Updated: May 9, 2012 8:05AM
I’m the oldest of four boys, and we grew up in a farmhouse with one shower. Making your way from the bathroom to your dresser for a clean pair of underwear sometimes warranted a loosely fitting towel. Other times, it did not.
As I grew older, I realized that not everyone was raised in a men’s locker room — particularly my buddies with sisters. These guys would change in the bathroom or in the privacy of their bedrooms with the door closed and shades drawn.
Now, I have 4- and 5-year-old sons, so little has changed. Bubba and Peter run out of the bathtub and streak around the house like a pair of puppies at a dog park. It’s cute and effective for drying them after a bath.
But I wondered if there comes a time when it becomes awkward for a child to be naked with his or her parent and vice versa. I imagine this would be a greater issue among dads and daughters and moms and sons. But I’m sure there are plenty of boys more modest than mine too.
I called Dr. Margret Nickels, director of the Center for Children and Families at the Chicago-based Erikson Institute. She said issues of nudity vary greatly depending on culture and family beliefs, so it’s impossible to give an exact age when children start to feel awkward about seeing their parents naked or being nude with them.
“Different families do it differently,” Nickels said.
That being said, children start to develop a sense of body modesty between 4 and 8 years old. Going to school is often a catalyst, as girls and boys use separate washrooms and touching is heavily monitored, Nickels said.
The challenge for parents is to pick up on their child’s comfort level toward nudity and respond appropriately. For example, a child who once enjoyed showering with his or her parent might begin to balk at the idea. That’s a sign to change the routine and begin bathing separately, Nickels said.
Other things to look for are jokes about body parts. These gags (while rarely funny) demonstrate a child’s increased awareness of his or her body. By poking fun, kids are trying to define what is, and is not, appropriate, Nickels said.
Requests for modesty show up in opposite gender relationships first. So, a brother might ask his sister for privacy while using the bathroom, but he’ll have no problem peeing on a tree alongside his buddy. Or a daughter might close a door while changing in front of her father but not with her mother, Nickels said.
“The issue really is as long as it feels natural and comfortable among all family members, then it is perfectly acceptable,” Nickels said.
Other signs of increased body awareness are more overt. For example, a boy might stare at his mom or dad while he or she is toweling off after a shower. While some curiosity is perfectly acceptable, a seemingly endless stare will undoubtedly feel strange, and a parent might opt to close the bathroom door next time, she said.
If you miss some of these cues, don’t stress out. There’s no evidence to suggest emerging from the shower sans towel is going to influence your child to streak at the Super Bowl later in life, Nickels said.
And now I have to wrap up this column. Bubba and Peter just finished their bath, and I can hear them tearing down the hallway, shouting “Naked Boys! Naked Boys!”
So much for modesty.
Howard A. Ludwig is a former SouthtownStar business reporter who traded his reporter’s notebook for diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad.
He can be reached at email@example.com.