I’ve had those talks we’re all supposed to have with our kiddos about their private parts. You know how it goes… You’ve just finished giving them a bath when you put on your “serious voice” and talk about how private parts are private. You tell your kids that they are allowed to touch their own privates, and you are, when you are helping them bathe or wipe after using the bathroom, and that sometimes a doctor needs to examine them during their check-up, but they’re not for sharing and no one has the right to touch them.
Another time when you’re curled up in bed reading a book together, you tell them you love them no matter what and that they can tell you anything. You reiterate that no one can touch the parts of their body that are covered by a bathing suit, and that if someone does, they should say “No!” and tell you or another trusted adult. Private parts are private.
But what about the butt?
The butt is covered by a bathing suit and you certainly don’t want someone fondling your child’s bottom, but is it really in the same category as the other so-called private parts?
Butts, if you’ll pardon the pun, feature large in childhood humor. Potty humor is a staple for kids and actually tells us a lot about the kinds of developmental issues kids are working through. Have you noticed just how often butts are joked about in cartoons? There are entire blogs out there analyzing Disney’s “rump humor,” and my own two still giggle over the part of “Frozen” featuring Olaf’s flying rear end. Frankly, kids aren’t alone in thinking butts are funny. If you came of age in the 90’s, butt jokes were considered a “cheeky new trend.” And how often today do our young ones see ads and magazine covers in the checkout line featuring someone’s tail end prominently? Have you heard your kid sing “All About That Base”? Butts get a heck a lot of air time in our culture, and our kids notice.
The truth is, I do touch my kids’ butts.
It’s certainly not sexual, and not a disciplinary spanking either. But on a regular basis I find myself patting my kiddos’ tuckus to get them moving on the stairs toward bedtime. I tap their derriere whenever they’re wiggling it in my face when we’re being lazy in bed in the morning, or during our more flamboyant dance breaks. I haul them around supporting their weight by resting my clasped hands under their butt cheeks. I readjust their little hineys when they’re sitting on my lap and digging their sit bones into my thigh. I’ve done it without thought or concern for years now, as natural a movement as pulling them toward me for a quick hug in the midst of whatever game they’re playing.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago when the school counselor left me a voicemail AND then sent me an email asking me to get in touch with her before the end of the day about an incident in PE class involving my younger daughter. I returned her call, left a voicemail myself, then emailed her to tell her I was out of my meeting and available. Then the anxiety set in… Had she been bullied? Had she done the bullying? Did she get in a fight with someone? Did someone hurt her and I didn’t know? A hundred thoughts raced through my mind.
It took everything I had not to drive to her school that very minute to make sure she was ok.
When the counselor and I finally connected, she calmly relayed how my daughter and a classmate had exchanged butt slaps in class that day. Huh.
The story was that my kiddo has suggested a game called barn door. Her classmate responded with, “You mean, ‘Slap the animal’s butt?’” My kid demurred at first, but when he asked her to slap his butt, she says she couldn’t “resist.” She slapped his bum, he slapped hers, until finally an adult intervened. It was all very quick, I’m told. Also, by one adult’s report, the classmate was holding my daughter’s hand to make her slap his butt, but this point is fuzzy in my daughter’s own account.
Ok. Huh. So…? Well…?
I honestly wasn’t sure how to respond. Laughter, at innocent body exploration between peers? Anger, that my daughter was maybe forced to do something by a classmate? Disappointment, that our talks about keeping private parts private hadn’t stuck? Concern, that my kid didn’t know how to “resist” a suggestion by a classmate? Worry, definitely worry…
Fortunately, the school counselor is a professional and talked me through the kind of conversation I might have. First, we don’t touch anyone’s butt at school or elsewhere. Second, she isn’t in trouble, we just need to be clear on these rules. Third, what might my daughter do next time a classmate makes a suggestion she’s not comfortable with? How might she listen to that voice inside of her that tells her something isn’t a good idea? The counselor suggested that I even include her older sister as part of the conversation so we were all on the same page about what sort of touch and what sort of behavior is ok.
And so, I used this outline and had another talk about private parts with the girls, being sure to emphasize that their butts and the butts of their friends were a private part. I didn’t bother using my “serious voice” though because, well, we were talking about our butts. The girls shared that they regularly slap each other’s butts when they’re fooling around, and that they sometimes slap their friends’ butts during playdates too. They pointed out that I slap their butts, and that they’ve even seen me slap their father’s tush a time or two in the kitchen (blush). I told them that sometimes athletes slap each other butts during a game. In general, the conversation went a hundred different gray area-ed directions, and I realized that this is the beginning of the kinds of talks I’ll be having with my kids about their privates from now on. Talks that are just kind of complicated and full of awkward grey areas.
And so we’ll talk about it. A lot.
That day I did tell them that they have the right to how their body is touched, and that they can tell anyone to stop doing something they don’t like, including me. But the girls quickly took this to mean that they could tell each other exactly what each could and couldn’t do during their next wrestling match. They then launched eagerly into telling on each other: “One time, she sat on me and I couldn’t breathe!” “Yeah, well one time she pushed me in the mud and then scratched me!” My attempt to refocus the conversation on keeping their butts to themselves was futile, and we had soccer practice to get to anyway.