Why Children Need to Know Correct Names for Body Parts

Written By

Shannon Wassenaar
February 23, 2024

This article has been reviewed by Nurtured First’s team of child development experts.

Linneah is a 3.5-year-old in junior kindergarten who was often picked on by the older kids on her bus because she was sensitive, shy and often cried on the drive to school.

One day, an eighth grader came up behind Linneah, pulled the hat off of her head, and took it to the back of the bus.  

“Give that back!” She cried. 

“Or what?!” One of the bullies provoked with a smug smile. 

Linneah furrowed her brow and mustered all the courage she had to shout back to the bully, “I’ll tell the bus driver, and you’ll get in trouble!”

The older kids laughed at her. The boy who stole her hat got close to Linneah’s face and whispered in her ear, “Oh ya?! Well, I’ll tell the bus driver that you touched my penis, and you’ll get in even bigger trouble!”

This interaction was scary and confusing for Linneah. She didn’t know what the bully was referring to, but she could tell by the tone of his voice that it was a bad word. 

Linneah wondered if she should tell her parents about what happened on the bus, but she worried she would get in trouble for saying that word. Linneah also feared that the bully would find out she had told on him and pick on her even more. So she stayed quiet.

This story is just one example of the ways correctly naming body parts can help empower a child – whether they’re being bullied by their peers or targeted by abusive adults. Teaching kids anatomically correct names for body parts is one way we can protect them when they’re not in our direct care. 

This blog covers three important reasons why children need to know the anatomically correct names, helpful scripts to use when teaching your kids about their body parts, and one effective tool parents can use to promote body safety for their children.

1. It Enhances Body Image, Boosts Self-Esteem & Reduces Shame

Using anatomically correct terms for body parts can greatly benefit a child’s body image and self-esteem. When parents and caregivers use proper anatomical names for genitals and private areas, it removes any sense of shame or taboo around those body parts. Children get the message that their entire body is normal and natural, which allows them to develop comfort and confidence in their physical selves. 

Rather than hinting at private parts using cute nicknames or silly made-up words, using accurate terms like “penis” and “vulva” normalizes these body parts. It signals to a child that their private parts are just another part of the human body, no different than an arm or leg. This matter-of-fact approach prevents body parts from seeming strange, embarrassing, bad or dirty. It also reduces bodily shame and promotes a healthy body image. 

As well, giving children the proper language to understand their bodies paves the way for open, judgment-free communication about sexual health. Parents can discuss puberty, reproduction and sex without stigma. This fosters a healthy sexuality in which intimacy is grounded in mutual care, consent and respect. 

When children feel ashamed or insecure about their body parts, it can prevent them from speaking up when their body parts are the target of jokes, bullying or abuse. If private parts are referred to as “naughty,” “dirty,” or “bad” words, it can stop children from feeling confident and safe to share their experiences with their caregivers. 

Related Post: Body Safety: How to Explain Private vs. Public to Kids

2. It Prevents Abuse

Teaching children the anatomically correct names for their body parts is a powerful way to help keep them safe from sexual abuse. Research shows that children who know the proper terms for their genitals and anus are less vulnerable to abuse for two key reasons:

  • Increases child’s confidence and knowledge: When children can name their private parts, it removes the shame and secrecy around those body areas. Abusers often rely on a child’s innocence, lack of knowledge and discomfort about their private parts to take advantage of them. Or, they specifically target children who appear innocent, shy and unlikely to report abuse. A child who openly uses anatomically correct terms is less appealing as a potential victim, according to the American Association of Pediatrics. The openness communicates confidence, knowledge and lack of shame – reducing their desirability and likelihood of being targeted.
  • Gives language to report inappropriate behaviour: Knowing the correct words for body parts means children have the vocabulary to articulate if someone does something inappropriate, such as receiving unwanted touch. If a child knows to call their genitals a “penis” or “vulva,” they can communicate clearly if someone tries to touch them there. This allows them to tell a parent or trusted adult if abuse occurs. 

By giving children the language and openness to discuss their private body parts, parents can significantly decrease risks and help prevent sexual abuse. Removing discomfort and secrecy is a primary way to protect kids. Correct anatomy terms are an important piece of that protection!

Related Post: A Guide to Helping Kids Respond to Unwanted Touch

3. It Improves Communication

Teaching kids the anatomically correct names for body parts improves communication in several key ways. 

First, it allows kids to ask questions and express concerns about their bodies more clearly. When children know the proper terms, they can articulate questions or issues without confusion or feeling embarrassed or ashamed. This paves the way for more open, judgment-free dialogue. For example, a child who knows the terms “vulva” and “penis” could tell their parents when and where they’re experiencing pain, irritation, or discomfort.

Second, using accurate anatomy terms normalizes these conversations within the family. Starting these conversations can be especially helpful for setting the stage for clear and open communication during puberty. With experience coming to their parents with medical questions or concerns, kids may feel more comfortable asking questions about their private parts or bringing their parents’ attention to any concerns during puberty. 

Promoting these types of conversations and approaching these topics without judgment can support and enhance communication between a caregiver and a child. 

Teach Your Child Body Safety and Consent!

Child Sleeping

When and How to Teach Kids Body Part Names

It’s ideal to start naming genitals from a young age – as early as infancy! Here are three ways to naturally incorporate teaching kids the anatomically correct names for their body parts: 

  1. Use anatomically correct names during diaper changes or potty time: 

“I have to wipe your bum and your penis before I put on a clean diaper.”

“When you’re wiping your vulva, you need to wipe front to back to keep it clean.”

  1. Use anatomically correct names at bath time: 

“Mommy is a safe person. I have to help you wash your penis until you’re able!”

“It’s time to scrub a dub! Let me see you wash your belly button, nipples, chest, armpits…”

  1. Use anatomically correct names while getting dressed:

“We have to put on a bathing suit before we can go to the beach because it’s a public place. Your bathing suit covers all of your private parts – your chest, nipples, vulva, and bum.”

“The part you’re touching is called a scrotum. Inside the scrotum are your testicles; you might have felt those, too. These are private parts, which is why we cover them before we go to play outside.”

These scripts are simple ways to incorporate the anatomically correct names for body parts into the rhythm of your day. 

You can also get creative with games and books to teach your child body anatomy. Play can be an incredibly effective way to teach kids about their body safety because play is a child’s language! Here are a few examples of playful ways to teach kids the correct names for their body parts: 

  • Create a “body parts” matching game.
  • Trace the outline of a child’s body and label the body parts together.
  • Play “body parts” Pictionary.
  • Read books that name/label body parts.

For a super helpful, stress-free way to have these conversations, check out our Body Safety Toolkit – it has over 30 pages of age-appropriate, engaging activities! 

Just like you would ask a child to label their hands, fingers, feet, and toes, invite your child to label their private parts. 

Lead by example and use the proper terms instead of silly names or made-up words for private parts. If this feels uncomfortable at first, that’s normal! Practice saying the words alone to get more comfortable.

The key is to normalize body part conversations from a young age. This builds healthy communication that will be so helpful for future talks about sex, puberty and more.

Setting the Stage

Talking about body parts young and without shame can enhance a child’s body image and boost their self-esteem – setting the stage for healthy sexual development into adolescence and adulthood. It also promotes safety and prevents abuse because it decreases vulnerability, gives a child language to report inappropriate behaviour, and makes a child a less desirable target. Body safety doesn’t have to be complicated! Parents can use playful activities and games to teach kids the anatomically correct names for their body parts and start open conversations about body safety. 

With the right tools and opportunities for practice, kids like Linneah can reduce their vulnerability, speak up to bullies, share their experiences with caregivers, and get the support they need. 

Use our Body Safety Toolkit to help your child: 

  • Learn the correct names for body parts.
  • Understand public and private spaces and body parts.
  • Say “NO” when needed.
  • Identify their personal team of safe people.
  • Understand the difference between secrets and surprises.

Check out The Body Safety Toolkit here

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    Article By

    Shannon Wassenaar
    Shannon is a Registered Psychotherapist, Content Specialist, and Highly Sensitive Parent with a passion for understanding, and promoting human relationships. Shannon holds a Bachelors degree in Psychology, and a Masters degree in Psychotherapy. She began her professional career as a trauma therapist, and continues to support families from a trauma-informed perspective. Shannon uses her knowledge and experience to create educational content for parents, and treatment plans to help families flourish. In her spare time she enjoys taking long walks, playing recreational sports, and sipping a hot latte at a local cafe.