I'm a pretty modest person when it comes to my body. Yes, I am the girl in the locker room at the gym who is trying to wriggle into her underwear while holding a towel around her naked body. I know. That's why I was kind of surprised by my own willingness to pull my boobs out on command when I was breastfeeding my daughter. She's done nursing now, but I still don't hesitate when I change in front of her. But should I? Here's when your breastfed kid should stop seeing your boobs, according to an expert.
"There's no real rule for when kids should stop seeing their parents naked," Jill Whitney, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Connecticut and blogger at Keep The Talk Going, tells Romper in an email interview. "It all depends on what feels right to the individuals involved."
Whitney explains that little kids are rather matter-of-fact about their bodies, whether it's their own or someone else's. "They'll reach out and touch a parent's breast or genitals just because they're curious," she says. "The curiosity is perfectly natural, and you don't want to create shame about bodies by freaking out if your child looks or asks."
Whitney adds that letting your young child see you naked when you get out of the shower or when you've been nursing is a great way to normalize the human body. "You can name the various parts of anyone's body, which shows that no body part is unspeakable," she says. "That will pay off later when you have conversations about sex, puberty, and related topics."
That being said, Whitney notes, it is important to teach kids about privacy and boundaries. "Most of us don't like having a breast grabbed by a preschooler, for instance," she says. "It may hurt, and it's often emotionally uncomfortable to be touched in a private area, so that's the language to use."
If this occurs, Whitney says parents should say something like, "Ouch, that hurt! That's a sensitive part of my body, and you have to be gentle with it." She says parents might also add: "It's also a private part of my body. I don't let most people look at it or touch it. Before you touch me there again, I'd like you to ask me first if it's OK."
Another place to introduce the concept of privacy? The bathroom, Whitney says. "Most of us don't care if our infant is in the bathroom when we pee, but as kids get bigger, the lack of privacy gets old," she says. "Every parent starts to long for a chance to shower or use the toilet without an audience. That's a legitimate feeling. When you start to feel that way, start to say it."
Whitney recommends parents say: "When I need to go on the potty, I like to have privacy. That's why I close the door." While it may take time for kids to actually understand, she says it's worth repeating — as calmly as you can — until they do. And when they get to be about 5 or 6 years old, Whitney says you can start insisting on privacy.
"The biggest two factors in when to stop letting kids see you naked are your own comfort level and your child's," she says. "If you're comfortable walking around the house naked, your child won't be harmed by that. If you're more modest, it's perfectly fine to cover up. Different families have very different styles about nudity, and they're all fine."
The only time it's not fine? When your child starts to feel uncomfortable, which is usually around the time they are in early elementary school, Whitney says. "Kids start to become modest," she says. "They develop a different sense of their own bodies and the meaning of privacy. You'll know when this happens because your child will start wanting to bathe herself or will complain if you're uncovered." ("Moooooom! Gross.")
Whitney says it's important that parents respect those boundaries and have conversations about why sometimes you might need to see their private parts in order to make sure they are cleaning themselves properly or for medical attention. "But mostly, give them their space," she adds. "Not only is this reasonable in the present, it sets a good pattern for when she's older. You want your kid to be selective about who sees her naked."
As for you, that's also the time that you should start to cover up when you're in the public areas of the house. Rule of thumb? The privacy and/or modesty needs of the more modest person trump someone's needs who is less private and/or modest.
And that's a rule we can all agree upon.
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