Many parents have plenty of names for their children's genitals: pee-pee, wee-wee, peenie, winkie, hoo-hoo, and other cutesy options. There are more ambiguous terms, too: special parts, your business, down there, private parts, private area, and more. Though you may prefer using these terms because they are a little more comfortable (and are bound to make for some adorable stories down the line), there are actually a lot of ways to explain penises to your son that won't make you terribly uncomfortable. Because, not every part of parenting has to be an awkward situation.
You might think that any kind of conversation with your child involving genitalia is taboo or a rabbit hole that leads to even more grown-up matters. But that's not necessarily the case nor is it a bad thing. Catherine McCall, a licensed marriage and family therapist, wrote a compelling article in Psychology Today where she explains how damaging these alternative terms can be. "The more we don't talk about it, and also don't teach ourselves and our children about healthy sexual development, the more we are grooming them to be abused and/or exploited," she wrote. Teaching your son the correct terminology to avoid potential abuse is a major reason to explain penises to your son, and if you're worried about the conversation, here are plenty of ways to talk about it.
1. Remember It's Scientific, Not Sexual
It's understandably difficult to separate genitalia from sexuality. You could blame it on the media's sexualization of most everything or the fact that, as parents, you're viewing things from the perspective of a sexually mature adult. But as Deborah M. Roffman, a human-sexuality educator, told Parents, your child's interest in genitalia and "experiments may look like play to you, but they're actually serious study." Just like infants are curious when they discovers their toes, your son if scientifically and factually approaching the discovery of his penis in the same way. Try, if you can, to mentally get on the level of your son and you'll soon see that there's nothing sexually inappropriate about a parent talking to their child about body parts.
2. Use Bath Time
According to The Mayo Clinic, bath time is the perfect opportunity to teach your child about all his different body parts in a casual way without making it into a big deal. This way, nakedness and genitalia will seem just as natural and normal as bath time.
3. Don't Overreact
Whether you find your toddler playing with his penis or learn your school-age son was "playing doctor" with a classmate, be careful not to freak out. According to Nemour's Kid's Health program, shame and guilt isn't the best response, but a calm explanation that he's the only one who should touch his penis and that it's just good manners to keep genitalia covered in public, is ideal. So if your son is experimenting or exploring, he's probably just curious.
4. Acknowledge Differences
If your son has a sister or has simply seen that boys have penises and girls have vaginas, now is the perfect time to confirm to your son that he does, indeed, have different parts. In an interview with the University of Utah Health Sciences Radio, Dr. Cindy Gellner explained that "kids realize differences and you want to make sure that your child understands that there are rules to the privates but they are not anything to be ashamed of."
5. Embrace Open Communication
Even if your young child isn't the most eloquent, that doesn't mean he doesn't understand or grasp big concepts. It's super important to let your child know early on that he can always come to you with questions or concerns. Dr. Cindy Christian, a child abuse pediatrician, wrote in an article for CNN that, "parents should teach children early and often that there are no secrets between parents and children." Ideally this will be a huge deterrent to sexual abuse if your son not only knows the correct terms for his body parts, but also understands that he can talk to you about his penis.
6. Don't Shy Away From Functions
Teaching your son the anatomically correct name for his penis isn't the end of the conversation. Even if your child is only in kindergarten, he's really not as far away from puberty as you might like to admit. So talking about the function of his penis now will give him a solid foundation for understanding what's happening when his body does begin to change.
Fred Kaeser, Ed.D., former Director of Health for the NYC Department of Education, wrote an article for Psychology Today that emphasized this important need for sexual education at a young age. He wrote that the basic functions of your son's penis can and should be approached with age-appropriate dialogue and be "scaffolded," meaning to build and expand upon information as you go.
7. Let Him Take The Lead
As the parent, you may think the responsibility of instigating conversations about his penis solely lies with you. But sometimes it's best to take the back seat and just listen to and observe your child. Often times your son will come to you when he has a question or concern.
According to the Mayo Clinic, "sex education isn't a single tell-all discussion. As your child matures and asks more-detailed questions, you can provide more-detailed responses ... using correct terminology." So one of the best ways to explain penises to your son is to let him be the one to ask the questions.