Hi Dr. Meg,
Please help! As swimming suit season approaches I am unsure of how to talk to my soon 8-year-old on the topic of modesty.
Our neighbor just sent over a bag of hand me downs (for which we are very grateful). She is my oldest and I never really gave this much thought at all until she asked if she could wear it. Of course, many girls (and moms for that matter) wear them, but my preference would be for her to not expose so much skin.
How do I explain this to her at this age so I can ‘set a precedent now’ without explaining the sexuality behind it and how, as I am sure will be the source of many other conversations, ‘everyone else can do it’.
I would like to give thoughtful answers as opposed to a litany of rules which I personally rebelled against as a teenager. We are a very imperfect, grace-filled, and biblically-based family and would love your direction.
Good for you! Teaching children modesty is critical to healthy self-esteem and many parents don’t understand this.
Helping your daughter learn to love her body enough to keep it private is extremely important. Modesty, in fact, is a natural means of self-preservation and our culture crushes it. When that happens, children are harmed in a multitude of ways.
Many think modesty comes from being ashamed of the body but in fact, healthy modesty shows the opposite - that one is proud and respectful of their body.
Here’s what you can do.
First, tell your daughter that her body is very beautiful and special. Then tell her that because God made it special and beautiful, that some parts of it are private.
This will make her feel good because intuitively she knows this. Tell her that it is important to wear a bathing suit to cover her body not because something is wrong with it but because it is so beautiful that it deserves protection and privacy.
She is too young to understand that men or boys will look at her in a sexual manner so don’t talk about this. Simply tell her that in your family all of you respect your bodies and keep them more covered than other people do. That’s why she wears a one-piece, not a two piece. (This means that you should wear a one-piece suit too in order to be consistent.)
By making modesty a family issue, pressure is taken off of her alone and she feels camaraderie.
As far as worrying about making her feel isolated from her friends, because they wear bikinis, stop. Great parenting requires hard decisions that help, not harm children. Our culture, not you, harms children so stick to your guns and embrace wise parenting.
In my online course 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids, I discuss the importance of teaching kids body boundaries. Beginning with teaching them how and why their bodies are beautiful, we teach children to cover specific, private areas to protect them from others seeing or touching them. It is not uncommon for children in early elementary school try to peek at another’s breasts or groin and teaching body boundaries helps children know that this is off limits.
Children raised with a healthy sense of modesty have more self-confidence and self-respect in the long run. As they mature, they learn to guard and respect their sexuality. By helping them avoid high-risk behaviors like sexual activity, it keeps them psychologically and physically much healthier.