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When your child develops modesty, you need to respect that

When my child first wanted to bathe alone, I almost brushed it off. Now I’m so glad that I didn’t.

When kids develop modesty, it’s kind of a surreal experience. Not long ago, it seems, your daughter was perfectly happy to go commando in any situation, and your son told anyone who would listen that his penis was stuck to his leg. Then one day they want you to let them dress themselves and tell you not to look.

When my own daughter started to want her privacy, I wasn’t totally sure how to react. First I thought that maybe she felt ashamed of her body, so I tried to drive the point home that there wasn’t anything shameful about it. That’s when I learned that she’d developed something else: her eye-rolling ability. Which she used frequently along with a very ‘tude-infused, “I know Mom, jeez.”

Out of practicality, I almost didn’t let her bathe or toilet alone when she first asked because I can tell you firsthand that butt-wiping is not a skill that a child easily masters. How could I be sure that she was really getting clean? I decided to back off anyway, and after some more thought, I’m really glad that I did.

I didn’t grow up with a huge sense of modesty, because there were way too many of us. In high school I shared a home with 11 other girls, and with only three showers, anyone squeamish about having someone else see their boobs was bound to get natural-selected. Only the brazen survived.

So my daughter wanting me to back off confirmed something I’d always suspected. Kids are like whole other people with their own sets of likes and dislikes. It’s freaky.

By letting her shower alone, dress alone, poop alone and insist on using public toilet stalls alone, two very important things happened inadvertently.

First, I was able to convey something that I thought was important but didn’t know how to approach; that she, and only she, is in charge of what happens with her body. If I ignored her requests to be autonomous when it came to her nakedness, that would be a pretty bad lesson. You’re in charge of yourself until someone with authority says otherwise, kiddo, sorry. I might not feel self-conscious about my own body, but who am I to tell her that she’s wrong if she is? If I respect her privacy, hopefully she’ll demand that of other people in her life, too.

Second, and this is very important, was the lesson that you had to give what you got. If she wanted to bathe alone, then that had to be the end of barging in on my showers or bathroom breaks to ask for carrot sticks or where the super glue was. It was basically a deal breaker.

If your kids are little and you can’t slip off to pee without an entourage yet, let me assure you that it gets better. Oh, so much better.

More on kids and privacy

Should your kids see you naked?
Are parents dressing their daughters like tramps?
Tracking your children — smart or invasive?

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