Many parents wouldn’t think twice about changing their clothes in front of their baby or toddler. But is it still appropriate as kids get older? At that point, the question of whether it’s OK for kids to see parents naked can be a delicate one.
Parents often find themselves asking this very question, so we thought we’d ask the experts.
Dr. Carnigee Truesdale-Howard, a board-certified pediatric psychologist with Beaumont Children’s in Royal Oak, says the answer could be different for each individual family based on their personal beliefs and habits.
“The short answer to the question is that it really is going to kind of depend on the parent,” she says.
Moms and dads who prefer to change in private may find the issue never comes up. Other families might intentionally be more free with nudity in an effort to normalize the body, emphasize self-acceptance and a healthy self-image and otherwise exercise an approach to sex-positive parenting.
Generally speaking, though, it shouldn’t be harmful for a child to see a parent’s nudity in a completely non-sexual context, Truesdale-Howard says.
What age that should stop is debatable. Limited research is available on the topic, she says, so parents should use their own comfort and the child’s comfort level to guide them.
“There’s no magical age” when it stops being OK for kids to see parents naked, she says.
Children as young as 3 and 4 can begin wanting privacy in the bathroom or when getting undressed, she says, and parents might consider this a sign that the child isn’t comfortable with parental nudity either.
“Kids will kind of let you know. You can follow their lead,” Truesdale-Howard says. “At the end of the day it’s going to depend on what your child is communicating to you and what they feel comfortable with. You’ll know, because they might become silly or show that they’re embarrassed.”
Even parents who make it a point to be open with nudity can find that their children don’t feel the same, Truesdale-Howard says.
“You could be a nudist family and still have a kid that’s strongly against it,” she says. Privacy and kids can take some extra navigation in these circumstances.
Strike a balance
Families might consider setting household boundaries around nudity – like only changing in private, for example, or explaining that nudity is OK at home but not in public.
“You want to strike a balance between adhering to whatever your family values are and what you do in your own household but also preparing your child for the world,” she says.
If you do let your child see you naked, or if it happens by accident, be prepared for any body-related questions that might come up.
Plan to keep your answers simple and age-appropriate, particularly on the tricky terrain of names parents give private parts. And make sure your child knows that asking questions is never a bad thing.
“Parents just need to be mindful of that and have a game plan,” Truesdale-Howard says. “You never want to do anything that’s going to communicate shame.”
This post was originally published in 2015 and is updated regularly.