Kids and Modesty: When Should They Cover Up?

One patient of mine hated underwear so much in kindergarten that he asked his mother if he could wear dresses at home because it “felt good.”
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Last Updated
April 22, 2019
posted on
September 18, 2012
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Minute Read

Any parent who has raised a boy knows that most love to run around naked. One patient of mine hated underwear so much in kindergarten that he asked his mother if he could wear dresses at home because it “felt good.” This made his mother scratch her head pretty hard.

Any parent who has raised a boy knows that most love to run around naked. One patient of mine hated underwear so much in kindergarten that he asked his mother if he could wear dresses at home because it “felt good.” This made his mother scratch her head pretty hard.

Most children feel comfortable enough at home to walk around in the buff, and every parent needs to decide at what age he needs to start covering up. Maybe the child doesn’t feel modest, but older siblings may feel uncomfortable with him naked. Here are a few tips that will help parents navigate these times in a manner that will preserve a child’s modesty while avoiding any sense of shame.

  • When children are preschoolers, bathing with a younger sibling, keeping the bathroom door open while using it, or walking around the house without clothes is perfectly normal. Kids love the feel of freedom, which being naked affords. Many parents bathe toddlers and preschoolers in the bath together to save time (and allow the kids to play).
  • Once kids hit kindergarten (around age 5), it’s time to start covering up. Gently begin to teach your youngster that his/her body is very beautiful, but that it is private. If your son goes to the beach, he needs to wear a bathing suit. If your daughter goes to a friend’s house, she will close the bathroom door while using the toilet. This teaches kids body boundaries. It shows them that they are in charge of their bodies and that they have say over what happens. And—it helps preserve their modesty.
  • Most kids who are taught this like it. At age 5 or 6 they are beginning to explore their bodies and they should be made to feel good about them. But, they need to know that their bodies are private. Should a 5-year-old walk around the house naked? Most will try, but they should be reminded (with a smile) that they are growing up and need privacy. So, they should wrap up in a towel. They should not be reprimanded, just reminded.
  • As children enter the early elementary school years, they will usually feel quite comfortable naked at home and this is fine. Again, they should not be encouraged to trot around naked but be reminded to get clothes on because their bodies are special and private. Tell them that when we like something a lot, we protect it and keep it private. Girls will feel comfortable naked in front of girlfriends but should start feeling awkward half naked in front of boys they don’t know. Some children are naturally modest and want to cover up; others have to be coaxed pretty hard.
  • In families with children of multiple ages, older children will care more about modesty than younger ones. Usually, they will teach the younger ones to get their clothes on particularly because they might have friends over or because they will be maturing and feel modest even in front of their younger brothers and sisters. So, to protect the feelings of older kids, it’s important for parents to teach younger kids to give older siblings their privacy.
  • Training children to be modest is very important for their self-esteem. As they mature, children who grow up with a strong sense of respect and appreciation for their bodies will have a greater sense that they are in charge. As they grow into the high school years, this will be a great benefit—especially when they feel pressured to be sexually active like their peers. Often parents find themselves at war with adolescent daughters over the way they dress. Because fashion industries are run by those marketing sex to kids (ie., Abercrombie and Fitch), clothes are cut to sexualize girls at very young ages. So, parents need to intervene for their kids.
  • I encourage mothers to shop with their daughters. You don’t want to look like a control freak, so talk to your daughter before you go. Tell her that you are happy to spend money at stores that respect her as an intelligent, thinking woman and that you won’t spend money at stores that denigrate her. So, choose stores that are acceptable before you walk into the mall. Then, help her choose clothes that respect her beauty, not trash it. Once she buys clothes that you think enhance her beauty as a woman, she takes them home, hangs them in her closet and wears whatever she wants from that closet to school. This is the best way to avoid daily clothes wars.

Note to dads: don’t be shy about weighing in on your daughter’s clothing choices. And note to moms: let Dad weigh in. He knows exactly what young men will be feeling as they watch your young daughter walk down the hall at school.

Dr. Meg Meeker, MD

Practicing pediatrician, parent, grandparent, coach, speaker, and author. Say hello @MegMeekerMD

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