Are breasts rude?
My son, like always, tumbled out of school amidst a blizzard of books and sheets of paper. Face smeared with dinner and a toothy grin, his cast off jumper trailed behind him. In his even filthier hand was clutched a crumpled little blue drawing of my partner and me. He doesn't draw often. It was presented with a shy pride in the way that turns my heart to Play-Doh.
The man was tall with big round glasses. And me? I was penned with long hair, red crayon skin, and a smile. A fridge worthy masterpiece, we giggled at it together. On the drive home he started staring at it and then said, 'I did a bad thing today.' I asked him to tell me more about what had happened, expecting imprudent dabbing in assembly, or licking of walls, etc. The usual. He told me sadly that he had been made to draw his lovely picture twice.
'Because I drew you with boobies and my teacher told me off.'
He then burst into tears. My little rapscallion is many things, finds lots of ways to be cheeky. LOTS. But this was not one of them. He was really confused about why trying to draw an anatomical 'mummy' was wrong. My partner was drawn with a beard. I guess one of my focus features for him is my breasts. Pammy Anderson eat your heart out. Talking, I explained that the teacher thought he was being rude. Offensive isn't yet in his vocabulary. I struggled to find the words to explain what is acceptable. He responded that he didn't draw Stu with a willy because that's his privates but boobs are for mummys and mummys do feeding. He then asked if baby feeding was rude. The shame in his innocence almost had me in tears too.
'Of course not darling.' But then again, some would disagree.
What are we teaching children about bodies?
The world, and society is full of confusing messages. I want my son to be body positive, to respect others' bodies, to not feel shame and to respect privacy. No one gives you a manual on how to instil this in your children.
Last week he made a Wii character he lovingly entitled 'big, fat mummy'. He was being descriptive but not intentionally hurtful. We spoke about how I felt when he said that, how even if we don't mean to we can upset someone. The other day he took his glasses off and told me glasses make him ugly. My insides crumbled. I said no one is ugly and explained how amazing they are for helping him see.
Ugly is an ugly word for a six year old to understand.
We stuck stickers on them and he laughed. It is fascinating and terrifying seeing a child's opinions and thought processes form then knowing that a good share of this you are guiding. I killed my cactus so shaping a person terrifies me.
Your body belongs to you.
When I was young we had one bathroom so used to wonder in when my mum was in the bath. I still do when I am home. Poor woman she never had a moment's privacy. I don't remember the shift when my brother stopped. Maybe eight? Maybe younger. Neither a prude nor liberal, she let us play in the stream in only our pants and did not shout at us if we wondered in her room if she was halfway through getting dressed.
At what age does it become inappropriate to shower or bathe with your child? Two, five, seven . . . never?
It is a personal choice - you will get many answers. I breastfed for a bit. Bathed with my son till he was three. He walks in when I'm on the toilet or getting dressed to have a casual conversation about Lego or the Jurassic period. Or how an astronaut would clean his space suit if he sneezed. We don't lock doors, but if they are closed we do encourage him not to enter. Most of the boundaries we have in our house naturally developed. As a single parent previously, most were out of necessity, no one could supervise him whilst I showered, it saved time to have him in with me. I stopped bathing with my son when he started creating brown bath submarines, it was also a good time to start promoting independence.
What is THAT mummy?
It is normal for kids to be curious about body parts and that those body parts have names. About physical differences between men and women. When they ask, do not be embarrassed, accept a child's natural curiosity. How you respond is dependent on how comfortable you are and they are. Your child will give you cues. There is a BIG difference between modesty and discomfort about your own body. At three we started telling my son that his willy was his private parts. When the other day he walked in as I was in my bikini, giggled and asked if he could kiss my wobbly bum I said no. Then I said why. No is still no, but an answer full of kindness and information helps my son understand that he needs to listen to my choice. By explaining that I would love a kiss on my cheek instead offers reassurance.
Call your children beautiful, teach them to be respectful of their own bodies, yours and others. Don't tell boys off for drawing boobs, but instead explain why they are natural for feeding, but also a private part of a woman's body. That can link to conversations about good and bad touch, boundaries. CONVERSATIONS are what we need to be having. Not saying no and not saying why. Be open.
If we make or children feel shame about body parts at six, how will they feel at sixteen?
What does your child draw then they see you? How do you teach your child self-confidence and about boundaries? Do you think there is an age where children should not see you naked and is this gender dependent?