My older daughter is whispering and playing with herself.

“Dear Ignacio, I have two young daughters, 8 and 5. They sometimes bathe together with either me or my partner's supervision. The other day, I left them alone for a few minutes as they were playing in the tub. When I returned I saw that my older daughter was whispering while playing with her #genitals. She stopped talking as soon as she saw me and started giggling. I playfully asked what she was saying, and she responded dismissively. I am getting paranoid about what my 8yo might be telling my 5yo, and am not sure how to approach either of them.”

Bath time can be a time of bubbles, silliness, and splashing. I’m glad to hear that the children are supervised. When it comes to children in the tub, even leaving for a second can be too much time. I have included a link below that gives more information about tub safety. 

I commend you on not freaking out. Your initial reaction to walking in on your older daughter whispering while playing with her genitals in front of your younger daughter, was calm and non-judgmental. Bravo! You matched that playful energy and playfully asked what was going on rather than freaking out and having a knee jerk reaction to the situation. 

I suggest that you keep the communication line open with your children in a similar playful manner. Maybe next time do separate bath time so you can talk with each of them individually. If you do still bathe with them, you can introduce a new game called  “mommy and me” during bath time, when you two get to talk about how bodies change. Also, consider putting up some images or books around the house of changing cisgender, intersex, and trans bodies. Bring the conversation out into the open. I have included some book recommendations below. 

I would say there is no need for paranoia about what the 8 year old is telling the 5 year old. You may never know, but you can reduce the risk of miseducation by giving them the correct facts. Sometimes children get embarrassed or don’t have the language to express their curiosity, so they may be dismissive. Your reaction to their expression of curiosity can deeply influence how they view that subject or whether they will ever talk to you about it. 

Regarding their age, the younger child would need more information about her bodily autonomy and consent. Your eldest is at an age that she should be getting acquainted with her soon-maturing body. It may be time to have separate bath times if the girls are in different growth, curiosity, and desire spurts — however, that is a personal choice. Be sure to talk to them, answer questions, and read together, especially while in quarantine. 

For your older daughter, check out: Celebrate Your Body (and Its Changes, Too!): The Ultimate Puberty Book for Girls by Sonya Renee Taylor, and Sex is a Funny Word: A Book about Bodies, Feelings, and You by Cory Silverberg. 

Article: When can a child be left alone in the bathtub?



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