Growing up Catholic, there wasn’t even a question about everyone wearing clothes in Lori Sapio’s house.
Today in her own family, clothing is optional, and Sapio, her boyfriend and her two kids, 2 and 4, have been taking advantage of the rules in their Chicago home.
“We are teaching our children that there is nothing shameful about your own body and that it is your body,” says Sapio, a photographer.
While most parents can agree that they want their children to feel comfortable and confident in their own skin, it’s difficult to navigate the nudity issue — especially when we continue to get mixed messages about what to do even in our own homes.
When social media guru Perez Hilton posted an Instagram picture of himself and his toddler from the waist up showering together, he was attacked for being naked with his son, leading many to question whether they should be nude around their children.
And since studies about nudity with children are few and far between, it’s a difficult subject to conquer.
The most recent long-term study on early childhood and nudity was done in 1998. It found that exposure to parental nudity was associated with positive sexual experiences in adolescence and that parental nudity also reduces the number of sexual experiences that those teens have overall.
Overall, however, the study found, there were few differences in the teens whose parents were nude at home when they were younger and the teens whose parents were shy about walking around in the buff.
The researchers also said that even if there were more differences, these may be attributed to the fact that the naked families were also more likely to be have countercultural values supportive of free sexual expression.
So should parents and children walk around naked?
“There’s no good answer, and you’ll get a million opinions,” says Alan Kazdin, professor of psychology at Yale University.
And while traditionally, you should never follow along if everyone else decides to jump off a cliff, this is the one area where following the crowd is a good idea.
“Try to keep the child within a normative level of what other children are doing,” Kazdin says. If your 2-year-old wants to undress himself during a birthday party, it’s no biggie. But if your 7-year-old wants to strip at school, chances are you’ll get a call from the principal.
Children need to learn when and where it’s appropriate for them to be naked. If you allow them to be nude at home, they should learn that it’s fine if they’re not clothed when family is home, but it’s best to get dressed when guests are visiting because their body is private.
“Moderation is a great guide to parenting in extremes with leniency and strictness,” Kazdin says. Fortunately, most parents don’t need to say anything when it comes to nudity and their children because kids generally develop a sense of modesty themselves.
By the time they’re in preschool, most children don’t want strangers to see them naked, says Lawrence Balter, psychologist, parenting expert and co-author of Child Psychology.
“I wouldn’t be too strict and I wouldn’t make a big issue about this,” Balter says.
But with parental nudity, it’s a totally different issue—and again, there are no strict rules, so it’s a tricky topic.
“But there are a few good reasons to cover up in front of your kids,” says Justin Richardson, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University.
There are two helpful signs for when to get dressed.
If you feel uncomfortable letting your child see you nude, then it’s time to cover up, since there’s no compelling reason to override your own discomfort so your child can see you naked, Richardson says.
Secondly — and a little more challenging to assess — you’ll have to read your child’s reaction to seeing your body.
“In short, at a certain point, your naked body may become stimulating to your child in a way that he or she won’t be able to understand,” Richardson says. “When a child is overstimulated by seeing you, he or she may get rambunctious or grabby or giggly.”
This would be a different reaction than in previous days, when he was calm, curious or comfortable with your naked body. Either gender may be overstimulated by your body, and this overstimulation is another good reason to cover up.
Children may also start questioning the parts of your body.
When this happens, it’s best to give them short, factual answers to their questions: they can learn the words “penis,” “scrotum, “vulva” and “vagina” when they learn the other body part names, Richardson says.
“Fielding a child’s request to touch your genitals, on the other hand, is probably a good opportunity to introduce the notion of privacy,” Richardson says. “You can tell them that you don’t want them to touch that part of your body because it’s private, just like their genitals are private and only caregivers or doctors and nurses should touch them.”
Sometimes, it’s hard to resist pinching a naked baby tush, however, says Juanita Edwards of Chicago.
Edwards’ 4-year-old son loves to shake his naked booty around, and there’s a fair chance it’ll get squeezed if it’s anywhere near Edwards.
“If the adults involved look at their child with parental love, they see nothing but a squeezable tush,” she says.
And who can resist a baby bum?
Moms react: OK or no way?
“My son (4 1/2) has seen me naked numerous times getting in/out of the shower and getting dressed. Sometimes he takes a shower with Daddy. We don’t make a big deal about our bodies or being naked around him. Not like we’re answering the door for the pizza guy naked.” – Denise Prokudowicz-Agostinelli
“My kids hate clothes. It’s not uncommon for them to walk around in their underwear. I don’t think anything of the little kids seeing me naked, but our oldest is 10. …It’s an awkward age and I don’t want him to be scarred for life by remembering seeing his mom naked. ” – Katie Baker-Hoover
“I have no problem being naked around our daughter (2). As for her, she spends 90 percent of her home time in her diaper. We have her get dressed when people come over. She would be naked if we let her.” – Nicole Regan
“I don’t tend to wander the house naked, but we have no issues getting changed in front of (my son, 2). If he gets uncomfortable with it, absolutely we’ll respect that. Otherwise, if situationally appropriate nudity helps our kids to avoid feeling ashamed of their bodies, I guess we’ll just play it by ear. – Lindsay Kislaitis
“I have two boys, 6 and almost 8, and a 2-year-old daughter. I try not to be naked around the boys. They will walk around naked after a shower. We don’t shame nudity, but I remember growing up and hating that my mom walked around naked. Hell, I’m pretty sure she still does. The first time my oldest made a comment about not wanting to see me naked I stopped. I try to not do anything that will make either of us uncomfortable.” – Amber Seat
Compiled thanks to the MamaHive Chicago community.
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The article originally published in Aug. 19, 2017.