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Today's Family Man: The modesty issue

A forward-thinking father wrote to me with a question about nudity. Specifically, he explained that when his wife is naked, his young children (a two-and-half-year old girl and 15-month old boy) don't really notice much. Yet when he closed the door to the bathroom to shower, the kids want to get in and see what he's all about. He wonders, "When should we draw the boundary in terms of modesty?"

Be aware of kids' curiosity
Marking the line on being naked in front of the kids is a very personal thing. The fact that the man's wife is comfortable being unclothed around them is fine, especially at their ages. With his daughter, his wife shouldn't really have concerns about being modest for quite some time, if ever. With his son, his wife doesn't have to consider modesty until he shows a change in his view of her. This change involves consistent curiosity in his wife's anatomy as opposed to total disinterest. For most boys, this may happen as soon as age three or as late as age six or seven, when a lot of boys become sexually curious in an innocent way. At school age, they start to hear things from their friends and may even compare their bodies to other kids.

Note the differences between men and women
For the father, it sounds like he tends to be a bit more modest to start. This happens with many men because nakedness is not necessarily built into fatherhood the way it is for a lot of women. It may have to do with the biological connection women have as a result of carrying, delivering, and often breastfeeding a child. We, as men, have also become more aware of ourselves in an age when we are hyper-vigilant so that we will never be seen as inappropropriate in any way around our children. At the dad's kids' ages, he shouldn't have to go out of his way to not let them see him naked. They're naturally curious and their curiosity can be appeased by not trying to hide from them. Conversely, he also doesn't need to make a special effort to "show off his stuff." As with his wife's relationship with his son, the father might consider being more modest around his daughter, even as early as three years old. With his son, the situation is more flux, if not a non-issue.

Teach basic anatomy and appropriateness
In both the father and mother's cases, it's probably best to not allow the children to touch their privates, even if they ask. They can tell them to check out their own parts, preferably in the privacy of their room or bathroom. At this age, it's not necessary to break out the sex education speech, but they might need to answer basic biological questions about how pee comes out or how boys and girls are "outfitted" differently.

Modesty is an individual choice for the parent. One key to keep in mind is that we don't want to teach our children to be embarrassed by their bodies. Staying clothed in public is important (though a naked baby at the pool or beach is generally acceptable), but nudity in private can be natural, particularly around the bathtime or morning when kids are changing into their day clothes.

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