among others. What’s going on here?

As adults I think there are lots of reasons we use silly code names for penis, breasts, and vagina. For starters, we’ve collectively decided these are dirty or impolite words. Technical words. I can’t use the word penis because others don’t use it. And I might offend someone or sound crude, especially if I say it in front of a child.

I’ve also heard grown ups say that they don’t want to spoil a child’s innocence by saying penis or vagina. That’s legitimate – wanting a child to keep her wonder and innocence. Yes, I can definitely get that desire.

I can understand wanting to be playful and light about something that makes us a bit uncomfortable.

And I can definitely relate to the uneasiness that at some point later on, having named these body parts could lead to discussions about sex, for which we feel totally unprepared. I mean, how is a penis, breast, or vagina that much different from an arm, nose, or ear after all?

But in the midst of all this, even when children are very young, there is an opportunity to teach them how to talk about their private body parts. And those simple words – penis, vagina, breasts – set the stage for a number of healthy developmental milestones.

We all know that little children are like sponges. They’re so open and curious. They absorb information, behavior, and attitudes with such ease. Having the proper names for body parts gives children confidence, knowledge, and ownership of their bodies right from the start. That fundamental platform alone is worth its weight in gold for navigating adolescence and early adulthood later on.

Sharing the proper names for body parts is healthy and protective. For a small child, it gives him words that others will clearly understand should he need to communicate about toileting concerns, pain or illness, or that someone is touching him inappropriately. It sets a tone that breasts, his penis, her vagina can be spoken about when there is a concern or a question. It offsets the collective shame we feel about all things sex.

As children get older giving the platform of proper names tells them that we are comfortable enough to have conversations about how babies are made and what sex is. We may not feel totally comfortable and that’s understandable, but at least we have opened the door so that children do not have to seek out this understanding through less safe means.

Perhaps most importantly – proper names for body parts, once we’ve said them a few times, begin to disassemble at least one of the many taboos that allow for sexual abuse to take place. And that is one of the most important and lasting lessons we can give our children.

Check out this brief video “Proper Names for Body Parts” and share it with friends. We could all use a little support in talking about something so healthy and so normal.

For more in-depth learning, tools, and practical guidelines to help adults prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse, take Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children®. Find out more at www.D2L.org/Stewards.

Paula Sellars is Executive Vice President of Phoenix Possibilities Inc., a company that fosters social change and leadership through the skills of personal risk. Formerly a family therapist and cranio-sacral therapist, Paula specialized in family systems, adolescence, and trauma recovery. She designed and executed program content for an adolescent day treatment center, worked in supervisory capacities inpatient and outpatient psychiatric settings, and has worked extensively with families with sexual abuse dynamics. Paula is the author of Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children®, a child sexual abuse prevention Docutraining® that uses consciousness training to effect behavior change. As a consciousness trainer with Phoenix Possibilities, Paula teaches the Cliff Jumping® Program and other leadership development programs for individuals, couples, and organizational groups. As a social change agent, she weaves her knowledge of the Enneagram, Spiral Dynamics and the Cliff Jumping Program to move communities to action. She is also a Oneness Blessing Giver through Oneness University in Chennai, India. Paula inspires vitality, spiritual connection, integrity and personal fulfillment.


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