Embarrassing Kid Dilemma #432: What to Do When Your Kid Says "Penis" or "Vagina" in Public

I was in the grocery store with my two boys when one shouted to the other, "I've got a penis! You've got a penis!" Everyone in a 20-mile radius turned to look at my boys, to confirm that Yes, they each do have a penis, and then me, possibly to determine what kind of mom I was.

While the experience was horrifying at best, in the School of Parenting, I was earning an A, according to pediatrician and mom, Jennifer Shu, M.D., editor-in-chief of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Baby & Child Health.

"Parents should be matter-of-fact about names of private parts, just like we teach "nose" "eyes," and "ears," she says. "Otherwise, it can make the proper name seem taboo or dirty when it's a normal part of a person's body."

Of course, our own comfort level with those words can get in the way. I have a good friend who can barely utter the word "vagina." And because of that, her two adorable girls have started using "front butt" to refer to it. While I've taught my boys to call what will one day be the center of their universe the correct name, I've also jokingly referred to it as their Wangledoodle. For that laughable name, Shu would give me the grade of F.

That's because there's a real danger to assigning a cutesy name, says Shu. Not being serious may make kids think it's okay if someone sees or touches their private parts and also makes it harder for them to communicate in the unfortunate case of sexual abuse.

So as tough it can be for us to choke out the V and P words, we should aim to do just that. As for shouting it out in the middle of dinner with the grandparents? "It can be hard to to teach kids to understand what words are okay in public and what ones aren't," says Shu. She recommends telling them that's something that you can discuss later at home or encouraging them to use their "inside" voice. And you can always hope that Grammy and Grampy have their hearing aids turned down.

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