When kids are infants, privacy is nonexistent. Nursing babies spend a lot of time with mom’s bare breasts. You might keep an eye on little ones by bringing them into the bathroom when you pee or shower (I sure did). They may sleep in the same bedroom you do. We see our babies naked all the time, they see us naked, and no one gives it a thought.
Until they start to get older. At some point, you may start to wonder whether being naked around your kids might be a problem.
Every Family Is Different
Little kids aren’t modest; they’re just curious about the world, including their own bodies and what’s hanging between daddy’s legs. Unless adults make a big deal about them, genitals are exactly as interesting as toes and noses—just parts of our fascinating bodies. Many toddlers and preschoolers love running around nude. For them, it’s freeing and fun.
Adults, on the other hand, have a wide range of feelings about being naked. Some walk around nude as often as they can; some don’t even like their partner to see them naked; and others are anywhere in between.
That’s why there’s no “one size fits all” answer about nudity within families. What’s right for your family depends mostly on how you (and your partner, if you have one) think and feel. If you’re comfortable with nudity, that’s fine; if you’re more modest, that’s fine, too.
What Nakedness Teaches
As with everything related to kids and sexuality, you want to keep in mind the long-term lessons you teach by what you say, do, don’t say, and don’t do.
However comfortable you are, or aren’t, about nudity, you want to act and speak in ways that don’t imply there’s anything shameful about the human body, including genitals. If you avoid using correct names for genitals or act as if there’s something wrong about naked bodies, kids internalize that, which can interfere with healthy sexuality when they grow up.
Kids’ nakedness, your own, and how you talk about them can teach that:
Bodies are normal and nothing to be ashamed of. If your child sees you naked while you’re getting out of the shower, changing clothes, even hanging around the house, they see that bodies are normal. We all have genitals; adults’ private parts look different from kids’; males look different than females. And it’s all just fine.
Underlying message: There’s nothing shameful about our bodies.
There are social rules about nudity and privacy. You need to raise your kids to be comfortable in their own skin and to live in society, accommodating social norms and the feelings of others.
You can talk about this even with very young kids. “It’s fine if you want to be naked at home, but we put on clothes when we go other places.” “Some people feel uncomfortable when other people don’t have clothes on, so it’s polite to cover up when they’re around.” “Some parts of our bodies are so special and important that we keep them private; we show them only to people we trust. Those are the parts we cover with a bathing suit.”
Underlying messages: What you want to do must be balanced against others’ needs and wants. There are particular social rules about the privacy of genitals.
It may feel good to be naked. If your child clearly delights in being naked, you can comment on that positively. “You just love being a nudie, don’t you?” (with a big smile). “It feels fun and free to run around naked, huh?” This validates the child’s experience and gives them permission to feel good about it. If it’s true for you, you might add, “Sometimes I like to be naked, too.”
Underlying message: Bodies can be a source of pleasure.
Different people feely differently about being naked, and that’s okay. It may be that one adult in your household is more comfortable with nudity than the other. Great! You don’t have to push for unanimity on this. In fact, it’s an awesome chance to talk about respecting differences. “I don’t mind if you come into the bathroom when I’m getting out of the shower, but your dad feels more private about it. So please knock before you go in.”
Underlying message: We respect how people feel about their bodies being touched or seen.
Nudity Is Not Necessarily Erotic
You may be worried that letting your child see you naked might be “sexual” or “inappropriate.” Until your child approaches puberty, that’s not something to be concerned about.
In our culture, we tend to lump many things into the “sexual” category—everything from body parts to periods to procreation to porn. Sure, those are all related to sexuality, but they are very different things.
The essential distinction to keep in mind: Is this, or is it not, erotic?
Kids shouldn’t see parents acting sexual while naked. That would be confusing and inappropriate for a child. For example, it would be harmful for your kid to see you and your partner having sex or taking a sexy shower together. But it’d be fine for them to see you showering alone or drying off after a shower.
Provided you avoid letting your kid see you doing anything naked that has an erotic charge, it’s all good.
When to Stop
Parents should stop being naked around their kids when either the parent or the child starts feeling uncomfortable, whichever comes first. With nudity, the preferences of the more-hesitant person trump. (The same concept will apply later to consent to sexual activities).
Most kids start feeling modest about their bodies at some point in elementary school. You’ll notice them closing the door when they change and wanting to bathe without your help. That’s your signal to start covering up when they’re around, if you haven’t already. You might also observe and normalize their experience: “I notice you seem to want more privacy lately. That often happens as kids get older.”
Definitely become more careful about nudity by the time your kids start puberty. Then, their hormones may be so stirred up that they’ll be hypersensitive to anything remotely sexual. Even if you’re a die-hard nudist, cover up to spare your teen or preteen super-uncomfortable sexual feelings about a family member, which…just, yuck. Respecting their developing needs models good boundaries.
The main take-away here: You don’t need to overthink this. It’s fine to be naked around your kids in any non-sexual way. It’s fine to be more modest, if that feels better to you. Listen to what feels right for you; pay attention to what your child is and isn’t comfortable with. If no one’s being creepy and no one is uncomfortable, it’s all good.