When my kids were toddlers, it was impossible to pee without them joining me in the bathroom. They generally hung off a leg or insisted on sitting on my lap. As that particular form of attachment lessened, I relished the 90 seconds of privacy I could grab. It was the ultimate experience of ‘me time’. Sadly.
To be honest, there remains a lack of bathroom privacy in our home. Between the four of us, there isn’t much knocking. On some level there is just the practicality of the early morning rush. If a family only has one 3-piece bathroom, all three pieces might get used at the same time.
My kids absolutely understand bathroom privacy even though there seems to be nominal requirements for it under our roof. They practice privacy when we are in other peoples homes and for the most part they exercise the skill of door closing when guests are at our place. If they don’t, our dinner companions get to watch them pee while I serve the main course. A form of dinner theatre, I suppose.
It’s not a bad idea to consider what privacy will mean to your family. We shouldn’t take for granted that the way we experienced privacy growing up is the only way or necessarily the best way. As parents, we get to set the privacy rules and regulations early on.
- Am I okay with letting my kids watch me bathe?
- Will I encourage them to jump in the tub or shower with me?
- Is using the toilet a private affair or can family members come and go as they please, whether I’m on the throne for the long haul (time for The New Yorker or Vanity Fair) or making a quick stop to change a tampon?
There is sex ed knowledge and values that you can share with your children in every room of your home. The question is, do you want to share during bathroom time?
Regardless of your house rules, around the time of toilet training, and when your child begins to feel more ‘grown up’:
- Explain that bathroom time is private. It’s not bad or shameful, it’s just that a lot of people like to use the toilet without others around.
- Explain that when other people come over or when you visit other people or places, you follow the bathroom-time-is-private rule even if that is different than the house rule.
- As a separate but related topic, bedrooms are private too.
- Starting early on, differentiate privacy from secrecy. It’s great to teach your kids to honour and respect privacy, yours and their own. Secrecy, on the other hand ought to be discouraged primarily to keep kids safe from abuse. Over time, and with examples, help your kids understand the nuances of reasonable secrets and unreasonable ones. (A man approached you at the park and said you could be secret friends, your buddy at school shared candy with you and told you to keep it a secret or Dad told you there’s going to be a big surprise party for Gramma so keep it a secret).
A little later on, when kids hit about 5, 6, and 7, the whole ‘bum and poo’ humour can assert itself. Where you join your child in finding fart and defecating jokes hysterical, do make sure that you reinforce that this type of humour is not universally enjoyed. Some parents tell their kids it’s ‘bathroom language’. That hasn’t been my take although I don’t find that approach terribly problematic, but I do prefer to simple tell my kids that certain language or jokes are not always appropriate; That some restraint ought to be exercised, and that the jokes are more private. Usually this fixation with elimination humour fades.
When a bit older than that, between 8 and 13, our kids might assert new rules and regulations where bathroom privacy is concerned. Let them. It’s part of their growing up. Notice when the bathroom (and bedroom) doors start to close and respect those efforts at privacy. If your son turns on his heels upon seeing mom bare chested or you hear your daughter say ‘Dad, can you put on a robe or something?’ take it as a strong hint that the nudist colony mentality has shifted.
If you need to discuss the change, if that’s the way your family rolls, then convene a meeting. Otherwise, the new rules and regs can be implicitly understood and respected. As our kids get older, the rules might shift again, but for the moment, admire and appreciate their healthy and natural interest in privacy.
A couple of stories about the unanticipated lessons that come from having company in the loo:
A friend of mine was in a public swimming pool change room with her children. Her 4 year old daughter needed to use the toilet so off they went into a stall together. With her 2 year old son sitting on a bench in the change area alone she felt a bit anxious about getting back to him as quickly as possible. So, to save time, while her daughter sat on the can doing her business, my friend pulled out her tampon. Her daughter exclaimed ‘what is that?!’ and needed a bit of calming since it might have looked like her mom had just extracted part of her own vagina. So a little explanation about menstruation ensued, questions were answered and her daughter was left satisfied with great information about her own future as a woman. When they left the stall, the stranger at the sink thanked my friend for the (joyful) opportunity to listen in.
A friend was in the bath with her 6 year old son. He sat in front of her, both were facing the same way. Her kid had his hands in his lap and posed this question to his mother: ‘Do you think I have an erection right now?‘ She politely considered the question and answered in the affirmative. Her son answered that she was correct but that initially, when he started asking her the question, that had not been the case. She took the opportunity to tell her son that sometimes when boys touch their penises, their penises get erect and that sometimes when boys are older they touch their penises on purpose so that they get erect which can feel really good. Her son found that interesting although dismissed the notion explaining that erections do not always feel good. By way of example, he explained that peeing with an erection is very challenging. They both learned something new…
Do you have a private moment turned sex ed lesson to share?
Finally a little privacy humour Saturday Night Live style.