Naked kid complaint: modesty starts at 3 or 4, says parenting expert

The story of a Squamish, B.C., family who received a call from police after their 4-year- old child was playing naked in the front yard has raised the question of when it is appropriate for kids to be naked in public.

Author Ann Douglas says a down-to-earth talk can explain 'the rules' without body shaming

Ian McIlwaine with his two sons, Tyler (left) and Connor. McIlwaine's family received a visit from the RCMP after a neighbour complained about their 4-year-old Tyler playing naked outside. (Ian McIlwaine/Facebook)

The story of a Squamish, B.C., family who received a call from police after their 4-year-old child was playing naked in the front yard has raised the question of when it is appropriate for kids to be naked.

Ian McIlwaine said he was "shaken and very upset" after an officer visited his home April 22 following a complaint from a neighbour about his four-year-old son, Tyler, playing naked in the yard three days earlier.

RCMP said the complaint was over the safety of the children playing in the street — not about nakedness — however McIlwaine said his boys had been in the yard, not in the street. In an earlier statement, police confirmed the complaint was "about their son being out on the street with no clothes on a few days earlier."

Parenting expert Ann Douglas said parents should start talking to their children about when it's appropriate to be naked at the age of three or four. (Ann Douglas)

"I think we're still living with our Puritan-type heritage and we're still grappling with some of these issues and I also think we're trying to balance that with wanting children to grow up feeling good and happy and healthy about their bodies and also worries about privacy and safety in a digital era," parenting expert and author Ann Douglas told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

Douglas said there are no hard rule for when your children should start wearing clothes around others, but she said three- or four-years-old is usually a good age to start having those discussions with them.

"A bit of a modesty sense kicks in at around that age, anyway," she said.

"Any parent can tell you there's a moment when your child who's about three or four shrieks 'But mum, you can't come in. I'm naked! You can't come into my room right now, I'm changing.' And you realize it was just a few weeks ago that I was wiping that kid's bum — how can the rules have changed?"

Douglas said most kids will have a learning curve, and a good approach is to explain the need to wear clothes in a very matter of fact way, without making them feel uncomfortable about their bodies.

"You look up and it's like 'Holy cow, my kid has ditched all their clothes,' you don't go 'Oh, no, you're naked, people will see your body!' in an over the top way," she said.

"You just very matter of factly say, 'You know what, we're in public right now, so it would probably be best if you put your clothes back on and if you're hot when we get home you can run through the sprinkler.'"

To hear the full interview with Ann Douglas, listen to the audio labelled: When is it okay for your kids to be naked?