Penis, The Elephant: Speaking about Private Parts with Young Children

Clay sculpture of an elephant made by a preschooler
Photo izzie_whizzie|CC

Help children establish a healthy, shame-free attitude about their bodies. Start simple by using appropriate names for body parts, rather than approaching the issue with embarrassment or apprehension.

The Humourous Story of Penis the Elephant

A three year old boy made a play dough elephant. “What’s his name?”, his mom asked.

“Penis”, he confidently smiled.

“That’s an interesting name, sweetie, but that’s actually the elephant’s nose. It may look like a penis, but it’s called a trunk.” He looked at mom with bewildered eyes, like she completely didn’t have a clue.

Seeing this as an opportunity to discuss the delicate issue of body parts, mom bravely continued.

She explained why an elephant’s penis is different from his trunk, what bodily functions they perform (smelling vs. peeing vs. reproduction), how penises come in different sizes and shapes, and how an elephant uses his trunk to lift heavy objects and feed himself (which of course you could never do with a penis.)

Finishing her speech, she felt very proud of her dignified explanation and that she had conquered her fear of discussing private parts and sex organs.

Her son only blankly stared, crestfallen, and then walked away.

His older brother then chimed in, “I think he said the elephant’s name was Peanuts, not Penis.”

Should you talk about sexuality and nudity with young children?

Even the youngest children will start asking questions about their own bodies.  Why do they have a penis, when mommy does not? Where do babies come from? Why can’t they run naked at preschool?

Unless parents talk about these issues openly and proactively, children cannot learn what is socially acceptable behavior, and may even become ashamed or develop unhealthy attitudes about their own bodies.

Our society leaves little room to develop a healthy, integrated attitude toward sexuality. We’re surrounded by powerful sexual images in the media, and it can be hard for parents to be clear about what healthy sexual development is.

Families have widely different perspectives on issues related to sexuality and nudity. For some parents, this means working through their own fears, confusions, and stigmas.

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Help your child establish a healthy, shame-free attitude about his/her body.

Tips for Speaking about Private Parts with Young Children

  • Give appropriate language for body parts. Make sure both boys and girls have appropriate language for their body parts. Boys should know about their penises, testicles, and scrotum. Girls should learn about their vulvas, vaginas, labia, and clitorises. If you feel uncomfortable saying the words, practice. Eventually you’ll stumble over them less.


  • Talk about genitals like any other part of the body. Just like “eyes”, “elbows”, and “noses”. Speak without embarrassment. Penises and vaginas are parts of a healthy body, not things to feel ashamed or embarrassed about.


  • Provide the appropriate level of information. Talking about body parts and sexuality should occur throughout your child’s life, but often parents rush to talk about it all at once. Only provide the information needed at the time, allowing both you and your child time to become comfortable.


  • Start young. Even as babies, parents can begin using appropriate language. “Let’s wipe the pee off your penis.”, “ We need to wash your vulva.”. If you establish healthy communication around body parts and sex at a young age, it will make future conversations easier and easier.

Don’t wait until your child is a pre-teen or teenager!!  The “sex talk” isn’t just one talk; it’s a lifetime conversation between parent and child.

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Great Books for Discussing Private Parts with Young Children

Who Has What?: All About Girls' Bodies and Boys' Bodies (Let's Talk about You and Me)

by Nadine Bernard Westcott

A good way to start talking about private parts for parents uncomfortable with discussing or naming them.

Amazing You!: Getting Smart About Your Private Parts

by Gail Saltz, Lynne Avril Cravath

A perfect book for preschoolers who are becoming aware of their bodies....and are starting to ask questions about sexuality.