By Anna Sharratt
At Rosalind Stefanac-Skugor’s house, nudity isn’t a no-no — at least for the kids. Her two boys, Luka, 6 and Simun, 3, are comfortable running around without their clothes on. But while her husband is relaxed about being naked around the boys, she’s less so about going au naturel.
“I guess I grew up in a pretty conservative family — we were taught to always have something on when you’re walking around the house,” says the Toronto mom. “But my husband, who’s from an Eastern European background, is much less uncomfortable.”
Nudity, en famille, is a hotly debated issue these days. If you’re like many families, those old photo albums filled with naked little angels are a distant memory — a testament to a more carefree era. And for those families who do feel comfortable enough to be in the buff around the house, there are always the none-too-subtle reactions of family and friends, and worries about psychological fallout, along with safety concerns about sexual predators.
The key, say the experts, is to do what feels right for you and the kids, while being mindful of the reactions of others.
Vancouver sexologist Dr. Pega Ren says if your family has always covered up, then that’s your “normal” — and it’s perfectly fine. But if you like to be nude, that’s okay too. “Being naked in your family is perfectly natural and healthy — if that’s part of your family lexicon. If you’ve always been naked in your family, your children will think it’s odd if you suddenly start dressing when they walk in the room.”
To avoid problem scenarios, like a child stripping down in his kindergarten class, it’s a good idea to develop different rules for different situations — and communicate them to your kids, says Dr. Staci Illsley, a child psychologist in Vancouver. “It’s important to really put limits down about what’s okay and what’s not okay.”
1 Be clear about public and private behaviours. Because being naked carries with it a sense of sexuality, parents should explain which behaviours may be appropriate at times (running naked through a sprinkler) and which aren’t (touching genitals). Dr. Illsley suggests making these key distinctions by saying things like, “This is a private part, this is a private time.”
2 Keep others’ feelings in mind. Dr. Ren says, “The same boundaries need to be set in social interactions with people outside the immediate family or family members who find nudity uncomfortable.” For example, if a neighbour is visiting, perhaps it’s not the best time for junior to sprint nude across the living room. Says Dr. Ren, “If the kids say, “How come?’, parents should say, “Not everybody is as comfortable about showing their body as we are.”
Dr. Illsley suggests you assess each situation individually, factoring in the location and age of the child, rather than just letting your worries get the best of you. For example, if you’re at a friend’s backyard barbecue and kids are running around naked, there shouldn’t be any cause for worry. “I think excessive anxiety over this is going to be detrimental,” warns Dr. Illsley, “because the hidden message is that your body is shameful, there’s something wrong with being naked.”
Dr. Ren cites studies that indicate children who were raised in families that are open about their bodies often have a greater sense of body confidence when they become adults, and they have a keener sense of when nudity is right — and wrong — should a dangerous sexual situation arise.
This phase kicks in around age four. And it can be more pronounced if a family goes clothes-free. So be open to frank discussions about genitalia. “Kids are going to be curious about other people’s bodies — particularly when they look different. They need frank answers,” says Dr. Illsley. She adds parents “need to provide children with honest, scientifically correct information regarding questions pertaining to their and others’ bodies, and be open and relaxed around these discussions.”
Anna Sharratt, a Toronto-based writer, plans to have an open mind about nudity when her first baby arrives in August.
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