Toddlers Are Sexual Beings
Taboos around childhood sexuality remain strong. The past practice of admonishing toddlers that touching “down there” would land them an eternity in hell has largely disappeared to be replaced by the myth that only youngsters who have been sexually abused engage in sexual exploration or activities or display a keen interest in sexual matters. Thus, instead of considering toddler's sexuality to be immoral, many view it as an indication of “sickness,” a symptom of post-traumatic stress.
In truth, toddlers are sexual beings, though not in the adult sense. Their genitals are very sensitive, so they readily discover that the physical sensations produced by touching and rubbing are pleasant. Fondling the genitals for comfort is also common. Some youngsters may also hold themselves in hopes of stopping themselves from urinating. It also is common for little boys to have erections. When little girls see naked boys, many express concerns about their own lack of a penis. To reassure them, parents can simply explain that little girls have a clitoris and vagina instead. Girls grow into women, and only women can have babies. Babies grow inside the mother's body and pass through the vagina when they're ready to be born.
Answer your toddler's questions in a straightforward manner:
Q: “Why is Daddy's penis so big and mine so small?”
A: “Daddy is bigger everywhere. When you grow up, your feet, hands, and penis will be big, too.”
Q: “Why don't I have a penis like Daddy?”
A: “Girls have a vagina. Boys have a penis.”
Q: “Where do babies come from?”
A: “They grow inside a mommy's uterus until they're big enough to be born.”
Parents will have to handle sexual issues in accordance with their personal beliefs. The best approach seems to be to teach youngsters the social rules: masturbation is something to be done in private. Telling toddlers that they should only touch themselves when they are in the bathroom or bedroom and must refrain when around other people can be as straightforward as telling them it's not nice to belch at the dinner table. If parents can be calm and matter-of-fact in discussing sexual issues, children will feel freer to turn to them with future questions.
Let Me Be Naked!
Lots of toddlers decide clothes are something they'd rather do without. Every time parents turn around, they find their little one has managed to wriggle out of her clothes again. The dislike of clothing isn't surprising. If children are warm enough, they will feel much more comfortable with the freedom of movement that comes from being in bare skin. It may not be a problem if toddlers want to run around the house in their birthday suits, though this can get pretty messy if they're not toilet-trained. (That's an incentive some parents have successfully used with determined strippers: If you use the toilet, birthday suits are allowed at home.)
Regardless of what policies are in force at home, parents should insist that toddlers observe the social niceties of keeping their clothes on outside the house. Even if
However, there's no need to be upset or to shame them about it. Since they're too young to comprehend adult views on the subject, instilling guilt might make them feel that their body is bad or dirty. It should be enough to firmly state, “Undressing outside the house is a no-no!” and to put their clothes back on again and again until they get the message. Don't comfort them if they howl; there are times when staying dressed is non-negotiable. Also, avoid attempting to make re-dressing fun. Otherwise, they may conclude that removing their clothes is a way to initiate a great game.
Children only use words they have heard someone else say. If the naughty words have come from outside the household, the best strategy is simply to ignore them, which ups the odds that they'll go away. Otherwise, you'll spark your toddler's curiosity about the magic of a word to make you laugh or get angry, increasing the likelihood he'll use it more often. Even if naughty words don't bother you, they can upset teachers, other parents, and children enough to dampen your youngster's social life.
If the offensive words don't disappear on their own, or if she's using words she's heard at home, eliminate these no-no's from the family vocabulary before they become a habit. Tell your child that saying that word is a no-no and provide a brief time-out. To help yourself and other family members clean up their vocabularies, say, “Oops, somebody just said a no-no,” and put your child in charge of walking the offender to his or her bedroom for a brief time-out.
There's nothing to indicate that young toddlers are in any way harmed by exposure to parental nudity. However, they will undoubtedly have questions and may want to touch, too, so be prepared.
As children approach age three, many become uncomfortable about witnessing the nudity of the opposite-sexed parent. Whether this is because they are experiencing conflict about their emerging sexual feelings toward that parent, as many psychologists believe, or because the societal taboos they have absorbed conflict with what is happening at home, it is important to respect their wish for boundaries. Eliminate joint father-daughter and mother-son baths, and close the bathroom door and oust little ones of the opposite sex from the room before changing.