Bodily Autonomy and Personal Hygiene

Welcome to the April 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Personal Care

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles relating to their children’s personal care choices.

Innocent Child Protected By Arms
Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt

More than 30% of children in the United States will be sexually abused, few of which will be reported. In most of those cases, the perpetrator will not be a stranger. It will be someone you and your child know: a trusted babysitter or neighbor, a friend, a coach or teacher, your beloved Uncle Charlie, or another person whom you thought would never do that to your child.

Knowing the warning signs of sexual abuse is important. It allows you to quickly assess possible telling behaviors and take action to prevent possible further abuse. However, as parents, our goal is to prevent the abuse before it happens. There are many ways to do this. We can be honest with our kids about sex and bodies, answering questions as they come up in age appropriate ways. We can teach our children the proper terminology of their body parts and cultivate an atmophere in which our children feel comfortable talking with us about anything. We can talk to them about tricky people and how to get help. We can also empower them by honoring their personal bodily autonomy.

Individual should be allowed to have control over what happens to their bodies. In our family, we have made it clear to our children that it is not acceptable for anyone to touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable or without permission. This includes well meaning relatives who expect children to give hugs and kisses on demand (check out the great discussion at Vibrant Wanderings about this). It includes other children (who pass on abuse in a large percentage of cases). It includes doctors and even my husband and myself. We believe that if there is a valid reason for touching a child, in the event that a doctor or parent must aid in personal or medical care, that reason should be able to be explained to the child and permission given.

To that end, our children own their own bodies. We don’t force diaper changes, teeth brushing, baths (although the only problem our children have ever had with baths or showers is getting out), nail cutting, hair brushing, or anything else. This doesn’t mean that we have the dirty children on the block , walking around with uncombed hair, dirty teeth and diapers sagging with excrement. It just means that we talk to our children about why we believe it is implortant to do various aspects of personal hygiene. We give choices to honor their individuality. We are open and direct. We model personal hygiene and let them do as much as they can on their own.

Forcing a child to do something to their body against their will does not only destroy the trust they have in us. It also destroys the trust they have in their own bodily autonomy.

Learn more about the sexual abuse of children and what you can do to prevent it at Stop It Now! and Safely Ever After


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon April 10 with all the carnival links.)

9 thoughts on “Bodily Autonomy and Personal Hygiene

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  1. This is excellently put. I have always been very cautious about cleaning my children during diaper changes because this is in the back of my mind. Same at the doctor’s and with sitters. And well-meaning elderly relatives. I grew up with a lot of heiny pinching old ladies who demanded kisses. I don’t want my children to hide when our relatives come over.

  2. Lots of great points! Open communication and choice is so important in our family, but I never really connected them to their bodily autonomy long-term (it’s almost impossible for me to picture them as adults! Sniff! They sure grow up fast!). But it’s so important to have a good foundation for when the questions start coming and for when puberty hits! I’m glad we have been fostering a healthy sense of autonomy in our children so far! Thanks for sharing!

  3. I love this — thanks for writing about such an important topic. I really do agree with you. Personal safety and integrity starts with autonomy over their bodies at a young age. I like that you point out that doesn’t mean your kids never wash — it means that you help them navigate through the choices. Thank you!

  4. Very nice and important post. I think this is something a lot of parents don’t think about. For some reason it is one thing that has intuitively always felt right in our family. Reading your rationale for it is empowering. Thank you!

  5. I agree with you on theory, but how the heck do you manage diaper changes? They’re needed at an age where it’s way too early to explain why (and I have TRIED). In the end, at a year old, doing diaper changes became such a struggle that we started going diaper-free at home. Which has meant an entire year of cleaning up puddles around the house. Luckily we have hardwood floors! But even now, we are far from potty trained, despite my efforts and explanations.

    My only solution has been to try EC with the next child, and I hope that works. I don’t want to battle with another child over diaper changes, but I also refuse to let them sit in their own waste simply because they don’t want to be messed with.

    1. Not forcing something against their will doesn’t mean that we don’t attend to personal hygiene. It just means that we work with them in order to meet those needs, just as we would for anything else. For diaper changes with one year olds, we have given choices. Do you want to change your diaper on the bed or on the floor? Do you want to change your diaper in the living room or the bedroom? Do you want the green diaper or the blue diaper? Whatever seemed most appropriate for the given time. Sometimes they need some naked time before a new diaper. Sometimes we would do bathtime. For our family, it wasn’t that my children were to young to understand what we meant but that their priortities were elsewhere. Working with them allowed everyone’s needs to be met.

  6. Your post is terribly important and something I often think about (especially with all the horror stories in the news). That’s why as long as my partner has a job I have decided to be a full time mum and not opt for childcare (which is really expensive around here). One of us will always be there. Teaching good communication with kids and making relies aware of your point of view is so essential – especially to prevent child abuse. Cheek pinching is not child abuse but it sure is very annoying – so why put up with it? I don’t want my kid looking like a sloppy cheeked bulldog either… 🙂

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