How to Talk with

Talking with Toddlers (1 to 3 Years)

As toddlers grow and become more verbal, help them understand the names for their body parts. Yes, all of their body parts. Teach them to use words like “penis,” “vagina,” “breasts” and “bottom.” Avoid nicknames to avoid confusion later on. Nicknames also create a stigma that these body parts are inappropriate and should not be talked about. In reality, we want our children to grow up feeling comfortable saying these words and speaking openly about sex and their bodies.

Learning “No.”

For many toddlers, “NO!” is a favorite choice of word. In helping them understand their bodies and personal boundaries, teach them that “no” is a good word. Teach them that they are allowed to say no to an unwanted touch, hug, etc. Teach them to say no if somebody is doing something that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. They are the boss of their own body.

Curiosity & imagination

Toddlers are often very curious, and once you teach them about body parts such as a penis or a vagina, they may have many questions about them. They may want to know, “Does Daddy have a penis or a vagina?” or “Does the cat have breasts?” Help children feel comfortable asking these questions by answering them accurately and honestly. Do your best not to make them feel ashamed or silly for asking.

Sometimes there are even bigger questions that can lead to some imaginative ideas. Maybe they think that a pregnant woman swallowed something that made her stomach swell as opposed to there being a baby inside. While this is normal, it is still important to speak accurately with toddlers and help dispel any myths. Being clear and specific is crucial at this age as toddlers tend to take things very literally.

Modeling behavior

Even before children are verbal, they can begin to understand behavior through modeling. Model affection and touch with your spouse, partner or friend. Ask for permission before giving a touch so that toddlers can learn that permission must be received before touching someone or being touched by someone. If they ask why mommy and daddy kiss, answer them honestly. Let them make their own decision about when they receive hugs and kisses from others, including parents and caregivers.


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