For many parents, bathing with their young children is a necessity. In those early months, a baby needs constant supervision, so it only makes sense to merge bath times. By doing so, we save water, time and precious energy. But there comes a point when children begin needing their own space. They need independence and privacy. How does a parent know when to start covering up around the kids? We've asked a couple of child psychologists to help us answer this tricky and important question.
Dr. Stephanie Mihalas is a practicing licensed child and school psychologist located in Los Angeles, California, who serves as an assistant professor at The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. She notes that this is "…a difficult question to answer for two reasons: 1. There has been very little research done on this subject, and 2. The appropriateness of parental nudity and parent-child bathing behaviors will vary significantly across different cultures and families."
Though there's not much data to reference on this topic, there was one study over 18 years that found no negative effects for adolescents who'd regularly seen their parents in the buff at ages 3 and 6.
However, Dr. Mihalas cites another study from the '80s which "surveyed 200 college students and found that the presence of parental nudity from ages 0-5 was related to decreased discomfort with physical contact and affection for both men and women. The presence of parental nudity from ages 6 to 11 was related to increased self-esteem for men (though not for women) and also to more permissive attitudes about sexuality for both and increased sexual frequency. In this case, however, there could be other factors, such as families' sexual liberalism, influencing these outcomes both positively and negatively."
Wow, science. Thanks for clearing that up…
Watch for cues
Though research might leave us feeling a little confused about what the right thing is for our little ones, child and adolescent psychologist Dr. Benna Strober says to watch your child's cues. "Your child will probably start giving you signs that the time is right. If they cover themselves if you walk in on them undressing, or if they turn their eyes away when you are undressing in front of them, they are starting to show their own modesty and [discomfort] with being naked in front of each other. Children of this age are starting to explore taking care of their own body and might start requesting their own bath/shower. While you should let your child determine when they are ready for the privacy, it should not be up to them if you feel the time is right earlier than they do."
Dr. Strober notes that between the ages of 4 and 8, a child begins to develop a sense of their own body. Seeing that Mommy or Daddy's body looks slightly different could bring about a range of emotions, fear and curiosity would not be uncommon.
Trust your gut
So while there is no specific cut-off date for allowing your kids to be in the room when you bathe or dress, there definitely is a time to transition away from those habits and begin teaching about privacy. And when it comes down to it, the parenting expert who matters the most is you. Watch for your child's cues. Listen to how he talks about his body and others. If something doesn't feel right about the situation, trust your gut. Your child's needs are as individual as he is.