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Child Caring

Mom taken by surprise by the 'Do I have a vagina?' question

Hello,
My daughter (first grade) asked me if I have a vagina. Boy, was I surprised! I guess I sputtered. We have never used that word with her. After a fashion, I said yes, all girls have a vagina. She said, I thought so. (!) Then I asked her where she learned that. She named a playmate. I don't think of us (myself and my husband) as prudes (at all!) but this made me wonder what else she's learning from children her age. Yikes. What's appropriate? What should I be telling her? I learned a lot from my friends, too, but not when I was 6.
From: Flustered, Chicago

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Dear Flustered,

Since we live in an in-your-face popular culture where there isn't much left to the imagination, many parents prefer to be the provider of information. That lessens the chance of kids getting inaccurate or frightening information, gives you a chance to attach your family's values to the information, and increases the chance that you will be their "go-to" person for all their questions. I'm all for that, as long as it's done in an age-appropriate way.

For instance, I can't think of any reason why a child shouldn't know the name of genitalia in the same way they know nose, mouth and armpit. Girls have a vagina. Boys have a penis. That's accurate information and if you are matter-of-fact about it, they will be, too. Having a negative association with a body part is a learned response.

Here's what I urge you to keep in mind: Just because she's learned a new word that names a body part does not mean she's learned anything else about that body part. If you want to know, ask her, "Tell me what you know about a vagina." The "tell me what you know about...." language is always a good way to get into your kid's head because it lets you know where they are coming from without providing any unnecessary or age-inappropriate information.

Whatever you do, I recommend telling her, "I'm glad you asked me that question. I'm always happy to answer your questions. If I don't know the answer, I'll find out." The younger your child is when you start sending that message, the more likely she will come to you as she gets older, when having a window into her life gets harder.

By the age of 6, I suggest a child has an age-appropriate understanding of where babies come from. Get it here: "Where Did I Come From?" by Peter Mayle. Also recommended: : "Talk to me first, Everything you need to now to become your kids' go-to person about sex" by Deborah Roffman;