Wednesday, July 11, 2012


How to Talk to Your Average Four-Year-Old

One night when I was 19, I baby-sat a four-year-old girl named Amy (whose name has been changed). Amy had recently discovered genitals and their inherent hilariousness. Not surprisingly, this topic dominated the evening’s conversation. After Amy got ready for bed, she said, “Guess what I’m wearing under my pajamas?” I guessed — naively, I’ll admit — “Underwear?” She said “No! Nothing!” then pulled down her pajama bottoms and laughed hysterically.

At another point during the night, she asked me, “Want to see my privates? It’s okay, because we have the same body!” A fair point.

I considered her question. My first impulse was to shout “NO! DON’T!” and run out the door. I could head for the border and start a new life, free from children and their uncomfortably real genitalia. But as someone who prides herself on her feminist beliefs, the last thing I wanted to do was recoil — accidentally teaching a little girl to feel bodily shame is pretty much my greatest fear.

This greatest fear was at odds with my other greatest fear: coming off as a creep who likes looking at naked kids. At what point, I wondered, would I become the creepy one in this situation? Where was the line between simply refraining from telling her to stop, and actively taking part in looking at a naked kid? What if it didn’t bother me that much? Was that the same as enjoying it? I was pretty sure that just thinking about this was illegal. 

I considered how it would sound if told a friend the story. “I was baby-sitting a little girl, and she showed me her vagina. What could I do? I just stared at her intently, saying nothing.” There had to be some sort of law about looking at a child’s genitals for longer than some amount of time, child pornography legislation being what it is. I didn’t know at what point this became illegal — not to mention traumatic, oh God  — and I was terrified of crossing that point unknowingly.

Having obviously paused for way too long, I eventually said, “No thanks, not right now.”

I can’t say this response makes a lot of sense. I have yet to think of a scenario in which I would cash such a rain check. But at this point, I was banking on Amy forgetting about this conversation in five minutes (a fairly safe gamble with four-year-olds).

I shouldn’t have been surprised that her answer was “Too late!” accompanied by another giggly brandishing of her genitals, which I was becoming all too familiar with.

A better grown-up would have told her, “It’s not okay to show someone your privates if they’ve told you they don’t want to see them.” Sure, I considered saying that (years later). But the realist in me, the one who had to deal with the kid for the rest of the night, laughed and said, “Good one!”


Allegra Ringo lives in Los Angeles and writes for the sketch show Top Story Weekly. In her free time, she enjoys cuddling small dogs and discussing the finer points of sparkling water.

138 Comments / Post A Comment


As a parent, I think the time to cash in that rain check is when they refuse to take a bath.

Which is a whole 'nother can of worms. "Am I washing this child's genitals too much? Not enough?"


I think you're great @a


I was once babysitting for a girl who was about nine at the time; she asked me at one point "Do you call your peach a foo-foo?". WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THAT?


@Verity (Other than "no, I don't", I mean. It was awkward.)


@Verity I am still laughing out loud at this. It's like a foreign language, yet somehow makes sense.


@Verity That kid is AWESOME. I'm definitely going to start calling my peach a foo-foo.

saul "the bear" berenson

@Verity I'm thinking all kinds of horrible "little bunny foo-foo" thoughts now.



...and I'm eating a lovely peach


@Moxie Picking up the field mice and bopping them on the head never sounded so inappropriate before...


@Verity Argh, I just saw her on the train on the way to work this morning! I hadn't seen her in years. And now she's 16 and was talking about boyfriends, and it was all so weird.

Pipi Longstocking

@Verity My little sister (who is 13 years younger) began calling her vagina her 'Hoochi Mama' when she was 3 or 4. My mom and I laughed so hard the first time that it stuck - which was totally fine except when she referred to it in her preschool class. We are still unsure where the initial reference came from.


I babysat my then 5 year old niece and 2 year old nephew a few years ago, and after bath time, I had my niece go to her room and put her PJs on while I wrestled her brother into his. I went to check on her, and caught her standing naked in front of her full length mirror, just checking herself out, admiring. It was hilarious (she was so serious!), nice to see how happy she was with her body (little satisfied smile!) and somewhat disturbing.

It veered into Totally Disturbing when she turned to me and said, "Auntie, I am sexy?" Being the mature, responsible, rational adult that I am, I yelled, "YOU ABSOLUTELY ARE NOT YOU ARE A LITTLE GIRL WHO HAS BEEN TELLING YOU THAT YOU ARE SEXY?! I WILL KILL THEM DEAD RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND!!!!!" (I really didn't say the part about killing them but it was on the tip of my tongue).

Yep, I handled that one just right, I'm sure.

Jane Marie

@Bebe LOL awwww poor girl :(


@Bebe For what it's worth, answering the question with a question, as in "What does the word sexy mean?" and a genuinely quizzical expression usually works well. You're likely to get back an answer like, "Pretty, it means really pretty", to which you can say, "Well of course you're pretty, but even better, you're super smart and fun and really great at building stuff with lego's...". It took me a while to learn that kids using inappropriate words have their own idea of what these words mean, and it's a good way to dodge and encourage replacement words that won't get an awkward note sent home from the teacher.


@MoonBat OMG. THIS IS PERFECT. WHY IS THIS NOT TAUGHT IN "So you have to be around small children 101"????


Related: I am terrible with children. I spend a lot of time talking to them like adults who are bad at linear conversation.


@MoonBat That's brilliant.


@Bebe I've been there and answered with the crankypants "Nope. Only grownups can be sexy. Sexy is just a grownup things for grownups"

sarah girl

@MoonBat For real, the secret to dealing with crazy kid questions is just to turn them right back around. "You know, I'm not sure - what do you think about that?" "What do YOU think would happen if the moon was 500 times bigger?" "Have you asked your mom/dad about that?"

This has the added bonus of helping them develop their imaginations and critical thinking skills!

Edit: Also, this encourages kids to keep asking questions and sharing their opinions, which is SO important and sadly often shut down at a fairly early age. If you respond to a weird question by saying "ugh, I don't know, stop asking," you're essentially saying "what you have to say isn't important to me/the world."


@MoonBat so true, about inappropriate words.

FOR EXAMPLE... my niece, who just turned 5, was talking to me about her brother, who is 18 months. She said "he always jacks me up!" to which I replied "huh, what do you mean by that?" then she said "you know, he makes THAT FACE and I just laugh and laugh and laugh."

kids, right?


@OhShesArtsy Full Disclosure: I have five kids, ranging in age from 23 to 8, it's hard-won advice, I promise. Many a note sent home. Like one from an Episcopal preschool, where my son apparently warned another child that if he kept being bad, "My mom will kick your ass!". And a confused note from a teacher who wanted to know what I do for a living, since my son told her that I was a "stalk maker". I'm not sure whether she thought maybe I grew weed for a living or what, but I explained that I was a stockbroker, which is sort of hard for a kindergartner to explain.


@Jane Marie I know!!!! Worst Aunt Ever. I was watching a lot of L&O: SVU re-runs back then, and my mind went to the worst possible explanation. Luckily, she is in middle school now, and still convinced that she is the hottest thing since sliced bread - she has more confidence and higher self-esteem at 11 than I have now, thank god. (for the record - she'd heard it from some song that was on the radio, and it was her new favorite word, information her parents failed to provide!)

@MoonBat - that is exactly what my sister said I should have done when I told her. Where were you, my sister, and @Jesslyn six years ago?????



I will always think of you as making stalks.

Someone has to do it!


@atipofthehat I do, I make the stalks. I make ALL the stalks. Someone has to.


@MoonBat My dad has one of those executive-type jobs that are both impossible for kids to understand/describe, and sounds totally boring when grown ups try to explain it. I knew that he wore suits and traveled a lot, sometimes to Texas, and that his friends said he looked like Larry Hagman.

So I told my teacher my dad worked at Ewing Oil.


@atipofthehat Busted. That is a good picture of me, though. When was it taken, I wonder? I was being so careful, I thought...


@Bebe when a dear friend was in kindergarten, her father tried to teach her that his job was "helping the running dogs of capitalism get rich and profit off the sweat of the working man." Kindergarten is a little young for that degree of Marxist awareness, though, so she usually mumbled something like, "oh, he takes dogs for runs and also sweats. with men."


My dad worked in printing when I was a kid and did something called stripping. So he was a stripper.
I had a general idea of what this implied, so I loved answering the "And what does your Daddy do?" question in class and watching reactions.


@atipofthehat You traverse a mysterious Soviet industrial-mystical wasteland for a living??


@MoonBat Whoa. You have FIVE kids?! And you're a stock broker?! And have time to give us, wimps, advice?!

I am... in awe.


@ColdFingers You're super sweet, and flattery will get you everywhere, but only two of my baby bats are still at home, the older three have grown up and moved off to their own caves!
Also, being a broker/financial manager isn't frantic if you do it to make money for your clients instead of just yourself. Nothing like the movies. It's quite sedate, most days. I'm ok with having a small cave and being able to look at myself in the mirror. Would be even better if idiots like Madoff didn't have to make the entire industry look greedy.


@MoonBat My boss was in finance for a long time, and because it was hard for him to explain to his daughters, he just told them he drove a garbage truck. He said when they were old enough to realize that wasn't true, they were really disappointed.


@SarahP That's awesome!
.... I think I probably would be disappointed, too. A friend of mine tells everyone that he pumps gas for a living...he runs the pumping control stations along the Alaskan Pipeline.
And that's probably only funny to Olds like me, since there are no full service gas stations anymore.



Except for every single one in New Jersey, by law!


@atipofthehat Really? Not just the "if you are handicapped honk horn and an attendant will be out to assist you" signs?


@OhShesArtsy et al.: As an only child who never babysat much, I'm taking frantic notes about all of this.



They pump the gas, but you have to show green to get the windows washed. Apparently Oregon is the same!


@atipofthehat Oregon: full-service gas stations *and* cheap gas (at least in PDX)


@ThatWench As a Californian whose mom lives in Washington now, it always alarms to to cross into Oregon and -have to- deal with full service at the gas stations. "But--no--just let me--I can do it--do I tip you??? Ahhhhhhh." That times infinity forever, which is why I just fly these days.


@frigwiggin But it's so nice in the winter! I got spoiled in NJ with cheap gas and full service. Only downside was a good number of gas station attendants would try to chat me up by asking "are you married?"


When I was a teenager, I babysat for a 5-y.o. girl who went through a naked phase. She wanted to be naked all the time. I managed to keep her inside the house, but I could not convince her to keep her clothes on indoors. After awhile I just went with it. But I did make sure to close ALL the blinds, curtains, etc. Did not want neighbors to see me sitting there on the couch while a naked kid cartwheeled through the living room.


@Kivrin ohhhh my brother went through that phase. i have a distinct memory of him chasing my friends around my front yard completely in the buff, and once finally corralled into the house, opened the front hall curtains wide open and stood there dancing around attempting the helicopter for all his little weenie was worth

... he was like 8 at the time


@redheaded&crazie I may or may not still be in that phase. I generally stay in the house, though.


@Xanthophyllippa Me too!


@Kivrin My cousin's son did this to my grandparents... at the playground. He stood at the top of the slide and started taking his clothes off and flinging them down with a grand flourish. It ended abruptly when my grandfather marched up the slide and carried him like a football to the car.

Judith Slutler

@Kivrin I think all kids do this. Last Christmas I went out for coffee with my oldest BFF and her mom, and her mom reminisced about how from the ages of 2-4, every time the two of us little girls went out in the backyard we would immediately throw off our clothes and run around naked.


@Emmanuelle Cunt If my family's photos are accurate, I'd say that phase lasted from about birth to 9 in our household.


@Ophelia When my three sisters and I were little, we would all have to take a bath together at the end of the day. As a prelude to this, we would all tear off our clothes and race around the house screaming "I HAVE A TUSHIE! I HAVE A TUSHIE!" at the top of our lungs. It was awesome.


@Kivrin I remember doing this as a child. I would race around naked and strike heroic poses pretending to be a superhero.


@Kivrin My youngest brother (now 6) has been in a naked phase his whole life. When he was about 3, he liked to take off all of his clothes in his bedroom, then run into the kitchen (or wherever everyone else was) and shout, "Naked baby!"


@Kivrin My almost-3 year old nephew is currently in the naked phase. My sister sent me a video of him, with just a diaper on, doing the Naked Booty dance. Apparently it's now a bedtime ritual, except he's normally completely naked. He came down after nap time and told my sister that his diaper, and all of the rest of his clothes, came off while he was sleeping.

Plant Fire

@Kivrin ahhh I went through this faze and...kind of never left it. I used to get in trouble for wandering through the house naked even in early middle school. Eventually I learned to get a hold on it and only be naked in my bedroom and to be naked under just like, a bathrobe the rest of the time but I still wish I could just be naked everywhere.


@Kivrin My sister and I went through that phase!! It mostly took hold when we were by the ocean - skinny dipping, and then running around naked after showers screaming "I'm a naked baker without a towel!!" I have literally no idea how we came up with this.


I think you are actually a very good grownup.


I even get freaked out when my bestie and her fam and I go swimming together - OMG I'm standing here next to a 16-year-old girl in a swimsuit to whom I am not related!! IT'S NOTHING I SWEAR!!

At the same time, though, when said bestie and her family were over for dinner a few years back, her son started stripping down while running around the room. She looked at him evenly, then turned to me and said, "You don't care if he runs around with his penis flapping, right?" and I just shrugged and said, "Nah," and she said, "Cool." The kid ended up keeping his undies on, but I figured if she didn't care if he wanted to be naked, then I shouldn't care either.


I have spent SO MUCH TIME thinking about how I will differentiate "private" from "dirty" or "shameful" to my future kid(s?). It is really ingrained in the culture (at least where I grew up) to force kids to cover up/not touch themselves by saying that their genitals are dirty, I fear the day a well-meaning (?) older relative tells one of mine that. What do I say? How do I explain that body shame is terrible?



@OhShesArtsy not just in this regard but in basically everything - can i just raise my children in a vaccuum from the rest of my family and all of society? great, thanks!

(ack kinda harsh on my family ... let's stick with just all of society for now)

Harriet Welch

@OhShesArtsy SO difficult!
A family I nannied for seemed to have found a solution that worked for them.
They said that their bedroom and bathroom were private and anything around other people is public. In private you can be as dressed or undressed as you want. In public, the law says we wear clothes.
It was always just NBD.
I also liked how they did the "Don't let people molest you" but not "Ima scare the fuck out of you". The rule was no one was allowed to touch your "bathing suit parts". Any parts covered by your bathing suit were for you and you alone.
(Lower elementary aged kids. Glad I got out before any sex stuff started having to happen)


@OhShesArtsy God, it is! I can barely decide what kind of cat food to get if the store is out of the usual stuff; how does anybody successfully shepherd other human beings into (relatively) functional adulthood?!

Jenna Q

@OhShesArtsy When I was little, my parents called penises and vaginas your "business". Because it was your business and nobody elses.


Ha! Oh man. I currently babysit 3 nights a week on average (and have been babysitting since I was 12). So I have dealt with close to 50 families worth of children's wildly un-kosher questions and behavior. I had a little boy who was obsessed with butts, so I quickly learned to stop wearing skirts to their house. I had another little girl who was constantly talking about/flashing her genitals and proudly told me how she likes to pee standing up. I have heard so many unintentionally un-PC things come out of kids' mouths about sex, slavery, tampons, homosexuality, etc.

These 12 years worth of experiences have made me a pro at talking to kids about uncomfortable stuff, and it kind of boils down to letting them say (or do) their piece (because they'll usually do it anyway), and then afterward explaining in a very friendly manner why what they said or did might make someone uncomfortable or how there are other ways to do or say it or simply just asking them what made them say or do it, and then addressing that point.

Kids: I love them so much for giving me the best (funniest) stories and for teaching me a type of communication that is invaluable.



Now I know why you're so patient with me.


@atipofthehat Ha! I am not sure if that is sarcasm (Internet: perpetuating the inability to read tone/emotions in text). I do apologize for snapping at you on Monday. It was a rough day.

But - I am definitely way more patient with children than with adults, because adults don't have the luxury of not knowing any better.



Not sarcasm, appreciation. Thanks!

Daisy Razor

@olivebee Aw, telling them that their topic of choice might make other people uncomfortable is a great solution because it starts to teach empathy, which kids are so notoriously bad at, those adorable little sociopaths.


@olivebee Nah, atipofthehat has a great heart, regardless of sarcasm. Tippy doesn't do "mean", the sarcasm is just for fun.


i remember this all so vividly from my own childhood. kids do weird things. i had a male friend in preschool who used to take turns showing his penis/my vagina for a very quick few seconds at a time with me, for absolutely no reason i remember. our moms caught us once and i remember leaving immediately and never hanging out with him again.

with my girl friends, i remember talking about touching ourselves. we would do it in bed at night or in the shower or bath and talk about it with each other during the day - what it looks like, how our vaginas react. we had no idea what sex was, so i literally mean touching, looking - driven solely by curiosity. one girl came in to school crying one day because her mom caught her and screamed at her, telling her never to do it again.

and once, the most dramatic of them all - my best friend and i touched our vaginas together. we were ages 5 and 6. a few years after, i started to have serious anxiety caused by what i was learning in Sunday school at the time. there were multiple reasons for this, like that my parents are atheists and didn't enforce any of the roman catholicism that was being regularly beaten into my head while in weekly church class, but i think honestly the tipping point was reading in our textbook that being gay was wrong in the eyes of god. i had a huge fear of going to hell already, because of the way they presented it, because of a teacher telling me one time that since she never saw my mom in church, my mom could go to hell when she died - ploying me to encourage my parents to start attending church. but all that hit me was that because of that one time years ago with my friend, i must be a lesbian and was going to hell for it.

i started praying every night for god to make me straight, erase that day from my memory, and not let my parents disown me if he made me stay gay.

now, grown up, the entire thing is absurd. i remain very close friends with the girl i'm talking about, and we have never discussed that happening when we were children. i have a feeling she doesn't remember it.

and although i eventually found myself attracted to men, i hit puberty super late and wasn't really sexually attracted to either gender for a long time, while all my peers were. i had decided i hated the church and children are just curious and knew the whole thing was crazy, but i had a huge lingering feeling of guilt and doubt for years. /end rant.

eva luna


Speaking as someone who comes from a family full of experts on children, your (and your friends') behavior was totally normal. I did very similar things when I was small and, although I never got caught, I too felt very ashamed. What's strange, though, is that my parents wouldn't have been upset at all. They probably would have told me it wasn't a good idea in public while trying to stifle their amusement.

I'm glad that your feelings of lingering guilt are gone!


@itiresias I'm so confused as to why your parents would send you to catechesis. Talk about conflicting messages! (also I love your name!)


@itiresias thank you! and my catholic grandma is the only person in the family who cares. my parents grew up in religion-based families, but...didn't follow it, but it was normal to them to have some background. plus, i was her first grandchild, and she's a pushy lady and wasn't about to see me grow up a heathen.


@itiresias Hahaha! The kids can make their decisions, but don't mess with the souls of the grandchildren! I credit Catholicism with turning my sister and me into armchair anthropologists.


My older brother went through a phase at age 8 when he liked to just shove his hands down the back of his pants and grope his own butt. My mom didn't think this was a problem until his teacher sent home a drawing he did during class that depicted a large crayon scribbled butt and the phrase "I like to touch butts" written underneath. He's 25 now and doesn't remember doing this at all!

Judith Slutler

@milkbreath This is amazing.


@milkbreath Please tell me that you have never let him live this down, and that it comes up at least 3 times at all major family events. It's just too good.


@milkbreath I hope that drawing remains on your parents' refrigerator to this day.



Faintly Macabre

@milkbreath My only memory from one of my pre-K daycares, besides wetting my pants one day, is that another tiny girl and I had an anti-butts club. The logo was a butt (like a sideways three) with a line through it. We drew it everywhere and thought it was SO FUNNY.


@Bebe Oh, I do. Every one of his girlfriends has heard of his young love of butts. He of course retaliates with the story of the time I peed my pants in the 4th grade. I had a bladder infection!! :C

@The Everpresent Wordsnatcher it mysteriously disappeared when he was in middle school!


@Faintly Macabre In fourth grade a girl wrote "sex" on the floor in black crayon. The poor teacher sat us all down and tried to explain that the word "sex" itself isn't bad, and the concept of sex is okay and natural for adults, but not for us. At the time I was embarrassed for her, later I realized how well she handled it.


Did your brother POSSIBLY grow up to... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-Sux-j1vO8 ?


OK but guys what do you do when your 18-month old girls discover your 18-month old boy's penis and think it is hilarious to grab and pull on it in the bath tub? They're like "what the hell is that? what happens when I pull on it?"

AAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUUUUGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH this is not covered in the parenting books!


@iceberg I have no idea, but that is AMAZING.


@iceberg Wait, how many 18-month-old kidlets are we talking about here?

Is it possible to convey that bodies aren't dirty or shameful, but children shouldn't grab other people's special parts?


@iceberg Laugh? Make sure to keep a mental note of it so you can embarrass them about it when they're older? (As a triplet who definitely shared baths with her siblings, I promise none of us grew up to practice incest. And yours sound hilarious.)


@iceberg I like Laurel's suggestion. Also, if the tugging is hard enough to potentially cause pain, you could say what my mom told me in a very similar situation years ago..."That area is very sensitive and you could accidentally hurt your brother so you need to stop doing that."


@LB Yeah I would be like, "You're gonna hurt him, don't do that!"


@iceberg that's tough. 18-months is a little too young for the "we each have the right to decide who touches us" and "you could hurt him" talks. What do you do when she touches other things she shouldn't, or pulls on hair or other parts in a way that hurts?

mc coolfriend

@iceberg I have two little three year olds (well, one. But I have the other one around a lot) and my girl spent a few baths SLAPPING the shit out of her little boy friends' penis b/c he had something ridiculous going on with his privates, far as she could tell. It's no different than if they are slapping each other in the head or arm, the same lesson you teach there applies here. She's a lot more aggressive than him on a whole, so the genital curiosity was kind of peripheral, it was just something else on Sammy for her to attack.


I had kind of the opposite experience in my babysitting years, in that this one little girl really wanted to see me naked/partially naked at least. I remember I was wearing a tank top and I leaned over to put a snack on her tiny little play table and she yanked down my entire shirt AND bra! When I asked her why she did that, she said "I wanted to see, my mom doesn't have those!" To be fair, her mother was a beautiful, European, waify lady who never wore a bra and would probably be something like a 32AA if I had to guess and I was...amply chested for a 14 year old. She did it again later in the evening when we were playing with dolls. Kids, man. So brazen.


@contrary This used to happen to me too with my ex's niece, who was two or three at the time. I have no idea what this was about; I certainly wasn't the most buxom woman in her life. I think I would normally just kind of pull my shirt back into place while continuing our most likely nonsensical conversation. Eventually she got over that and moved onto my collarbone... and learned the word "clavicle" in the process.

She also once marched in front of the TV while a few people were watching it (it was a big family), paused, stared at everyone, and then dramatically yelled, "I.. went... DOODY!" I believe this was right after everyone thought she was fully potty-trained, so my laughing (which was more at the theatrics of it all than it was the announcement itself) was not well received.


@Hellcat I remember my brother running into the dining room while people were visiting, standing on a chair and yelling, "The time has come!" very dramatically, and then running into the bathroom to poop.

Best dinner party ever? I think so.


@packedsuitcase That just made me cackle!


@contrary Heh. Had the same thing happen to me with a 3 year old I used to watch. Upon arrival one day:
"It's [TheLetterL]!"
"It's me! Good morning [kid]"
"And you have boobies!"
"...Uh...yeah. I do have boobies. Now, what shall we--"
"--are they big? Are your boobies BIG?"
"uh...I...think they're the right size for me. HEYLOOKOVERTHERE"

Then came the day we were driving with her mom and she leaned over and said, conversationally, "I like your boobies." Her mother freaked and launched into how that wasn't a nice thing to say, and I was like :-/


@TheLetterL Well at least she was saying she liked them. I would think things would be a little more confrontational if she said she didn't, especially in front of her mother.


I was babysitting for the first time for a family with two really cute little boys, probably 4 and 2. Everything went really well, we had a great time, they had a bath and then I read to them and put them to sleep. About ten minutes later, the four year old comes into the living room where I'm watching TV and says (I kid you NOT AT ALL): "My pee pee hurts!". AND THEN I DIED BECAUSE OH MY GOD HIS PARENTS ARE GOING TO THINK I'M A CHILD MOLESTER WHAT THE HELL AM I GOING TO DO?!?

I kept my calm, and said, "do you want to call your parents about that?" I got his mom on the phone and awkwardly explained that there was a 'problem' and that he would like to speak to her about it. It was a bladder infection. He was apparently getting them quite often, and I gave him a kid's tylenol and some water and put him back to bed. The real question, however, is: Why the hell did him mom NOT TELL ME ABOUT HIS PENIS PROBLEMS!!!

I never got another sitting job from them. And I was very happy about that.

Dirty Hands

@hotdog Your username is wicked appropriate to your story.

Mrs. Coach McGuirk

Body Shaming is one of my number one fears as a nanny/babysitter, but it's so hard!! Parents should issue memo's on how they want body issues handled! Unfortunately, they never do, and I never know what to do!

In a somewhat related note...

The WORST TIME I EVER HAD BABYSITTING, was in high school, for my English teacher. I got to her apartment, quickly met her kids, and then she ran out the door. About 10 minutes later, I realized that one of her boys DIDN'T HAVE FINGERS ON ONE HAND! And we were playing catch! I literally had no idea what was going on. I even briefly thought that he had lost the fingers in the 10 minutes since his mother had left, because WHAT KIND OF MOTHER WOULD LEAVE ME THAT UNPREPARED!? I think I was able to hide my confusion from the kids, because obviously I didn't want the kid to feel like he was weird or scary or anything, he wasn't! But I still can't believe she didn't mention anything!


@Mrs. Coach McGuirk Now I'm imagining Coach McGuirk reacting to a kid with no fingers on one hand.


@OhMarie Hey kid! Wanna play ping-pong?


Hahah, apparently I liked to draw penises all the time when I was like 8. I don't remember this at all. I'm not particularly embarassed by it.


@Megano! Big veiny suckers right?


One time I was like 15 and babysitting my 4-year-old neighbor. She asked me to draw a monkey and I did, then she said "now draw its vulva!". I said "um, you can't see it from here".


@mabellegueule That is too good! And your response was perfect.


Over Easter this year I was staying at my boyfriend's parents in Sydney for only the second time. His 4-y-o nephew cornered me and demanded to see my vagina. He'd already asked my BF and his Mum previously, in both times getting a curt 'that's not appropriate'. Said nephew kept at it, eventually getting more and more hysterical. It was...TOO MUCH. I tried to walk that same line of not making him feel ashamed about being curious and at the same time saying NO. This didn't deter him at all.

Would appreciate any Hairpin-style thoughts about how this could have played out better because...arrrrggghhhhh

Daisy Razor

@BS I would have foisted the kid back off on his mother. But I hate being even vaguely responsible for the behavior of other people's kids.

When my daughter gets pushy like that, I tell her that you can't tell other people what to do with their bodies. It's never too early to start that lesson.

Harriet Welch

@BS I love that Daisy Razor.
"No you can't see my vagina. It's my body and I get to choose not to share that with you."
"Inappropriate" doesn't always make sense to a 4 year old. It's really broad. A tantrum is inappropriate, talking loudly in the library is inappropriate. I think curbing "inappropriate" and substituting it with a discussion on how our actions impact others and a rights/responsibilities deal. "It's my right not to show you my vagina"

Daisy Razor

My daughter was just greeted by her three-year-old best friend with, "G, look, I have Dora panties! [dress goes flying up.] I just went poop!" She was so proud.

I think it's all part of the larger conversation you have to have with kids about what it's okay to say in public versus at home. I try not to treat it any differently from when my kid busts out with, say, "Mommy, what wrong with that lady?" about a woman with a cane.

I will admit that when I tried to teach her to say "vagina" and she responded with "the china?" I totally cracked up.


@Daisy Razor
And doesn't someone on here refer to their genitals as "the fine china"? Perfect!

Princess Gigglyfart

@Daisy Razor I am 28 and greet my friends similarly.


It's so tough, because for a lot of kids it's a fine line between discouraging curiosity and discouraging obnoxious behaviour designed to shock adults for fun. This is my second summer working a theatre camp with two age groups, 9 to 12 and 13 to 17, and both groups absolutely love steering the conversation into uncomfortable territory so they can force me to steer it back. They're not so into genitalia, but they like to try to convince me it's okay to give them alcohol from the theatre bar because they've had it before.

Note to all minors: telling adults that you love to drink vodka straight will not convince them you've ever tasted alcohol before, nor that you can handle a beer.


I once nannied for some young girls, one of whom was simultaneously learning about her body/boundaries, and learning to talk. She called her underpants-area her "privacy."
The cutest.


My nephew has done this to me a few times, but his conversations are much more serious. Along the lines of, "Auntie, this is my penis. See it? Do you have a penis? Baby (little brother) has a penis too. And papa has a penis, and my (older) brother has a penis, but my mama doesn't have a penis." And I usually just smile and nod and say, "Yep, that's right. All of the boys have a penis and none of the girls have a penis. You're very smart!"

My sister took him to a sporting goods store one day, and as they're wandering around, he stops by a bottomless mannequin. He grabs the mannequins crotch and yells to my sister, "MOM, WHERE IS HIS PENIS?" For this reason, my sister won't tell them the proper name for lady parts.


@lil.orphan.shannie Conversation between my friend and her two-year-old son:

son: Mom. Daddy has a penis.
mom: yes, that's right.
son: and M (little brother) has a penis.
mom: that's also true.
son: and I have a penis.
mom: Yes, you do!
son: But you. YOU just have a big, hairy, MAMAPATCH


@lil.orphan.shannie It's not what they say usually, it's the VOLUME! One of my teachers in HS had a toddler who had just learned what clocks were and made a big deal of finding the clock in every room he was brought into. Except he couldn't pronounce the L yet. So she brings him to school one morning before day care and as the principal and secretaries are all cooing over him he points over her shoulder and screams "COCK!!!"


This might be off-base, but I feel like it's important to say, at that point, "I instead have a vagina" or whatever. Otherwise it's between having a penis and lacking a penis, which seems connected to having a sexuality and lacking a sexuality.
(Basically I want to not have to tell everyone that clitorises and penises are the like same thing, in the context of sex events etc.)
Idk, thoughts?


@sniffadee Oh. Oh my God. That is the best. Possibly the best ever.


@packedsuitcase I'm chuckling to death and I'm not sure if it's because of MAMAPATCH or COCK


i was in a very busy restroom at a museum one time and there was a mom and her daughter in the stall next to me. suddenly, the little girl screams out so loud: "MOMMY, WHY DOES YOUR PEE PEE HAVE A BEARD?!"

everyone in the restroom burst out laughing, including the mom. i dont even know what her response was, but the little girl sounded genuinely concerned.


@zehttie There were some amusing stories in these comments, but yours was the first one to make me bust out giggling. Thanks! I needed that.


A 3 year old boy I was nannying once had an erection while sitting on the toilet (it happens!). He really wanted me to feel it. "Just one little touch," he said, "to feel the firmness. It's very firm!"
(I explained that his caregivers/doctor can touch his penis to make sure it is clean and healthy, but other than that it is only for his personal use!)


@lue Wow. You definitely did well with that - I wouldnn't have known how to even.. even... just no.


@lue I am pregnant and expecting a boy, and this situation is exactly why I'm having trouble wrapping my head around it. I know how to raise and deal with a girl. I don't know WHAT to do with a penis!! (Well... I mean... I KNOW what to do with a penis...)



From what I hear you should be very, very careful on the changing table. Boys squirt!



Are his parents reading him trashy romance novels as bedtime stories?


@lue That kid is going to be trouble.


i still babysit and have been doing so for over 20 years but i'm still not 100% clear on how i'm supposed to respond to kids not wearing clothes. i try to respect what the parents would want (without shaming the kid), but they are all different, and different from my siblings and i were raised! personally i never want to wear clothes ever, so default to not caring if the kid is wearing clothes or not and figure if i kind of ignore it at least they won't feel shame (and i also find ignoring things to be a good way of keeping things low-key when the situation needs to change).
but this, generally speaking, is when they're in their own home. now i babysit for a 4.8 year old girl, and we often go to a park after i pick her up from pre-school which has a sprinkler. and i usually come straight from my house so don't have her bathing suit or anything and it is usually super hot out and she just wears her underwear. i am not sure if that's ok or what (like are parents gossiping about the bad babysitter?). i just figure if i could get away with it i would do it, and she seems to be getting away with it ok. i'm more concerned about her keeping her shoes on (also a losing battle). she also doesn't put the clothes back on when she plays in the rest of the playground, i usually don't insist until we are getting ready to go. to add a bit to my confusion, she occasionally has to pee and there is no toilet at this park (and she's not going to hold it for the mile walk home), so she just goes to the side of the park and strips down and pees standing up. she is so good at peeing standing up! (i do keep my back turned and try to kind of shield her from people, though she is pretty much totally visible). again, i am kind of going with the "if i could do it i would too" policy, but i realize this doesn't really fly with everyone and should i be "protecting" her better maybe? i just kind of think in these situations that if people think there's something wrong with a young child being naked it is kind of their own problem and the kid shouldn't have to be concerned with it. but i also am always questioning these things because it turns out i was partially raised by a pedophile so it brings up uncomfortable questions for me.


Ok, so. I'm a mother to a 4.5 year-old girl, and I also nannied for a few different families while I was in college and babysat a ton while I was in high school. My take on nudity at the park is that undies-only in the sprinkler is probably ok, though I would talk to the parents about it and ask if they could send a swimsuit with her to preschool for you to use afterwards when you pick her up. When my daughter's nanny is picking her up after school, I will pack a bag for them that includes a change of clothes, a snack, about $20, and anything else that I think they might need for their afternoon of play. It's reasonable to ask the parents to set you up for success and equip their child appropriately for the day's activities.

I think that playing in undies on the rest of the play equipment, however, is not appropriate. Even here in Seattle, I would be concerned about the risk of sunburn with all of that exposed skin (are you applying sunscreen after she plays in the sprinklers?) and I'd also be uncomfortable with the idea of my child playing nearly naked on communal play equipment at the park. Perhaps you'll think I'm prudish (though I don't consider myself to be so) but I would be really upset if I found out that my daughter's nanny had let her play at the park in just her undies. In my view, the park is a public space, and in public it's important to be appropriately clothed. Bathing-suit-type coverage when playing in water = appropriate, undies-only on play equipment = not appropriate. As her caregiver, it's up to you to set and enforce boundaries when she's in your care. Have you discussed the situation with your charge's parents? What do they think?

As far as the bathroom issue is concerned - I would not be worried about brief, necessary nudity for the purposes of relieving herself, but I would look for an alternative. Are there any businesses nearby with a restroom that you could use instead of just peeing out in the open at the park? Can she pee at the preschool before you leave?

Ultimately, I think it's great that you're thinking about this and trying to find an appropriate solution, and I would encourage you to get everything in the open with the parents and take your cues from them. Good luck!


@HotDish Thanks!
Yes on applying sunscreen, and totally agree about underwear on play equipment being not good, will be stronger about drawing the line there in future.


I used to teach ice skating, and sometimes would play Simon Says with a my 3-5 year olds (I'm still just telling them what to do, but it's a game!).

Once, I let the kids take turns being Simon, and one boy instructed the others, "Simon says touch your pee-pee!" Seven little hands flew to seven little crotches, and I tried not to scream in abject horror, because we were far enough away from their parents that I'm sure they didn't hear the boy, and lord knows what they thought I just told their children to do.

I never let the kids be Simon again.


I just moved in with my dad, and my 6yo sister started following me around ALL THE TIME. Like, wait for me in the bathroom while I'm in the shower follow me around. The first time she followed me into my room after I took a shower, I had a split second where I wasn't sure what to do, but, like the author said, I am terrified she's going to be ashamed of her body or something. So, like my parents did when I was little, I acted like it was no big deal.

And she pointed and laughed at me.


Reminds me of the time when my nephew was 4; I was over for a visit and he loved for Uncle DMcK to pick 'im up and carry him around upside down with his legs hooked over my shoulders. After a day of this it was time for me to go, so as I'm putting my coat on, he looks pleadingly at me and says "Uncle DMcK, could you carry my upside down one last time?" So adorable. So up he goes, hooks his legs over my shoulders. And farts right in my face, laughing hysterically. Good one indeed, young sir.


My little sister is 8 and I still have this problem with her. She is all about naked people. I don't want her to be ashamed of her body but I think growing up in a houseful of girls has made her a little too comfortable. I walked downstairs last week to find her just chilling out in her underwear. Then she informs me she just got the mail for me too. As in she walked out side in her underwear. I tried talking to her about how it's fine in the house when no one is home but you can't go out like that. Her excuse was that it is just too hot for clothes, its just a body, and nobody was going to see her. I did have to agree with it being too hot though, it was 112 f. Also, boobs, I have never seen a child so fascinated by boobs.


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