I have a question regarding my 5 year old grandson. He has a 2 year old sister as well. My grandson refuses to wear underwear. He walks around naked and my daughter cannot get him to leave his clothes on. And with a younger sister around makes it worse. What can we do to make him leave his clothes on?
Dear Concerned Grama,
Children have a beautiful sense of wonder and freedom about their bodies. We want to keep that healthy feeling and avoid anything that would create body shaming. As young children, both are probably curious that their bodies don’t look the same. It’s part of their education to learn that girls have vulvas (as well as vaginas but the vagina is actually the name for the interior channel, not the outer structures that are visible when you are standing naked in front of your brother) and boys have testicles and penises.
At 2 and 5 they are not sexual beings. They don’t have sexual feelings or motivations, though they both have nerve endings that feel pleasure when they are touched. They are simply children learning about themselves, others and biology.
They are also learning how to co-operate and get along in the group. We are social animals and we have to socialize our children. In our culture, we cover our “private parts”. That is not true for all cultures, but we have to prepare them for the social norms of where they live.
Other people in the family don’t care to see their private parts, so it is a requirement to wear underpants in the common areas of the house. If they choose to go naked, they can do this in the bathroom or their bedroom. If they chose to go naked, you can simply and matter of factly walk them to their rooms and say “this is where we need to be if we are naked. If you would like to be in the common areas of the house – undies are required. You decide.”
Without getting upset or scolding, enforce the rule by guiding him back to the bedroom. With calm repetition, he will likely decide wearing undies is a better option for him because it allows him more free range of places to be and more people to socialize with. You are not forcing him, or deciding for him, but you are controlling the social order of the family and trusting him to figure out for himself what is required.
Some children unwittingly learn that pulling down their pants shocks people and they may decide they like that reaction from others. It’s important to give this as little attention as possible so they don’t feel mighty in undermining you this way.
I was a bit more liberal with my children who loved to go naked. I enforced the rule that underpants were required for eating at the table. If you wanted breakfast, undies were a requirement of getting served. Hunger was a good motivator for putting on undies. Over time, trust your children are more likely to adopt social norms simply by modelling and wanting to fit in.
If they decide they are nudists as they grow up, they will eventual find their way to nudist communities who share this social norm. Nudists still put on clothes to go to work and the grocery store because they know the different social rules in different social environments.