My 3 1/2-year-old son and his dad (my husband) took a shower together about two weeks ago. We think it is acceptable since they are the same gender to shower together. Our babysitter (in-home daycare) found out that they showered together and she had issues with it. It was such an issue, we stopped going to our babysitter and moved to a new daycare. Is it acceptable for a 3 1/2-year-old boy to take a shower with his dad?
From: Upset Mom, Dubuque, Iowa
Dear Upset Mom,
Good for you! Leaving that babysitter is exactly what I would have done. If she's uptight (and plain wrong) about this, what else is she uptight and inappropriate about?
A father and 3 1/2-year-old son (and mother and 3 1/2-year-old daughter) CAN shower together. OK -- wait. I take it back. The only reason it wouldn't be a good idea is if the child was unhappy or upset about it in some way. I'm guessing he thought it was fun, though.
With opposite sex parent/child nudity, there here are developmental issues that typically crop up in the 3- to 5-year-old. Your child will let you know when that is, usually by asking some pointed questions about the body of the opposite sex parent.
The rule of thumb generally is this: If you feel uncomfortable under the scrutiny or questions of your 4-year-old son/daughter of the same or opposite sex, it's time to cover up. Be matter-of-fact. Most kids won't notice that you were naked in front of them and now aren't.
If you're someone who takes baths with your opposite sex child and it starts to feel uncomfortable, wear a bathing suit. Your child will think it's fun. At some point, between 5 and 7, your child will move on to another developmental stage where he/she values privacy and the idea of sharing a bath with any parent, even with a sibling, is, well, icky.
Probably your babysitter's strong reaction has something to do with her own upbringing. Some parents simply aren't comfortable at all with nudity and pass that along, and in some families (I'm not saying hers, just in general), there is a history of abuse that makes the concept of parental/child nudity horrifying.
Because of the risk that some parents will interpret this information as license to impose themselves on their children, let's be 100 % clear: I'm talking about matter-of-fact nudity centered around dressing, undressing, and bathroom activities.
I tackled this subject in a column once. Let me share the end of it:
"At any age, though, your degree of comfort as a parent is what gets communicated. If an 8-year-old bursts in on a father who has just gotten out of the shower, a lot depends on how the father handles it.
"[My] vote is for a matter-of-fact father who reaches for the towel and says, 'How about giving me a few minutes to dry off and then you can come back and use the mirror?'"
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