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What should you teach your child about their body?

A father holding a skateboard wraps his arm around his child who is playing on a device as they walk outside

Teaching kids about their body isn’t a one-off conversation

A father holding a skateboard wraps his arm around his child who is playing on a device as they walk outside

Teaching kids about their bodies – from anatomy to positive body image and, later on, sex and sexuality – isn’t just a one-off conversation. It’s a series of interactions that start when your child is very young and continue all the way through to adolescence.

Body education starts at home, says paediatric doctor
Nelu Simonsz
. “Role-modelling at home is the absolute key. Parents need to be really aware that our kids pick up what they’re seeing at home, especially in those early years.”

Encourage open and honest conversations with your children and let them know it’s alright to ask questions about their body, relationships, sex, sexuality, boundaries, consent and more.

“It’s really important that learning about the body and sex comes from the parents, if you can,” Nelu adds. Yes, it can feel uncomfortable and a little awkward, but “if you can put your own insecurities aside and try to be open and honest with your child, that’s really important.”

How to teach your children about their bodies

Children begin exploring their bodies from a very young age, which surprises a lot of parents.

“It’s a really innocent behaviour that can freak parents out,” says Nelu, “so it’s important to be aware that it’s completely normal for children to explore their bodies, even from as young as eight months of age.”

Don’t react in a way that suggests this is a bad thing.

“If parents seem shocked and scared by this behaviour, that sends negative feedback,” explains Nelu.

“Discussing things like private body parts in a really matter-of-fact way means they won’t see them as taboo, scary things that can’t be spoken about, and this really frames them for later on,” shares Nelu. “If you can be the person that tells them honestly and openly what their body does, it shows them they can trust you. It might seem silly doing that with a toddler, but they’re sponges at that age and everything they hear, they’re going to take forward.”

Don’t forget to give accurate names for all the parts of the body from an early age, too, which increases a child’s GA outlink example
self-confidence and positive body image
. “There are some great books available for the pre-primary school age about body parts and respecting your own body,” suggests Nelu.

A father resting his chin on his hand as he listens to his daughter

Teaching your children about hygiene

Early on is also when children should begin to learn about personal hygiene, as it will become even more crucial when they hit puberty. Encourage regular showers or baths as part of their bedtime routine every night and make sure they wash every part of their body, including under their arms and their genital and anal areas.

Teaching children what is acceptable

Before they reach primary-school age, start talking to your kids about body autonomy. Let them know they are the boss of their body and that touching in any form is up to them. For example, if they don’t want to hug a visiting family member, let them know that’s their choice.

“You can sit them down privately and say, ‘I noticed you don’t want to give such-and-such a hug. That’s okay. And I’m really glad that you feel comfortable saying ‘no’ if you don’t feel like a hug,’” suggests Nelu, who highlights the importance of normalising consent, respect and boundaries.

Teach children which parts of their body are okay to make public (and that it’s their choice what they share) and let them know that there are some parts of the body nobody has the right to see or touch.

“Explain that these private parts are just their own,” says Nelu. “It’s important to get that into their heads early on – and also let them know other people’s private parts are their own, too.”

It’s also a good conversation to have in the doctors’ office, she adds. “If I’m doing an examination, a lot of parents are really good at saying, ‘It’s okay, this is the doctor. The doctor’s allowed to look at your private parts and I’m in the room with you, so it’s okay.’”

Make sure your child knows from a young age that they can turn to you or other trusted adults, such as the GP, if they feel scared or unsafe, and by the time they’re around five, inform them about services like Kids Helpline, where they can turn for help and advice.

If children do touch or reveal their private parts in public, don’t shame them, says Nelu. “Distract them, try to draw their attention elsewhere,” she advises. “Kids are very easily distracted.”

If it’s happening all the time and they can’t be distracted, speak to your GP.
“It can sometimes be a sign of emotional distress or a mental health disturbance in the child, or it could be a sign that they are being exposed to something at home.”

How and when to have the sex conversation

“At around primary school age, you start getting those curly questions like ‘where do babies come from?’” says Nelu, and normalising these topics and sharing accurate information can make kids more likely to make safer choices later in life. Keep these chats casual and work them into everyday conversations, rather than giving kids a sit-down lecture; when they ask questions, try to give short, clear, succinct answers.

Teaching about puberty

Start talking about puberty before it happens, says Nelu. For girls, puberty usually begins between 10 and 11 years old, and for boys, around 11 to 13 – although it’s important to let your child know that it’s different for everyone, and that’s okay. “Even when your child is around the age of eight or nine, just let them know that puberty is a thing that’s going to happen so they’re not as shocked when it does come,” advises Nelu.

Tell them what to expect – for example, changes in body shape, odour, the development of body hair and for girls, the onset of menstruation.

Related: Health checks for your teen

Crucially, if your child brings up questions around puberty, sex, sexuality or anything else associated with learning about their bodies: “Don’t shut them down,” says Nelu. “Just go with it.”

From dealing with growing pains to how to treat fever in children and health checks for teens, check out The Check Up’s dedicated parenting section for more tips and expert advice.

Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.

About Dr Nelu Simonsz

Dr Nelu Simonsz is a paediatric doctor with a passion for educating parents on common health issues that affect kids. She believes that misinformation leads to unnecessary concern that can make parenting harder than it already is – but by sharing credible information in a relatable way, she’s committed to empowering parents. Outside work, Nelu is also passionate about Beyoncé – in fact, she’s so committed to the pop queen she once camped out at the airport to snap a pic with her!

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