A young mother emailed me this question. I thought it was worth sharing. Nancy Corley, Director of Child and Family Well Being at The Alliance, was my go-to person to answer the young mother’s question.
Here’s a good way to begin: start the conversation when you begin teaching your child the correct words for body parts, and use anatomically correct terms, e.g. “nose, ears, eyes, elbow, penis, vagina, knee, toes, etc.”, as they become verbal. Then depending on the intelligence of the child but somewhere around two and a half (no later than three!), introduce them to the concept of private parts. Identify what body parts are private parts to the child and tell them, “these are the parts that nobody else gets to touch, only you, or Mommy when I’m cleaning you (bathing, wiping after toilet use, etc.) and no one else”. If someone else cares for your child while you are at work you may need to add to the list, but it should be a short list. Continue this as a normal part of regular conversation until you are sure they have the concept. Bath time is often a good time for this conversation, but it can happen anytime. Once your child understands private parts and the idea that nobody else gets to touch them there, then add, “And if anybody does touch you there, you tell them NO! AND you come tell me who tried to touch you.” Assuming your child is appropriately verbal, by age three they should understand this. Then reinforce it with periodic reminders that are part of normal, everyday conversation.