Care and Feeding

Our 5-Year-Old Twins Just Learned the Names for Genitals

And now they yell them all the time. How can we stop this without introducing body shame?

Young child making a funny face with his mouth, set against an abstract background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Ruslanshug/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m the father of a pair of 5-year-old twin boys, “Geoff” and “Paul.” The boys are funny and sharp and are almost always a delight but lately something, uh, delicate has come up. Their mom and I had a talk with them about the differences between girls and boys bodies and both were very attentive and interested. Maybe too interested?

Because now the two of them have begun marching around the house trumpeting “PENIS” and “PAGINA” at full volume at all hours, sometimes while waving their toy construction flags like they’re in a Thanksgiving parade. I’m not going to lie: It’s pretty adorable and funny (don’t tell them I said that).

We’ve explained to them that those are words usually reserved for private conversations, but that has only seemed to make them louder and more animated. I imagine this will pass someday, but I don’t want them to be performing their genitalia cheer at school or church or whatever. Any advice on how to tamp this down without making it seem like we are shaming them over perfectly normal human anatomy?

—Parade Pooper

Dear Parade Pooper,

I’m so happy. So happy. Thank you for this gift. You are a fortunate parent. This is why we have children, especially since we can no longer guarantee they will look after us in our old age.

My friend, you are going to have to stop reacting. Picture infectious diseases or bog bodies or whatever is a reliable source of sobriety in your home. Bite the inside of your mouth. Leave the room, pretending you need to use the bathroom, and play the theme to Brian’s Song on your phone.

More importantly, as with the farting child of recent weeks, you have to create a division between your home and the world of other humans. In your home, the parade of shrieking genitalia names may continue until they tire of it. If it happens in public, everyone gets back in the car and we go home. It’s a pain in your ass to abandon a grocery cart midstore, but you usually only have to do it once or twice.

If my personal parenting philosophy could be summed up in two main points, they would be the following:

You should try to have as much fun with this as possible while they’re with you, because you have no guarantee they will be grateful later. We live in a society with rules, and you will eventually have to spit them out into it, all damp and half-formed.

I have answered so many questions from my kids with “because we live in a society,” and the older two kinda get it, and all I can hope is someday they’ll be asked by a peer to spray-paint a nursing home and my words will jangle around their Juul-hazed brains and they’ll say “let’s go get hot-and-sour soup instead.”

Your children are a delight. Cherish them. Update me.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My boyfriend and I have been seeing each other for a year, and are Hallmark movie perfect for each other in nearly every way. We see a future together.

So the downside, and potentially debatable side, is that he is still waiting to finalize a long divorce. (He is sober. She was not, and things became volatile). The ethics of this circumstance are not my question. My question has to do with his two young daughters, ages 6 and 4.

I do not want to step on Mom’s toes, and the ink will barely be dry when he and I can be more open. Although we’ve been together a while, they will not understand it. I want to begin my relationship with them as best I can. He doesn’t have any clear idea either. Neither of us has done this before.

—Awkward Introductions

Dear AI,

They will one day be able to do basic math, so I think that you will wish to avoid any serious obfuscation of the timeline. That being said, you should wait longer to introduce yourself. Plenty of us have had “perfect” relationships at the one year mark that did not exactly translate into lying in side-by-side bathtubs on a hill 50 years later like the Cialis ad. Not to mention that a “volatile” almost-ex-wife with substance use issues has you playing the game on hard mode.

Now, I would usually say that six months to a year is a reasonable relationship duration to introduce a new partner to the kids. You don’t want to say, “This is Melissa, we have already secretly celebrated six Christmases together, and she will be your new stepmother.” It’s a balance.

The difference here, of course, is that your boyfriend is still technically married. You have not been with the divorced version of your boyfriend yet. I do not know if they have been living separately or for how long. I think you should wait, ideally, until six months after the ink is dry. If you are already living together or have plans to do so right away, that’s probably an implausible request.

In terms of mechanics, I find a trip to the movies (wait until there’s something that will appeal to the 4-year-old) followed by ice cream is a fantastic, low-stress first introduction. “This is my good friend Melissa!” Much like a first date, a movie gives you something to talk about over ice cream (dinner is too much; also the 4-year-old will be ready to crash afterward).

Then a trip to a kid-friendly museum. Then a nice walk in the park the next time. You don’t want to brand yourself as Fun Fancy Excursion Friend, just a pleasant person who likes their dad and likes spending time with them. Then you let things grow organically from there.

I wish you the best.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are expecting our first baby, and in the country we come from, baby items are very expensive. The protocol there is to visit the newborn once the parents are ready and bring a single, thoughtful gift. That being said, my question is regarding baby gifts for others. We met a very nice couple at church who were also expecting their first little one at about the same time as us. We became friends right away and hang out often.

Once we got closer to the delivery date, my pregnant friend mentioned she had bought a small gift for my baby. She did say small. Here is what happened: She went into labor earlier, and two weeks later they invited us over to meet their baby. Toward the end of the visit, she said, “Oh, let me give you your gift!” and then she brought this very large box with probably over 10 gifts inside! I started opening it, and there were multiple sets of baby clothes, socks, toys, even stuff for me like nursing pads, and tea! Everything brand-new! It was a lot, really!

Right after, it was our turn to hand them the gift we had brought … which was a single toy for their baby! I cannot describe how embarrassing and awkward it was! My husband and I were so ashamed at the time and afterward. Based on our background and on the fact my friend had previously mentioned her gift was small, we thought our gift was fine, but it was so disproportionate compared with theirs!

Is there anything we can do to minimize this awkwardness? Should I always consider giving many gifts once I visit a newborn? We are not rich or anything, but neither are they, and yet, it seemed like a normal thing to do. Help!

—Ostriching Until Forever

Dear Ostrich,

You haven’t done anything wrong! Nor, do I think, have you accidentally done something culturally absurd. My personal guess is that you were the recipient of a lot of double gifts they received from family and friends, not that they splashed out like the Borgias (but, you know, nice generous Borgias, they must have had some?) on your baby.

Send your most effusive thank-you note imaginable. I’m talking about buying the heavy card stock, having someone with actual penmanship physically write two dictated paragraphs about how meaningful their friendship has been to you, etc.

Going forward, proceed as you did with your friend. One nice gift. We all have (hopefully!) that one friend who goes way too hard in the gift department, and in my experience, they do not usually expect you to reciprocate at that level, they just want to make you happy and to be thanked, which is your only real etiquette requirement here.

But, you know, for the baby’s first birthday, maybe have something engraved. It’s not that expensive to put the baby’s little name on a cup and saucer set and it screams “I MADE AN EFFORT.” Also, they’ll be too exhausted by then to buy you a house or a car for your own baby’s first birthday.

Congratulations!

Does One “I Hate You” Void 15 Million “I Love Yous”?

Dan Kois and Jamilah Lemieux are joined by Isaac Butler on this week’s episode of Slate’s parenting podcast, Mom and Dad Are Fighting.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 4-year-old with a typical issue: She’s scared of the dark and doesn’t want to go to sleep alone. Most nights, either my husband or I will lay on her floor until she falls asleep (10–15 minutes, not a huge deal). However, maybe one night out of every two weeks she’s awake for over an hour and has a royal tantrum if we leave. She’s also waking at night intermittently, and when that happens, we let her sleep on the floor of our room.

The bigger issue is: My husband and I don’t agree on how to handle this. I would rather avoid the tantrum, even if it means enabling a long-term bad habit. He is more along the lines of yelling at her until she falls asleep and has little patience when that doesn’t work. He thinks I’m a pushover, and I think his temper gets in the way. I end up “dealing” with the tantrums most nights because he tends to make things worse by yelling at her.

For what it’s worth, “crying it out” isn’t really an option as it will wake up our 18-month-old (who is an awesome sleeper). Can you help us both with how to handle her, and how to better work together?

—Wit’s End

Dear WE,

Well, as you know, you are both handling this badly in very different ways! I do find your position, although obviously a clear-cut case of fashioning a rod for your own back, more understandable because of the 18-month-old who will certainly wake up. I do, however, suspect that your husband yelling at your 4-year-old will also wake the 18-month-old. And, in case I need to tell anyone, yelling at a scared 4-year-old about going to bed is not going to make the going-to-bed process seem like a better experience.

I’m going to go out on a limb here: Let her leave a light on. Who cares? A night light may not cut it: Kids know they’re a weak-sauce substitute for the real thing, which, frankly, is unlikely to dismiss even the most benign specter (which, for your edification, is the Ghost of Christmas Present from The Muppet Christmas Carol). Get a lamp with a thick shade, pop it next to her bed, let her leave the damn thing on.

And don’t let her into your bed if she wakes up randomly; she has a lamp now. Unless it’s a night terror, in which case it’s your responsibility to let her in. Parenting compact.

— Nicole

More Advice From Slate

I have two kids, one in the third grade and the other in sixth grade. On various occasions they have both come to me in tears because of their frustration with a video game. How am I supposed to respond to this? It is my inclination to tell them to cut it out because, what can I say, it’s a freaking video game. I suspect there’s a way I can respond that acknowledges their frustrations but puts them in perspective, but I’m stumped.