Back to Basics… Vocabulary

This summer we are taking some time to review the basics of the Simple Truths strategy for talking to our children about sex. In Simple Truths, we focus on beginning the conversations, and preparing our families for future conversations that may be more challenging. But when our children are young and very curious, it’s the perfect time to build a foundation.

Our first step, as we have just seen in the last post, is to establish your MESSAGE. This will be the foundational image that you believe is the MOST important thing you want your children to learn about sex. See the emphasis on YOU?! This is personal to your family, and needs to reflect your values and beliefs, so only YOU can write your message.

Once you have your message (and please go back to step #1 if you do not) the next step is to consider your VOCABULARY. Parents are constantly telling their children…


Which WORDS are you using to identify their “privates”? Are you using general words like “bottom” or are you using “wingy-wangy-words” that are somewhat silly and baby sounding? Or are you using anatomically correct vocabulary? Why do we make the choices we do about this?

For some of us, we just can’t seem to say penis and vagina in front of our children. I know this was true of me. I was much more comfortable at bath time saying, “Don’t forget to wash your privates”, instead of correctly identifying them. I had to work my way into this. I finally made a compromise I could be comfortable with. I did name their parts, but went back and forth between using them specifically, and using the general term of “privates”.

For many of you, it’s not an issue at all, and you have called these parts by name from the beginning. Good for you! I would encourage all parents to evaluate your vocabulary in light of what will be valuable as you move into more in-depth conversations later on.

Another way that you might need to examine the vocabulary you use is this:  Are your words respectful? Some words like boobies or bootie are not necessarily offensive, but are they your best choice? Just something to think about. The words we use to identify something will eventually lead to the way we think about it. Are we building a foundation of respect or of casual disregard? Words matter.

When a baby is born, we are always curious…did they have a girl or a boy? With a young child, you can explain that the parents will know right away when they see the baby! How will they know? Not by looking at their eyes or hands or anything else, but God made them a boy or a girl and either gave them a penis or a vagina.

Keeping these words from our children may keep us from being embarrassed when they use them in front of our friends, or very loudly in the grocery store, but it may also eventually keep us from some important conversations that you will not want to miss.

And here is something else to keep in mind…I have been told by pediatricians that children who can properly identify their sexual parts are better able to communicate with their parents should there ever be an issue with abuse. A little girl was trying to tell her parents for weeks that a neighbor was “playing with her tutu”…the parents thought the little boy had been trying on her ballet costume. They didn’t realize that the child had named her vagina her “tutu” because she had not been given a correct name for this. This tragic situation could have been resolved or perhaps even prevented by some simple conversations and proper vocabulary. 

Do a vocabulary check this summer…are my words the ones that will be helpful in future conversations? Are they respectful? It’s so much easier to make these adjustments while your children are young.


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