Winning, Penises & Girlfriends: What My Son Is Picking Up From Preschool (Not Charlie Sheen)


My son started nursery school earlier this month.  Not that he needs it.  He’s my first born and my scholarly pride.  He could identify every letter of the alphabet at just 18 months old.  Before his first day of school he learned to write his name and read full sentences.  So when my husband informed me it was customary for 3-year-olds to start school in NYC, I was reluctant.  Clearly I thought our son was getting all the information he needed at home.  Turns out I was depriving him of some fascinating concepts: winning, penises and girlfriends.

Win.  Penis.  Girlfriend.  We don’t use those words in my house.  I would never call them “bad words” (or even insinuate the same), but perhaps they don’t belong in the vocabulary of a 3-year-old.  Yet my son has quickly added all three to his repertoire since his first day at school.

Winning.  It’s overrated in my book.  In my house we focus on “trying” and shy away from result-oriented words like “winning” or “losing.”  I’m not part of that “every child is a winner” camp and if it was my choice, he’d never lay his hands on a trophy for anything.  I simply want to know he gave his best effort.  Yet suddenly he enthusiastically recounts his daily victories: on the playground, lining up for dismissal, even in the bathroom.  Someone taught him the value of the pole position and he is giving all his effort to get there.  If his friends are the winners in this category, I am the loser.

Penis.  Now I know this is harmless enough. Typical childish bathroom humor.  I don’t understand why little kids find the word “penis” so funny, but it’s undisputed that they do.  Which is one of the reasons we never introduced the word at home; it just becomes maddening ammunition to get a rise out of mommy and daddy.  I also don’t understand why some moms are obsessed with teaching their potty-training children the “appropriate” term for their genitals.   It’s the only word they insist must be called by its anatomically correct name.  I’ve never heard a mom mention whether their child was cutting a bicuspid or canine.  In fact, I usually hear them telling that same child stories of when they were “in mommy’s belly.”  That’s confusing even for me, so in my house we stick to the preschool version of all body parts.  I was hoping he would learn the appropriate words at appropriate times, but school got the best of that plan.

Girlfriend.  Actually he hasn’t yet learned the specific word for the trauma he is suffering, but there is no mistaking the emotional rollercoaster of his first girlfriend.  The first day at drop-off she said to me “I just want to make him laugh” as she danced around him and told silly jokes. The next day they held hands. The third day, apparently unhappy with the level of her love gone unrequited, she declared she never wanted to talk to him again.  My son ended up in tears.  She is a full 11 months older than my son and this cougar is dragging him through the wringer.  I had expected to hold off these heartaches until middle school, but again I was foiled by his classroom experiences.

All of this is pretty funny and light fare, and I say it with a smile on my face.  At this age, habits come and go with the days of the week.  However, these current fascinations give me a taste of the yuckiest lesson a mom learns over the years:  my son is no longer just mine; he belongs to others in the world.  I can share my knowledge and values but he will also be influenced by teachers, coaches and peers.  His own path will be an integration of the lessons he learns from each.  That is, unless I can convince my husband to let me homeschool him until college.

(photo: Digital Media Pro /Shutterstock)

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  • Eve Vawter

    hahahaha “I’ve never heard a mom mention whether their child was cutting a bicuspid or canine” I love this article <3

    • EArmstrong3

      I’ve actually mentioned or when talking to my mother-in-law; it’s no different than specifying molars.

  • Beth

    Penis, really? What do you call it? Everything else is pretty much slang and more prone to “typical childish bathroom humor”. Kids will be kids and calling this body part exactly what it is doesn’t mean that they are more or less likely to make jokes about it. I don’t think calling it a penis is akin to referring to the individual tooth names, but rather similar to calling out other body parts, like arms and legs. You’re analogy is more fitting to a mom teaching her daughter to identify each part of the female anatomy, like vulva, labia, or clitoris, rather than just saying vagina. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that either, but I just don’t understand the big deal about teaching kids about the basic, real terms for their body parts.

    • Beth

      That should read “your analogy”.

    • Carinn Jade

      My experience has been that the word “penis” gets more attention than other words. Maybe your experience is different. I would agree with you that its not at all a big deal to call it a penis, but it’s my choice that we don’t. Or at least it was until he started school. It’s also not a big deal to allow him an understanding of the words winning or losing. This post is about letting my son find his own way, even at age 3. I haven’t corrected him or told him he can’t use those words. His love for his expanded vocabulary has simply been an interesting lesson for me.

    • EArmstrong3

      What word do you use when referring to his penis? For example, if he had an injury or infection of some sort, how would he tell you?

    • EArmstrong3

      I agree wholeheartedly, at least until I came to the part where you talk about female anatomy. It’s actually a pet peeve of mine that people use “vagina” when referring to a female’s external genitalia. All but the entrance to the vagina is hidden from view by the labia and vulva. Why can’t we use the correct terminology and say “vulva”, just like we use “penis” and “scrotum”?

  • Anna

    I’m learning some of these lessons as well since mine started preschool – realizing his life is suddenly expanding, he’s learning and growing so much and becoming more independent. I feel like my role is changing to more of a guide at his side instead of leading him now as he experiences new things and starts to figure things out. No girlfriend drama yet (thank goodness!) That is really starting young! Great post!

    • Carinn Jade

      Beautifully said Anna. My role is shifting from an active one to a guiding force. It’s fascinating and frustrating and exciting and sad all at once. And the real stuff hasn’t even started yet!

  • Julie

    Ok so this is kind of sad, but I will relay it back because I think it’s an important lesson to learn: I have friends who work with victimized children and I also read a blog by a mother who is in the same kind of work. I heard a really sad tale about a young male who was being victimized by another classmate. When this child went to his teacher and told her that this other boy wanted to touch his “little bird” and he wasn’t sure if he should, the teach scolded him for not sharing. I think THAT is more confusing than not being able to understand the difference between using the word “penis” and the term “in mommy’s belly”. If a child is being abused, they need to be able to reach out to an adult in a way that is easily understood and can not be confused.

    • Carinn Jade

      You make good points that simply didn’t apply to us before he went to school. I was the only one (along with my mother) who ever watched or cared for him. As he meets more “strangers” in the world this will be an important lesson. We aren’t quite there, but I do understand the utility of the term.

    • Julie

      “I also don’t understand why some moms are obsessed with teaching their potty-training children the “appropriate” term for their genitals. It’s the only word they insist must be called by its anatomically correct name.”

      You said that you didn’t understand it, so I was clarifying. It’s one of those things that we think could never happen to us or our children. And even if we do think it could happen, we hope to God it doesn’t. I don’t know you and I don’t know your family, so don’t think I’m making assumptions here, just know that I’m speaking about human beings in general- “strangers” are not the only people who abuse children. Statistically, it’s someone the child knows more often than not. Not just family members, but coaches, scout leaders, priests… the list goes on. I’m not a crazy over-protective parent that doesn’t let my child out of my sight, but I do know that bad people are out there and bad things can happen. This is just one of the little things you can do for your child without being too overbearing. I hear the sad stories from my friend who mentors these poor children who have been through it, and my heart aches for them every day.

  • Dlee

    The reason I plan to teach my son (and any other child I may have) the appropriate name of their body parts is because no abuser will ever use the medically proper names. They’re just not sexy. So if my son comes home saying someone called his penis a “willy” or “dinky” or any other nickname, I’ll know something is up. As an above poster mentioned, if the adult doesn’t know what the child is referring to then it’s very easy for their concerns to be ignored. If the worst does happen, it’ll make it easier for the appropriate authorities to understand just where the bad person touched and what exactly they did. In my opinion, there is never an inappropriate age to learn the clinical names of your genitals. (Although, that said, I can understand not going into detail at 3 because the difference between testes and foreskin and penis or the difference between vulva and vagina may be too confusing at that age.) And hearing about babies being in “the belly” bother me so much too.

    • Carinn Jade

      I want to be clear that I never said it was inappropriate, just that teaching him the word served no function to this point in his life and development. And I completely agree with the abuse scenario as I mentioned below.

  • Bethany

    Really, to me, calling a preschooler a “cougar” (whether or not it’s with a smile on your face), is the most shocking thing here. I also believe that kids think the word “penis” is funny because most adults don’t use the word. If they think it’s taboo to their parents, it’s going to become a cause of hilarity to them when it’s used.

    • mjksdgb

      I think it’s funny that she called a little baby a cougar. Calm down.

    • EArmstrong3

      That struck me as off, too. I read it aloud to my husband, who responded with, “That little boy’s future wife is going to hate – not just dislike, but HATE – her mother-in-law!” Lol

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  • Bmommyx2

    Sorry, but this blog post is lame. Penis, Penis, Penis, Penis. I have used the word penis when changing my boys diapers since they were born, what else would you call it? Occasionally I say boy parts, but I mostly use penis. Is penis any more funny that vagina (technically it’s not the correct term, but that’s what most used) grown ups laugh when you use those words too? The comment about sexual predators was an interesting point that I hadn’t though of, but I think there are plenty of other reasons to use the appropriate name for our body parts. You wouldn’t call a nose a honker or a mouth a hole would you? Something happens beginning around this age & kids become obsessed with potty talk. I would be very happy if I never heard “butt crack” again. There is nothing wrong with winning, but it’s also important to try. I think wanting to win is very age appropriate I’m a little sad for you it sound like you would have preferred to keep your son in a bubble. I also agree with a previous poster the cougar comment was a bit over the top & out of line. You should be grateful that these are your big concerns & you don’t have more serious problems.

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  • Auju Sazu

    I have used and heard other parents use specific tooth names in referring to our kids’ teeth.

    • fghjk

      Me too! I knew what my canines and molars were from such a young age! I feel like it’s never too early to start teaching kids what’s what. It’s common sense. Maybe this is why so many people are so horribly stupid these days.

  • Brian Lusby

    your poor kid. You are seriously trying to teach him that winning doesn’t exist? Not to mention the fact that he has a penis and uses it every day, but will be ashamed of it for the rest of his life.

  • Drea

    By arming your children with correct anatomical names for their genitals they can tell you “The babysitter put his finger in my vagina.” Or “I was playing with Susie and she wanted to see my penis.” Children who know the correct terminology are more likely to report if they’ve been molested, and those reports are more likely to be followed up on by the authorities. If the child says “Uncle Larry wanted to pet my kitty” the police have a hard time following up.

  • Think_About_It

    I’m sorry, but referring to a four year old as a cougar is disgusting.

  • Katarina Novak

    So in other words, all you want is a complete control over every aspect of your child’s life. You want other people to provide services for him but never influence him and you want other kids to entertain him but never say anything that he doesn’t want to hear.

    If you care at all about that child, you will teach him how to function in the world, otherwise he will wise up quickly and start disregarding what you have to say, when he’s proven yet again that you didn’t tell him the truth about something.

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  • sdfghjkl

    I feel like penis is the same thing as arm or leg. If you were to say “this is your scrotum, inside are your testicles, and this at the end is the glans” then that would be weird. But penis isn’t really a big deal. I think that if parents shy away from teaching their kids the real names of sexual (in the future) body parts, it leads to a sort of weird relationship with those parts down the line. It’s there, and it has an actual name that is not wewe or whatever you call it. It’s a part like the rest.

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