When you’re a dad, parenting questions often come up that you struggle to find an answer to. Since other parents are the worst and the internet will send you down a rabbit hole of paralyzing, paranoid terror, we’re here to help by putting those questions to the experts. This is “Basic Dad,” an advice column for dads who feel stupid about asking for basic advice.
The Very Basic Concern
When should I stop walking around naked in front of my kid?
It’s an awkward question, but not as awkward as the question my 3-year-old asked when she saw my penis as I got dressed this morning: “What’s that?”
Like any responsible parent, I replied “nothing” and told her to go watch TV. But it got me thinking: Like many parents (I suspect), I got pretty used to being naked in front of my kid when she was still a tiny baby — not that I’m always naked, I just mean when getting undressed for bed, or stepping out of the shower. You figure when they’re that little, they don’t even notice, much less remember.
But now that my daughter’s awareness of the world around her has expanded, I’ve realized that I’ve had this concern in the back of my head from day one. More than that, I’ve realized I’m not ready to answer her question yet—what’s that?
So are my days of casual nakedness at home over? Like my uncovered genitals, I’m completely adrift on this one.
The Expert Advice
Katie Helpley, LMFT, Family Therapist: The most important thing is that nudity never be stopped because it’s a “dirty” or “shameful” thing. It should be done from the place of, “Our bodies are private, our bodies are important and our bodies are ours, and we make the decisions about who gets to see them and who doesn’t get to see them.”
When your child starts to point out the differences and says, “What’s that?” your answer should be very matter-of-fact: “This is Daddy’s penis. Nobody touches it. It’s mine.” Then you should proceed to explain that everybody’s bodies are different, and you should normalize the differences between men and women. Ultimately though, if your family is comfortable like that, it’s not necessarily a bad thing or a wrong thing to walk around naked in front of your kid: It’s more about how you describe it to your child and what you’re comfortable with and what your child is comfortable with.
When your child notices it, remember that it’s an opportunity to educate. Approach things in a calm, open-minded way, so that your child will be more comfortable coming to you later about issues surrounding their private areas without feeling shameful. Like if a child has a UTI, they may not tell Daddy if they feel like there is something “dirty” about their genitals.
As for when being naked in front of your kid should end, I think it happens naturally around school age. Obviously, you’re not going to walk around naked if your daughter has friends over.
Deborah Harms, Ph.D., Child Psychologist: You should stop appearing naked in front of your child by age 3 at the very latest. If they’re exposed to much nudity past this age, it may be overstimulating to a child and could lead to a preoccupation with nudity, which could manifest itself with anxiety or maybe in your child’s drawings — they may draw penises everywhere or very phallic imagery. It may also lead to nudity being completely normalized for them; thus, they may not acknowledge that their bodies are private.
For a boy, they could potentially notice a difference in the size of their penis versus their father’s and somehow feel “less than” because of it. They can’t contextualize that theirs is going to grow. All they see is that theirs is small. Hence, it may be inferior. For a girl, they may feel as though something is missing or that they’re damaged in some way because Daddy has something that they don’t.
Honestly, people in my profession usually refrain from appearing naked in front of their children even earlier than 3. Though it can’t be proven of course, it’s believed that this exposure can create an impression upon children as young as 1 or 2 that may have the same lasting impacts.
Sam McKenna, Activities Director at Sunny Rest Nudist Resort: For people who grow up in the nudist lifestyle, like the families that come to Sunny Rest, a dad walking around naked is completely normal. So, honestly, it’s all about where you grew up and where you came from. I guess I’d decide when to stop walking around nude based on whether your kids are comfortable around it or not.
Manny, French Father of Two: I never thought about it because my boys are still quite young —5 and 9. I try not to present myself naked to them as best as I can, but that said, I don’t feel bad or worry when I get caught off-guard.
My rule of thumb is that until they themselves don’t feel bad walking naked in front of me, then I shouldn’t either. I’m sure around puberty their consciousness will change and mine will change with theirs.
Matt Brescia, American Father of Three: When they’re very young, like 2 years old, it’s not considered to be an issue. I think once they start getting to 3, they might become more aware of the fact that Daddy is naked, but it doesn’t really bother them. Probably about 7 is when you want to stop entirely. They’re in school, they’re on the bus making dick jokes, it’s part of their vernacular at that point. And that’s the age when they become more articulate and express their opinions. They’re like little adults at that point, so you want to put up your decency walls.
I’ll be more conscious of it around my daughter; she’s still just 2, whereas my boys are 6 and 10. I’ll probably stop with her at a younger age. There’s definitely a double standard. Also, for a daughter, once you stop appearing nude in front of them, there’s never a point again where you can start it back up again. Like with a boy, if they’re older, you may not do anything on purpose, but if you’re at a gym or something, it may not be a big deal to change in front of your son. But with a daughter, once it goes away it’s gone. That’s your final penis swan song.