Westchester County

Bathing Children and Privacy Issues

Bathing Children and Privacy Issues

As adults, our use of a bathroom is clearly a private experience. Whether toileting or bathing, we are all taught that we are entitled to complete privacy. As parents, we need to teach the lessons of privacy in all life situations to our youngsters.

We have learned that bathing and showering of children needs to be carefully considered if parents and children bathe together or if children of the opposite sex are being bathed together. Since being naked in front of others becomes an issue of sexuality at some moment in life, we offer the following article, "Bathing and Showering: Privacy Concerns," by Debra W. Haffner, M.P.H., F.S.A.M. for your consideration:

If you are like many parents, you may have questions about the sexuality issues related to bathing and showering your children. Maybe you find it convenient to bathe your young children together, or perhaps you enjoy taking leisurely baths and showers with them yourself. But probably around the time your children turn four to six years of age, you might start to worry whether or not these innocent shared baths and showers are still appropriate.

Sexual curiosity
During the preschool years, siblings, whether they are of the same or different sex, may "check out" each other's bodies in the bathtub. If you come upon your children showing each other their genitals, try to take a relaxed attitude. Take off your adult lenses. These are not two adults in a hot tub. They are two children who are displaying normal curiosity about their bodies. Instead of reacting negatively or ignoring the situation, you can use it as a teachable moment. You could say something like, "I see you both are curious about how your bodies are different.  "Aren't bodies great? But they belong to each of us, and I don't want you to touch each other's private body parts."

Bathing with parents
Baths with a parent often present a similar opportunity to talk about appropriate touching. Some parents become uncomfortable when their preschooler starts to be interested in the differences between male and female bodies, or children's and adult bodies, or when the child tries to touch Mom or Dad's breasts or genitals. This, again, is normal curiosity. There is nothing wrong with it. But it is up to you as a parent to set limits: "Those parts of our body are private, and I'm uncomfortable with you touching them."

In addition, simply teaching your child how to wash his own body reinforces this sense of ownership.You also can talk about the differences between adults' bodies and children's bodies.

Take cues from your children
In the next few years, your children are likely to become more private about their bodies, and they will probably let you know that they are not comfortable bathing together anymore. Pay attention to clues such as being unwilling to undress in front of each other, resisting bath time, or seeming embarrassed. This is a signal that the time for shared baths has come to an end.

If you find that you are uncomfortable bathing or showering with your children before they are, you can simply tell them "Now that you're growing up, it's time for you to bathe alone." Then just stop.