Bath time and beyond

Q: How long can my kids bathe together?

A: For the most part, it’s up to them!

The key with nudity and privacy isn’t the age of the children, but rather the family culture around nudity and privacy. If your kids like taking baths together, let them!

Our kids will tell us when they’re ready for more privacy. Some kids will simply state that they want to take a bath alone. But others might not think that’s an option if they’ve only ever bathed with a sibling. So, you may need to look for other clues. If your children start to shut the door when they get dressed, or turn around when they change their clothes, take this as a sign that they desire privacy.

Start to give them opportunities to have time alone, and don’t force them to bathe with a sibling. I know it saves time, and it might help younger siblings with their bath time. But it’s important to notice your child’s cues for privacy and take them seriously.

Another clue that it’s time to separate kids during bath time is if you notice that one child is looking at or touching another child and it’s making them uncomfortable.

At some point, kids who bathe together will notice each other’s bodies. They might look at — or want to touch — various body parts. Simply use that situation as an opportunity to practice proper labeling and reinforce rules about appropriate touch.

You can say something like: “That’s your brother’s penis; you have one, too! But remember, we don’t touch other people’s private parts, just like no one should be touching yours. Do you have questions about your brother’s body?”

This calls attention to the behavior, lets your children know they can talk about their bodies and reinforces your family value about appropriate touch. If the behavior continues — or if the other child is clearly uncomfortable after the first time it happens — start to offer separate baths.

You don’t want either child to feel that this is a big deal, or that they’re to “blame” for stopping joint bath time. But you do want to make sure everyone is comfort- able, including you!

Ultimately, if your kids (boys or girls — gender doesn’t change my answer here) still like to bathe together and everyone seems comfortable with it, let them do it!

Q: When should I stop letting my kids see me naked?

A: Again, it comes down to your family culture. Your kids can keep seeing you naked as long as you, and they, are comfortable. There’s no rule about when you need to cover up your body. But most of us will know when it’s time.

Perhaps you notice your son’s gaze lingers a little longer than usual as you get out of the shower. If you’re acutely aware of this moment, you might be feeling uncomfortable. So, just make a mental note to grab a towel earlier next time.

The important thing is that you don’t overreact in that moment. Your initial response might be to slam the door shut, or quickly grab something to cover your body, or yell “Shut the door!” But this might make it seem like your child did something wrong.

Just bring your towel closer to the shower next time or bring a robe with you into the bathroom. There’s no need to have a big discussion about it; just respect your own desire for privacy, and make that change.

You can certainly also follow up with your child another time and say “I noticed you were looking at my body when I got out of the shower the other day, did you have any questions about it?”

A lot of kids won’t take that opportunity to talk, but it might be a great conversa- tion starter for some families! At the end of the day, you and your family get to decide how you use nudity and privacy: There’s no rule you need to follow.

Heidi Croatt is a professor and researcher who lives in Maple Grove with her husband and their two young kids. She holds a Ph.D. in family communication and regularly speaks to parenting groups with her program, Beyond Birds and Bees: Communicating Your Values to Raise Sexually Healthy Kids. Follow her on Instagram @beyondbirdsandbees.