What is That? Practical Tips for Teaching Kids Their Real Body Part Names (VIDEO)

This article was inspired by The Suga Podcast episode with Dr. Tracie Gilbert

“What is that?”  Every parent can attest to this magical question during what is, usually shower or potty, personal time.  Truth is, these types of questions and overflowing curiosities are golden opportunities for learning.  As a board-certified pediatrician and mother, I encourage parents to foster teaching children the correct names for body parts as early as the child is able to start recalling and identifying (usually about 12-15 months old).  The body is such a testament of nature and we want children to appreciate the way it works. 

Our expert Bettina Joi McGraw, MD
Our expert Bettina Joi McGraw, MD

Avoid ornamental names like Wee Wee and Pee Pee

Where do you start?  We are mostly familiar with songs like, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.”  However, what songs like this often lack is everything in between.  Child Sexual Abuse pediatricians have advocated in the literature to be very intentional about teaching children to name their private parts first.  Specifically, children should be discouraged to use nicknames like, “Wee wee,” “Pee pee” and other ornamental names for their genitals and private areas. 

During physical examinations for my patients, I always ask and explain that I will look at their private area and that they should only allow someone to look at their private areas if given permission by mommy or daddy (or whomever their primary guardian may be).   This way, I am communicating that this area is still private, but also teaching the name of the body part. 

Parents are more effective body part naming teachers than anyone

Dr. Sandy Wurtele, a professor of psychology and associate dean at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, led an invaluable study highlighting children in Head Start and how they referred to their genital areas.  One of the most revealing points gained from this study was that Head Start students learned the correct names of private parts better from their parents than teachers.  This supports the importance of encouraging these ongoing conversations about body parts in the home.  Another illuminating finding from Dr. Wurtele’s work was that by knowing the correct names of private parts, children were less vulnerable to sexual abuse.   

Step-by-step guide to teaching naming body parts

Around 15 months of age (sometimes earlier) most children are ready to name body parts. Starting with the face is always fun because toddlers tend to have their hands near their face for various reasons (i.e. teething, finger foods, exploration).

  • Grab the child’s favorite stuffed toy animal or doll!  
  •   Start with naming the parts of the head and face, along with what the body part does.  For example, “Where are your eyes?”  Followed by, “They help you see VEGETABLES!” 
  • Move down the body from head to toe, until your child can point and name various parts without being prompted. 
  • Use their body and your body to teach body parts, as this can also serve as a time for bonding. 

Songs about body parts are both engaging and help with memory. 

  • Dance in the mirror while naming body parts, as this helps with coordination, security in body image, and teaching.  There is also one of my favorites, “Simon Says!”  “Simon says touch your stomach because it likes FOOD!” Which reiterates the general purpose the body part being named is for. 

Body parts are body parts and vagina, vulva, penis, and testicles are not bad words.

There is no right or wrong way to have fun with teaching children their body parts.  However, children are constantly absorbing the information around them.  We want to ensure we are providing the tools to confidently and articulately express their thoughts and feelings, as it relates to their bodies and their interaction with the huge world around them!

With cost-effective tools, teaching real body part names can be educational for everyone at home.

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Dr. McGraw also made this supportive video with tips on why keeping an open and honest body part dialogue with your mini is key.



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