One of the things I hope for Dylan is that he grows up with a positive view of his body and the bodies of those around him and that he grows up with a healthy view of sex and his sexuality. As he gets older, those two things will diverge into different, huge topics, but here in his infancy they are close to the same thing. A positive view of the body sets the stage for healthy sexuality later on.
Nurturing a positive view of the body takes many forms with an infant because caring for a baby is already so physical.
Naming Body Parts: There are ample opportunities to talk about Dylan’s body parts with him, such as when we play tickling and “I’ve got your…” games and when I’m changing his diaper or clothes while talking about what I’m doing. It’s easy to name nose, arms, legs, feet, toes, and belly. I try to branch out, too, and point out the wonderful variety of the body. Elbows, thighs, neck, shins, calves, chest, back, cheeks, palms, soles, knees, etc. There’s so much detail to the body, and I like to point out and help enjoy all of it.
Naming ALL the Body Parts: Since we do so much naming of body parts with kids, it stands out if we can’t talk about their genitals as well. When I babble at Dylan while putting on his shirt, “Over your head, right arm in a sleeve, now left arm,” it means something if I don’t also talk about what I’m doing when I put on his diaper. It’s true that he doesn’t understand many of my words yet, but babies understand a lot more than we give them credit for, and they are always learning about what we say and do and what we don’t say and do. So when I’m changing Dylan’s diaper or bathing him, I talk about his genitals in the same happy tone that I talk about his toes when I put his socks on or his neck when I wash it.
Choosing Language: I don’t call Dylan’s toes his tinky-tees; I don’t call his nose his nee-nee; I don’t call his elbow his “over there”. It’s important to get used to calling genitals real words, too. I’m used to saying penis and vulva, but I trip over “testicles” and sometimes just say “balls”. I also use butt(hole) and ass(hole), since “buttocks” and “anus” are odd words to me. I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to use the “proper” terms, as long as the words aren’t baby talk or based in embarrassment. Infancy is the best time to start saying the words you want to use, so that you can say them with ease when your kid is old enough to know what you’re talking about and interpret your discomfort.
Touch: It’s important for me to be comfortable touching Dylan’s body parts. I don’t squirm or hurry when I wash his face, and there’s no need to squirm or flinch away when I’m washing the rest of his body, either. It’s also important that he be allowed to touch his own body. If he wants to pick his nose or play with his genitals or pull on his ear, that’s completely his business.
Respect: I already wrote about consensual parenting, which dovetails with healthy sexuality and body positivity. I view Dylan’s body as belonging to him, which it does. I seek his permission when I interact with his body as much as I can. He’s gotten old enough that when I indicate I want to pick him up, he reaches back to me which is really clear communication that he agrees to be picked up. I love that this kind of consent can be present in our relationship.
Comfort With Myself I am comfortable with my own body. I am as naked around Dylan as I was comfortable being naked before Dylan. I am comfortable naming my own body parts when Dylan touches them. I speak positively about my body. If I hadn’t already, now would be the time to stop any leftover negative body-talk such as discussing weight, the “need to exercise”, guilt words associated with food, etc.
Expressing Boundaries: I also express boundaries about my body. I say, “Don’t grab my eye!” and I move Dylan’s hands away from my face. Even as physically close as Dylan and I are right now, it’s okay – good, even – for me to express physical boundaries between us. We can begin to share a physical respect that goes both directions.
What other ways can you think of to encourage a positive view of the body with a baby?