What happens when adults feel so uncomfortable talking about certain things, that they either avoid a topic completely or else when they do talk about it their tone and behaviour brings forth this discomfort? 

Avoidance Keeps Things Taboo

Firstly, let’s take the former case; when we avoid talking about something completely, children and others perceive that this topic isn’t allowed or isn’t normal. Thus they will also avoid speaking about it. So let’s take something basic; imagine that my child lost his toy and starts crying and feels sad about this. As an adult if I ignore this and do not talk about emotions, it shows that I am not validating his emotions, I am not teaching him or giving him tools to express his emotions, and I am not receptive to his emotional needs which would then lead to him shutting off from me and not showing me his emotions again in the future. I have provided an environment where there is no permission to talk about or to express emotions.

Accepting our Genitalia

Let’s apply this case to our genitalia. If we do not teach children the functions or names of our genitalia, in the same way that we explain about all other body parts, the message that we are giving is that it is not acceptable to talk about it, there is no space to ask questions or to discuss anything from health matters, to our child’s relationship with their body, and also with regards to sexual health and expression of their sexuality later on in their life. This level of secrecy adds on another level of danger. If it is so secret that my own parents cannot talk about it, how much more difficult is it for me as a child to talk about any abuse that may be happening? What if someone is touching the child inappropriately and again, asking the child to keep it a secret?

Overcoming Shame Around Sex

Secondly, if the adults talk about certain topics in a way that shows their discomfort or embarrassment. The message we teach children here is that there is shame, that these parts are so bad that they cause this reaction in the adults and they need to be given different and often silly names since they are so rude to talk about. This doesn’t let the child develop a healthy image and relationship with their body parts as they develop certain connotations of shame and even disgust. In a blog by Manhoor Nadeem on ‘Overcoming Shame Around Sex’ there is more information about how this can culture of shame may be perpetuated into one’s intimate relationships later on in life.

Another aspect to this in children may be that their friends may make fun of them when the subject is brought up and the child may not know the correct terms and they would also feel at a loss and confused when they realise that they haven’t been using the correct terminology. 

By communicating openly with our children, we help form a respectful bond with them, we normalise all our aspects (physical, sexual, emotional) and we are also teach children about:

  • Boundaries with regards to appropriate sexual behaviour, 
  • Why certain parts are private but not shameful,
  • Forming a positive relationship with their body,
  • Their own sexual and physical health,
  • The correct way to address things, be it body parts/experiences/emotions.

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Abigail Church is a Humanistic Integrative Counsellor who works with adults and children through counselling with Willingness. She can be contacted on abigail@willingness.com.mt or call us on 79291817.