Are you using bath time to empower your baby? If not, you’re missing out on a major opportunity to educate and protect your little one.
The newborn/infant/toddler stage of development is a time when parents, knowingly or not, willingly or not, lay the foundation for one’s sense of sexuality, especially in the realms of effective communication and body ownership. An activity as simple as bath time can be critical in helping a child to grasp key components of sexual socialization that can equip them with the language and skills needed to communicate with others about sexuality matters, ultimately protecting themselves.
Such may include greater awareness of his or her body being violated or being able to notify an adult about sexual misconduct. Later, as a teen or full-grown, this sexual messaging can assist one in communicating about his or her boundaries and/or needs with potential romantic, sexual partners.
As thoroughly discussed in my audioguide “Who Better than You? Educating Your Child about Sex, Love & Relationships,” an effective way parents can empower their young child is by naming body parts during bath time. In doing so, it is critical that you use correct terms. This not only shows that there is no shame in any body part, but also sends the message that we value all body parts equally. It conveys the idea that all parts have names, and are good and special. Accurately naming every part, and its functions, conveys that the genitals, too, are natural and healthy.
All of this enables youngsters to feel more connected with their entire body, feeling ownership of every part. These teachable moments will complement the messaging you give your child about appropriate ways to express love and affection, allowing your youth to have a better sense “good touch/bad touch” situations.
In bathing my infant daughter, I strive to tell her what Mamma is about to do, in addition to naming parts: “Now I’m going to wash your hands with a little bit of soap… And now I’m going to clean your belly button… And now I’m going to clean the folds around your vulva with the washcloth…” From her neck to her genitals, I also let her know why I’m cleaning certain parts, e.g., we need to avoid bacteria or infection, or scrub off the diaper ointment, or keep things healthy. As a proud parent, I regularly tell her that she’s beautiful, perfect, amazing… simply because she is, and because this nurtures a positive self-image.
In drying her off, I start at her toes, naming every part as I work my way up: “Now Mamma’s drying your ankles… and the back of your knees… and your thighs… Now Mamma’s patting your bum and drying its crease… and now the area where your thighs meet the trunk of your body…” Sure, she’s weeks away from saying her first word, but she will grasp these terms one day. This routine and its language repetition are important since children often need to be told something several times before they learn.
As my daughter moves into her toddler years, as her mother and primary sexuality educator, I need to capitalize on the fact that she will be acquiring a great deal of information about proper sexual conduct around matters like touching, nudity, and the need for privacy. As at every stage of development, my goal – and that of her father’s – needs to be cultivating her sense of self-worth, including taking good care of her body. Bath time, as well as potty training, will continue to allow us to send messages around body ownership and pride with “name it” games like “Where is your urethral opening? What does it do?”
Ultimately, it is our hope that she won’t feel any shame or guilt about her body parts or their functions. It is our hope that, as she becomes more conscious of her own body, how it appears to others and how it functions, our teachings will help to buffer any negative messaging. It is our hope that our daughter will feel good about her body, better equipped to protect and express herself at every stage of her development and as an adult.