As a professional who has worked with children for several years, I’ve witnessed children say some of the cutest, funniest, and even heart-melting things. I’ve also seen parents “baby talk” with their toddlers and at times even creating words that only they understand. It’s safe to say that some children’s speech is more advanced than others. However, it’s fascinating that people smile and coo over toddlers babbling fantastical words, and twist up their faces when they hear a toddler use anatomically correct words such as penis, vagina, or vulva.
I’m currently in a professional role that has taught me the importance of teaching young children the correct anatomical names for their private parts. As a forensic interview specialist who interviews children who have experienced sexual abuse/trauma, I hear it all. I hear things that make me cringe; things that make me stay awake at night, and things that make me a crazy overprotective mother. As I separate myself from work and play with my 18-month-old, we practice words. I teach him eyes, nose, mouth, ears, belly button, and penis. I have realized that saying penis to an infant/toddler may make some people uncomfortable, but that is because we live in a world that equates a penis with sex.
The same way that I don’t make up any nicknames for other parts of my child’s body, I don’t find the need to make up a word for his penis. (I have a newborn baby girl and she will call her vagina and vulva exactly what they are… a vagina and vulva!) My number one reason for this is that there will never be any confusion or misunderstanding about anything happening to their penis, vagina, or vulva. Here’s the thing, there are perpetrators who specifically target younger children. They target the younger children because they assume the children will not be able to tell what happened to them. Let me tell you, I have interviewed children as young as 2 years old who have disclosed some form of sexual abuse.
Now the names of private parts that my co-workers or I have heard young kids say (pocketbook, cookie, nasty-nasty, wee-wee, pussy, sugar basket, one-eyed monster, dick, etc.) sometimes leave me wondering how children learn to call their private parts these names. Defense attorneys will argue that the child victim is confused about what they are saying and someone’s freedom should not hang on the words of a small child who is not educated on proper body part names. When children say these names to us we show them a drawing and ask them to point to that part as extra support to their statement. Overall, we do what we are trained to do and that is to obtain a statement that can be held up at court.
Some children don’t understand that what an adult is doing to them is wrong. Most times its done to them by someone they know or trust. So the sooner you teach your child that their penises and vulvas aren’t to be touched, the sooner they know and chances are they will tell you someone is hurting them. As a mother, I will always advocate for other parents to teach their young children correct anatomical names. As a professional, I will keep reaching out to help others understand the necessity of teaching young children to say penis and vagina. I attended a training on child sexual abuse, and in this training, they shared the story of a young girl 3-4 years old who told her teacher that her belly hurt because her uncle kept giving her cookies. That statement didn’t seem out of the ordinary to the teacher. Much later they discovered “cookies” is what the uncle called his penis. I can’t imagine how that teacher felt, but I’m sure the teacher would have done something or said something if the girl had said my stomach hurts because my uncle keeps giving me penis. The accuracy can make all the difference.
Hello! my name is Leslie Santos. I have my Master’s degree in Family and Child Sciences which has placed me in a career I am passionate about. I’m a bilingual forensic interview specialist. I love working with children and my most important job is being a mom! 🙂