By Dr. Michael Oberschneider, Ashburn Psychological & Psychiatric Services
Dear Dr. Mike,
We are pretty open in our house with our nudity. I have three children — two school-age kids (a boy and a girl) and a toddler daughter. Often, the kids, of their own volition, will shower or bathe together and have no issues getting dressed or undressed in front of the other. They even often hop in the shower with us.
My husband thinks, that as they get older, we might be too liberal and need to start putting up barriers. I think the lack of barriers, but respect and privacy when they (or us parents) desire, contributes to a healthy understanding and acceptance of not only their bodies — but of the opposite gender. What are your thoughts?
Dear Concerned Parent,
I think the concern your husband is expressing is good. Nudity with children as parents should be natural, as you write, but also developmentally appropriate. Nudity is a big part of toddlerhood, with parental bathing, dressing, and toilet training. Open parental nudity and bathing with toddlers as an adult is not really an issue since toddlers do not yet have a complete understanding of gender or body image, which could, in turn, affect their developing identities. Open nudity and bathing with one’s toddler could also promote the parent-child bonding experience.
For your school-age children (your daughter and son), however, privacy involving their bodies and exposure to adult nudity is more important. This is because your older children do have an understanding of their more private body parts, a rough and developing understanding of sex/gender differences, and an expectation for discretion socially.
In my experience as a psychologist, problems involving parental nudity and bathing with children can occur when parents are not sensitive to their children’s developmental needs. In those instances, being too permissive or too strict as parents at the wrong times can lead to later problems (e.g., bodily shyness or shame, poor boundaries, early sexual curiosity, and behavioral exploration).
While there is no absolute right or wrong answer to your question, I do not recommend continued parental nudity with your school-age children, and I do not think that your school-age son and daughter should be bathing together or dressing together. I would not make a big deal out of things with your children, but rather, I would find agreement with your husband on setting clearer boundaries that work for you both.