A Mighty Girl's top picks of books for young children about their bodies, body privacy, appropriate touch, and more.
Since the moment someone said, “It’s a girl” or “It’s a boy”, sex has been part of your child’s life. And while there has been at least one highly publicized (and debated) effort to raise a baby without gender, the truth is that, sooner or later, every child will notice how their body is the same, or different, from other bodies. But while conversations about bodies and sex can be awkward for parents, they’re important even for a preschooler or elementary aged child.
There are many reasons why you should start talking to kids about sex and bodies in age-appropriate ways. One is to take the mystery away from genitalia: if you cheerfully label “ear”, “arm”, and “knee” but refer vaguely to “private parts” or use euphemisms, children may think that there is something wrong, dangerous, or scary about this part of their bodies. Another is to give your child clear language for health issues: if your child says she is “itchy down there” after a summer day trip, a care provider may be looking for poison ivy and not a yeast infection from a wet bathing suit.
Equally importantly is preparing your child to talk about puberty (which we discuss in the second part of this blog, Talking with Tweens and Teens about their Bodies) “Puberty!?” I can hear you thinking. “She’s only 5!” And yet approximately 25% of girls experience breast budding, the first stage of puberty, at age 8 or 9 — third grade — and her first period will generally follow two to three years after the appearance of breast buds. If the girl in your life is an early bloomer, she may experience these changes before you are expecting them. But if you have been open and forthcoming with information about her body in the past, she will know that she can approach you with her questions.
“Where Do Babies Come From?”
It’s usually during the preschool years that parents first hear this question from their kids. While many parents agonize over how to answer — how much information is too much, how to answer in an age-appropriate way, and so on — having some good resources to read with your child can help.
While Nellie and Gus enjoy a trip to the beach, they have some questions about why their bodies look the way they do — and what other peoples' bodies look like. This book focuses on explaining reproductive anatomy, alongside other body parts, and explaining that these differences are not only normal, but just a part of a much more important whole: the person! With illustrations that capture a diverse community and simple, clear language that's accessible to young preschoolers, this book is a great introduction to talking about bodies.
Kids don't just want to know about bodies: they also want to know where bodies come from! In the second book in the Let's Talk About You and Me series, Nellie and Gus' mom is pregnant, and the kids are wondering what the baby is doing inside the uterus and what will happen when it's time for their new sibling to be born. This volume focuses on pregnancy and birth, and only discusses conception briefly, in the context of cells from mother and father joining to start the new baby. It's the perfect volume to talk about what to expect with soon-to-be big sisters and brothers.
Described by its author as “a modern picture book about where babies come that fits for every kind of family and every kind of kid,” this book removes languages that presume gender and family status of the parent or parents, allowing parents to tailor their talk to their child's unique family. It provides a gentle introduction for young children to the concepts of conception, pregnancy, and birth, with inclusive enough language to incorporate heterosexual and homosexual couples, single parents, adoption, fertility treatments or surrogacy, and even either vaginal or cesarean birth. It's a fun and inclusive way for parents to celebrate diverse family and childbirth stories.
For parents that want to talk about the differences between boys and girls, how babies are made and born, and the basics of privacy, but avoid an in depth discussion of intercourse, this book is the perfect option. The cartoony illustrations show girls and boys at different stages of development from baby to young adult, as well as diagrams of internal organs. Saltz still discusses conception in terms of sperm joining egg, but leaves it up to parents to decide how and whether to explain the mechanics, making it perfect for younger preschoolers or for parents who want to save a discussion of sex for when their children are older.
One of the most popular and detailed books about bodies, pregnancy, and families for preschoolers, It's NOT The Stork follows a curious bird and bee friend as they learn about babies, bodies, and love from a diverse group of people of all ages, races, and body shapes. This book covers a wide range of topics, including growth in the womb, different kinds of families, and okay and not okay touches; the section-based format makes it perfect shorter, more detailed discussions about individual topics. The authors have also written two guides for older children which cover the same topics in more depth: It’s So Amazing! for ages 6 to 9 and It’s Perfectly Normal! for ages 10 and up.
Where do babies come from? How many kinds of families are there? What happens as someone grows up from a child into an adult? Kids will learn the answers to all these questions and more in this forthright and funny book! With comic-book style artwork and detailed, accurate text about bodies, pregnancy, relationships, families, consent, and more — including a basic explanation of the body changes of puberty that's perfect for early bloomers — this book can help elementary aged kids gain a better understanding of their bodies and feelings. The author / illustrator pair behind this book have written two other books for different ages; It's NOT The Stork explores similar concepts for ages 4 to 8, while It's Perfectly Normal for ages 10 and up elaborates further and helps kids understand what to expect as they go through puberty.
Understanding Touch And Body Privacy
You can’t talk about kids and sex without confronting the challenge of talking about sexual abuse. Statistics vary, but it’s generally accepted that somewhere around 1 in 4 girls experience some form of sexually abusive contact before the age of 18. Helping children understand what touch is okay and what touch is not is critical to helping protect them — and to encourage them to seek help if they experience abuse.
Kids can find confidence and courage in knowing they control their own body! This book teaches body safety skills, from understanding and knowing how to act on feeling uncomfortable with someone's behavior, to respecting body boundaries, to knowing your body — including private parts — by proper anatomical names, to building a support network you can count on when you need to talk. Throughout, kids are taught essential body safety skills that will help keep them safe as children, and help them grow up to be assertive and confident teenagers and adults. For another excellent title by the same author, check out No Means No: Teaching Children About Personal Boundaries, Respect, and Consent.
It's important for kids to understand that bodies have boundaries, and that everyone has a right to their own personal space. Jayneen Sanders, an experienced early years educator, provides simple and familiar scenarios — from giving a hug to pushing to get to the front of a line — to illustrate how "body bubbles" surround everyone and how to figure out when and if it's okay to cross those boundaries. Throughout, she empowers kids to speak up if their body boundaries have been crossed. Notes at the end include suggestions for adults reading the book with kids to further the discussion, building an understanding of respect and consent that will serve them throughout their lives.
Because young preschool kids are so used to touch as part of their day-to-day routines of dressing and hygiene, it is important to introduce the idea that many touches are optional and can be declined. This book provides a good introduction to a child’s control of their body: that they can choose to allow or not allow touching like hugs and kisses, even from someone they care about. Unlike some other books, this one does mention issues like help toileting and bathing, as well as the possible need for medical personnel to touch areas that would otherwise be off limits.
Discussions about touch aren't just about sexual abuse; they're also about respecting other people and their boundaries. Author Jayneen Sanders uses this general idea to address age-specific examples, such as roughhousing play like wrestling or choosing whether or not to give someone a kiss, and encourages kids to exercise their voice when they don't want a touch — and tell people they trust when they're uncomfortable. Discussion questions at the end helps parents talk further with their kids about these issues.
Once kids understand the general idea of bodily autonomy, parents can open the discussion about inappropriate sexual touch. This book provides a starting point for parents to talk about recognizing and preventing sexual abuse, including a child-friendly discussion of ploys used by molesters. It also empowers children to tell another adult if someone has touched them in an abusive way. Parents may want to clarify some of the concepts in this book — for example, telling children who still require help for hygiene that touching is necessary for cleaning — but it provides a good, simple introduction to the concept of sexual abuse.
Discussing touch can have additional challenges when a child has special needs, and issues like self-touching in public or respecting personal space may require more explicit explanation. This book explores all the different types of touch, including accidental touch, deliberate touch, appropriate touch, and inappropriate touch. It also tackles what a child should do if they feel they were touched inappropriately. While this book was written for children with special needs, these concepts are not easy for any child, making this book valuable to many families.
8-year-old Julie is uncomfortable with some kinds of touches, so it's time for a lesson about bodies and privacy! Through a conversation with her mother, Julie learns about her power to say "no" and what to do when her refusal isn't respected. Since this book is intended for an older audience, it also introduces more details about abuse, including a mention that even friends and family members should have no reason to touch, examine, or photograph the genitals of an older child. It also introduces "grey areas" of touch such as tickling, which may start out feeling good, emphasizing that an activity must always stop when someone says no.
“I'm Not Ready For This...”
For parents who want to have these discussions but feel awkward and uncertain, here is one great resource — and several useful tips — to help you have this very important conversation.
Having discussions about bodies from an early age sets the stage for an ongoing conversation about sex and sexuality. Sexuality educator Debra Haffner provides an age-by-age breakdown of what kids should know (and what they may be curious about), and gives help for parents who want to become more comfortable with conversations about bodies, sex, and gender. She also shows parents how they can communicate their values about sex and sexuality, while still ensuring kids have accurate information. This book covers birth through age 12; her follow-up book, Beyond the Big Talk, covers middle school, high school, and beyond.
This book is a step-by-step guide to help parents and educators keep kids safe from sexual abuse! With Body Safety Education, adults who live or work with children will learn how to teach them about important concepts like bodily autonomy, privacy, and inappropriate touch. They'll also learn how to spot signs of problems, like how an adult may try to groom a child. At the same time, kids are empowered by learning that "I am the boss of me," setting them up for ongoing assertiveness and confidence! With age appropriate language and simple, easily conveyed lessons, this book helps give children a thorough grounding in keep their bodies safe.
Kids are increasingly immersed in highly sexualized content — and that gives them a broad and often distorted depiction of what is acceptable in sexuality and relationships. Cindy Pierce, a sex educator and comic storyteller, show parents how they can talk about sexuality, pornography, and relationships with kids, establishing themselves as reliable, accessible sources of information when kids (accidentally or on purpose) see material that they find upsetting or confusing. The overall tone is one of optimism and confidence: parents can discuss these issues with their children, and those discussions can — and do — make a difference.
Tips for Parents on Body Talk
- When your child asks you a sex or body question, clarify exactly what the child wants to know. “Where did I come from?” might be about geography rather than pregnancy!
- Keep your answers simple; your child will ask if they want more detail. For example, if a four-year-old finds a condom and ask what it is, the answer “It’s a condom” will satisfy many children. If they follow it up with, “What’s it for?” you can elaborate slightly: “We don’t want any more babies right now; condoms help us do that.” You don’t have to give explicit detail unless you want to have a longer discussion.
- Decide what the rules for touch are in your family. Does your child have to hug Uncle Bob or Grandma, even if she doesn’t want to? Does she get to decide who helps her in the bath or with toileting? How do people in your family say, “I don’t want to be touched right now” to one another in a caring way?
- If you think your child has been abused, you can reference this page from the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network which will help you learn more about signs and symptoms of sexual abuse and where to get help.
- Let your child know that you are approachable; answer their questions honestly. They deserve to get reliable, accurate information. And you will feel good to know that they are getting that information from you.
It won’t be long before you look across the table and realize that your child is looking less and less like a child — and that you’d better start pulling out puberty resources. Fortunately, by laying a solid foundation with resources like these, you’ll have given your daughter a great head start at understanding her body.
Additional recommended Resources
- For a diverse assortment of guides on all aspects of growing up, including ones addressing issues related to both physical and social development, visit our Guides for Girls section.
- For more resources to help girls of all ages understand their bodies, visit our Human Development & Puberty section.
- To help encourage a positive body image in girls, visit our blog Celebrating Every Body: 20 Body Image Positive Books for Mighty Girls.
- For science toys and kits designed to teach children about how the human body works, visit our Human Body toys section.