Catholic Spirituality,  Evangelization,  Family Life,  JPII,  motherhood,  Parenting,  Theology of the Body

Theology of Little Bodies

St. John Paul II is my homeboy 4 life. When I have trouble connecting the present moments to eternity, when I wonder how the life after this one could be better/richer/fuller, sometimes it’s the thought of meeting him and falling into his arms for a giant bear hug that reorients me correctly towards heaven.

I’m so grateful, then, to have his intercession from above and his seminal work here on earth, the Theology of the Body (TOB – a series of teachings St. John Paul II gave on human life, love and sexuality – 129 in total – over a 5 year span at the beginning of his pontificate), as a roadmap for this exhausted mother with children who are growing, seeking, asking questions and expecting increasingly complex answers. Even at 4 and 5. Even at 2. (Not so much at 10 months though, but Luke, you know mommy loves you too.)

I don’t have a perfected “method” for beginning to communicate the timeless truths contained in the masterpiece of TOB to people without an advanced theology degree, let alone the ability to write their own names, but happily, that doesn’t seem to matter. Kids are great BS detectors. It’s an innate survival mechanism or something. And they’re equally great truth-receivers. So if you tell them something that is true, they tend to accept it more readily than we world-weary skeptics who wear big boy pants and pay bills do.

The biggest hurdles I have encountered in communicating matters of faith and morals to my children have been my own ego, laziness, and the inertia of daily life.

For example, “Am I doing this right? Is this a great catechetical technique? Can they tell I’m making this up as I go along?” all actually much, much less important than my doing the thing in the first place: having the conversation, answering the hard question honestly, giving a ready and imperfect answer in the moment rather than kicking the can to a more comfortable moment down the road in some nebulous future where I sip placidly on chamomile while discussing Plato’s Republic round the breakfast table.

It’s easy, too, to just lumber along in an unending series of days, lessons, errands, and chores, forgetting that our kids are learning from us as we go along, and that for most parents, the primary transmission of the Faith to the children we’re trying to keep alive will not take place in a lecture setting.

Far from it. There is public nudity and screaming and lots of broken bits of water balloon strewn about the yard while I bark reminders of dignity, modesty, and respecting the neighbors’ point of view. Enhanced (or not) this summer in particular by a critical absence of 5 feet of fence between our yards.

We’ve always tried to speak very honestly about bodies, about the differences between bodies and the dignity we afford to one another and to ourselves, from an early age. They know the proper terms for male and female genitalia. Which I am more or less glad for, but mostly less when checking out at the grocery store. At bath time we remind all butts on deck to treat their siblings with the utmost respect, because God created each of them – body and soul – for a magnificent mission that only they can fulfill. And that they have been created as a gift to the world by a God who loves them, and that their body is part of that gift.

Also, lots and lots of reminders to please put on some underwear.

I’ve heard of a few existing resources for teaching TOB to little people, but haven’t used any of them myself yet. (Here, and here (coming soon) have been suggested to me.)

The basic truths from TOB I’m hoping to communicate them, in whatever way I can hope to achieve while they’re all still south of the age of reason, are these:

Your body is good,

You are your body, just as much as you are your soul, (and you’re in control of that body. So pick up those Legos.)

God has a specific plan for your life, and your body contains the blueprints for it,

God created us, men and women, in His own image, in order to tell us specific things about Himself (in other words: gender is important, intentional, and immutable.)

Anything beyond that gets through to them?  I’m counting it as gravy, at least until middle school.

Any great resources out there I’m missing for starting to lay the foundation for Theology of the Body with little ones?

TOB for kids

13 Comments

  • Amanda

    One thing I do, in conversations that are not at all about sex, is to point out how our bodies are good, but we can do wrong things with them depending on context. Kicking a ball is good, kicking your brother is not. I’m planning this to someday lead to “sex in marriage is good, sex out of marriage is not” without making them think their bodies are dirty and wrong, but my oldest is 8 so I haven’t found out if it will work.

    • Olivia

      I think that’s a great idea, very easy for children to understand . I try to always remind my children also that we are not our actions. Our actions may be “bad” or wrong but WE are not bad or wrong. Understanding that we are always having to ask for forgiveness for wrong things we’ve done but that we are God’s creation and we are good. Small children can understand this concept, sometimes I think it is harder for adults. This lays the foundation for understanding the distinction between the sin, and the sinner. Rejecting the sin but loving the sinner.

  • Katie

    Hi Jenny! Check out the podcast: Go Forth. Two moms from Nebraska. In particular, they recorded a conference titled, How to talk to your kids about the tough stuff. It is so good! Fr. Kilcawley talks about porn, sex, TOB and great resources for it all. The second one has a couple sharing their experience and ends with Q & A and further detail about software, etc.

  • Becky

    This isn’t specific to theology of the body but tangentially related. While I come at some issues of sex and sexuality from a different perspective (I’m not Catholic), I have a lot of objections to introducing gender fluidity to children. This stems from that.

    The thing that I see as key is parenting that makes it clear that *you* are the parent and that there are BOUNDARIES. If we classify foundation TOB teachings as more general good parenting then you might have both a further missional reach, find more resources, and stress less.

    That said, a children’s book along the lines of “It’s not the stork” that teaches solid body and reproductive information in a way that doesn’t make it seem like it’s all fluid, loosey-goosey, and foisting decisions on tiny people who are having trouble deciding what cereal they want to eat, would be quite helpful.

    I believe you dabble in the writing?

  • Becky

    Very sincere question–this isn’t something one would address with small children, of course, but does TOB have anything to say about being born with intersex conditions (such as XXY, ambiguous genitalia, etc.–not speaking of the transgendered here).

    • Cami

      My understanding is that under any circumstance, we are all called to chastity. Many misunderstand what chastity is but it’s the application of sexuality as God designed it. So if you’re single, you’re waiting until marriage. If you have same sex attraction, you also would only be sexual within a marriage between a man and woman. I’m not sure how to approach chromosomal conditions… Perhaps Jenny knows more about that situation. But dignity is always at the forefront.

  • Thomas

    There is a group, Theology of the Body Evangelization Team.
    They have books for toddlers as well as children, teenagers, marriage prep, etc. I haven’t personally read the toddler books, but I’ve read the marriage prep book and been a member of the group for a while.

    Good place if you’re looking for resources.
    Website: tobet.org
    Toddler books: tobet.org/product/tob-tots/

    • Cathy

      Thanks Thomas! Hi Jenny! I am blessed to be the publicist for Monica Ashour, author of the ToB for Tots and Tob for Kids series and director of TOBET. These beginning books teach the dignity of the human person in an age-appropriate manner. These books are published and distributed by Pauline Books & Media. Learn more here: http://www.pauline.org/tob4children. Jenny–please let me know if you would like to receive review copies.

  • Brenda

    Check out FamilyHonor.org, a family-centered, Catholic approach to chastity education. Our programs and resources are grounded in the teachings found in Theology of the Body and other Church documents. We’re all about empowering and encouraging parents, and we’re happy to help you jump-start those all-important parent-child conversations on love, sex, marriage and more.

  • Katrina Zeno

    Hi Jenny! Thanks for these reflections. I have a number of suggestions in terms of learning how to break TOB down into smaller bites for all ages, since I’ve been doing this for about…hmmmm…18 years. I have a talk on my YouTube channel entitled, “The Mirror.” I give it for grades 4-6 in Catholic schools. Here’s the link if you don’t mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORA0D5qWJfI There’s lots in this talk that can be applied to even younger ages. Also, I have a workshop entitled, “Sex Ed vs. Chastity: What Every Catholic Parent (and Grandparent) Should Know.” It’s based on a fabulous document from the Pontifical Council on the Family entitled, “Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality,” which takes TOB and breaks it into age-appopriate concepts. Another gem is “Educational Guidance in Human Love.” The central concept to TOB, which makes it possible to start TOB formation at age 2, is the word “gift,” which JPII takes from Gaudium et spes no. 24, “Man…cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” Forming our children in their “gift identity” is what the toddler and preteen years are all about so that in the teenage years and later this can be their guiding principle. Hope that helps. You are a gift! Katrina Zeno

  • Rebecca

    Hi Jenny, thank you for your article! I’m also a mom who is working to bring TOB to my little ones. Don’t forget the ways we can use TOB to affirm our children’s personhood and build them up. My favorite is to tell them that they are the visible sign of mommy and daddy’s love. Little truths like this start to form a pro-life, pro-family, pro marriage foundation of reasoning for our children. Keep up the good work!

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