When Should Toddlers Not Be Naked Around the Opposite Sex?

One great thing about toddlers is their "clothing optional" attitude: They will happily strip down to their birthday suits anytime, anywhere -- at the playground, dinner table, restaurant, it's all good. Still, innocence can't last forever. There comes a point in toddlers' lives where they should no longer prance around naked in front of the opposite sex -- even their siblings or mommy or daddy. When that happens varies by individual and cultural background, but child experts do have some rough guidelines on when that should happen.

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"Kids should not be naked in front of opposite sex friends or family members after about the age of 3," says Carole Lieberman, MD, a psychiatrist at UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute. "This is because from approximately age 3 to 8, your child is going through the Oedipal stage of psychosexual development, when they become more aware of their sexuality." The result: Baring all in front of the opposite gender starts to feel weird.

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To pinpoint more specifically when your child might be ready to cover up, here are some signs to watch for: She seems hesitant to give up her towel, changes quickly, or leaves the room to change her clothes when opposite-sex friends and family are around. Or your child may balk at any situation where he's asked to get naked, such as refusing to go swimming or take a bath in front of mom. One way of acknowledging this is to tell your child, "I notice you wanting more privacy when you're naked or change your clothes. That's how many children your age start to feel, and that's fine."

Meanwhile, Lieberman says that parents and siblings of the same sex as their children can be naked indefinitely -- "as long as it doesn't feel uncomfortable," she says. So, if your daughter doesn't want to hang naked in the steam room with you, respect that. Because regardless of whether you're the same gender or not, "Being seen undressed against your will is a personal violation," says Scot Conway, PhD, a psychologist and author of Emotional Genius. "Sometimes kids pick this up younger than you might expect. When it happens, honor it and let your child's modesty be the controlling factor."

Bottom line: Whatever age you start encouraging your kids to cover up in front of the opposite sex, be sure to do so in matter-of-fact way, without embarrassment or awkwardness. Treat it as a natural progression and your kids will take it in stride.

At what age did your kids stop being naked around the opposite sex? 

 

Image © Jim Hughes/Corbis

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