Ages and stages
2 to 5 years
What to expect
You might have noticed that your 2 to 3 year old likes being naked and is very curious about other people’s naked bodies. Because genitals are usually covered, they are especially interesting.
They will notice differences in bodies and ask “Why?” or “What’s that?” Body functions, especially going to the toilet, are also of great interest.
Many children will touch their own genitals for comfort or pleasure and this is normal and healthy.
As part of their fascination with bodies, they might want to look at and touch other kids’ and adults’ bodies.
Many children may start to play ‘you show me yours and I’ll show you mine’ out of their curiosity with their own and others’ bodies.
Gentle reminders about private body parts and rules around touching are helpful at these times.
They may also ask lots of questions about bodies and where babies come from. A simple, accurate explanation like, “Babies grow in a special place inside the body called the uterus” is usually enough.
It is common for kids to be curious about each other's bodies.
‘Playing doctors’ can be a way that kids explore their own and others’ bodies. Sometimes this can turn into ‘naked play’ and ‘you show me yours and I’ll show you mine’.
If the children are a similar age and they all look happy (rather than distressed), then tell them to get dressed and keep their clothes on when they are playing.
Try showing them a picture book that explains the body. You will need to tell the other child’s parents. They may do things differently in their family, but they will want to know.
What you can do to help
- Continue teaching that every part of the body has a name and its own ‘job’ to do.
- Read picture books that name body parts and explain rules about touching. (See below for a list of useful books for young children.)
- If children are touching their genitals in public places, distract them or tell them that it is something to do at home, in private.
- Teach your children that their “No” will be respected, whether it’s in playing and tickling or hugging and kissing.
Stop when they want you to stop.
Don’t force your child to kiss or hug. This supports them to learn about consent and teaches them to listen to early warning signs that help them stay safe.
- A child’s foreskin should never be pulled back by force.
Once the foreskin is easily pulled back, teach your son how to do this as part of normal washing in the bath or shower.
Most boys will be able to pull their foreskin back easily by age 5 but others may not be able to until they are in their teens.
- You can let your children know when you want privacy or do not want your body looked at or touched.
This is good modelling of how to request their own privacy and reinforces messages of consent.
- Talk to your child about the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ secrets and that no-one should ask them to keep a bad secret.
- Use the word 'surprise' instead of secret. '
Good secrets' are usually about a nice surprise that will make people feel good when they find out.
Explain that everyone should know about a surprise soon - unlike a secret which may be forever.
- Does your son want to wear a tutu? Does your daughter want to be Superman? Let them be themselves.
Rigid gender stereotypes has led some people to worry that this type of normal role play is a reflection of a child’s sexual or gender identity when it is simply part of important imaginative and creative play.
We enjoy watching YouTube about ‘conceiving to birth’ and books about the human body are always around my house. My children and very familiar with body parts and functions
Parent of boy 1 and girl 4
You could ask them, “What do you think?”.
This will clarify what they are asking, give you some time to think and gauge your answer accordingly, and show that you are happy to have the conversation.
Telling a very young child that the baby starts as a tiny egg inside the mother’s body is enough. Four and five year olds can understand that a baby grows in the uterus, and that you need a sperm (like a seed) and an egg (a very tiny egg) to make a baby.
It is important to explain that a baby grows inside a uterus (not belly or tummy) to avoid confusion. We often use these words to mean stomach with children, which can cause misunderstandings of how the baby 'gets in' and out.