Nudity in families: Do you get naked in front of your children?Alamy

A friend once told me of her mother's efforts to promote good body image in her daughters by walking around their home naked between showering and dressing. But her daughters simply concluded that their mum was a bit too flabby and my friend and her sisters experience the same negative body image issues that most women do.

Another friend told me that in Namibia, where she grew up, there were always water shortages, the result of which was that she shared baths with her siblings, cousins, parents and often grandparents. Nobody gave it a second thought and she says there's no doubt it helped foster a realistic body image. "Nudity is healthy, it's natural and I think growing up with adults who were visibly unashamed of their bodies, regardless of their imperfections, raise inhibited children," she told me.

So how should you deal with nudity in the family? Should parents cover themselves up around their kids? Is there an age when it becomes inappropriate to share a bath together? And are these issues we should even bother to take time to think about?

Google 'nudity in families' and you'll see from the forum discussions that many people don't just spend time thinking about it - they get extremely animated about it. Some parents, especially those from less prudish cultures like Scandinavia, think nudity within families is perfectly natural and can't understand what all the fuss is about.

Others, particularly those from Britain, equate parading around naked in front of children as sexual abuse.

"You have to ask yourself why you would want to bathe naked with your daughter? Could it actually be that you're a pervert?" is just one of the many uncomfortable accusations you'll find on online conversations on the topic.


"There lies the problem," says Sue Firth, chartered psychologist who specialises in family issues. "Too many people, especially in our culture, can't make the distinction. But there is a distinction."

Firth believes there's three issues for parents to think about. First, what would you naturally do? That is, what did you do before children? If you wore nothing in bed, why change? If you don't close the door to pee or walk around between bathing and dressing, carry on. "Provided your habits aren't strange, and nobody is upset by it, be the person you are."

Mind you, she adds, be prepared. Once your children can talk, they will size up. You will get the laughter, the questions about why you have hair on your bottom and so on. And they will prod, poke and sometimes torture.

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You are no longer a person, but a play centre, complete with buttons, knobs and dangly bits.

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Second, what are you trying to teach your children? That is, what do you hope to achieve with parading your nudity in front of your children? "Chances are that it's about instilling positive body image. But whatever it is, be realistic and accept that it might not work."

Indeed, one father told me he still has nightmares of his mother wandering around in her birthday suit.

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It wasn't right. It made me cringe. It was just awful and the memory still is.

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Third, be led by your children. Often, this will come down to age. Indeed, when all your kids are babies, intra-family nudity can feel good and few would argue there's anything wrong with it.

But according to a Stanford University study, kids develop a sense of modesty between ages four and eight (sooner if they have an older sibling). That's about when your kids might stop asking for company in the toilet and it might also be the time when the sight of nude Mum stops them in their tracks.

"My son would stare, transfixed and all sorts of pointed questions. And it just didn't feel right at all," says one father. For others that point might come a lot later and for others it might never come. The point is that when it does, respect it.

It's not just down to age, though, says Firth. Some kids are just naturally more modest than others. "But if you have an open and honest relationship with your children, they'll come to you if they take issue with it or they'll just make it clear non-verbally," she insists.

"My daughter simply started choosing not to come into the bathroom if she knew we might be in there. She just clocked that one. Meanwhile, my son, who is 12, is happy to walk around wearing nothing and it doesn't seem to offend anyone."

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Other children might beg you to please, please put some clothes on, whilst some might think it's just about OK upstairs but absolutely never downstairs.

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If in doubt, take a step back and ask yourself whether your views have more to do with the English concept of dignity than anything else. Last summer, for example, I was at a BBQ where the kids, mostly under six, started taking their clothes off. It was hot, they were having fun. No big deal.

But then one of the mothers took a stand. "It's fine for the little ones, but I don't think it's right for a seven-year-old boy to do it," she said, handing her son his trousers. I wasn't sure there was anything wrong with him being naked on a hot day in the garden – nor did he.

Of course, it is important for kids to understand that what is OK at home isn't always OK in public and that there are societal differences, but most children just get that with time.

In the end, if you keep an open and frank attitude, don't fall into the trap of nudity becoming a taboo topic or worry too much about what others think, there shouldn't be any problems. The bottom line is that parents shouldn't have to wonder if it's OK to take a bath with their kids because of what someone else might think.

What do you think? Did you start covering up as your children got older?

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