Ahhhhh parenting… nothing is so joyous, fulfilling and, at times, gut-wrenching. Watching your child’s personality grow, observing their social-emotional development, even experiencing their negotiating skills are wonderful parts of being a mommy or daddy. But what does one do when your child plays with themselves? Do you look the other way and hope that they eventually stop flicking their boy or girl parts, or do you address the situation head-on and shout “NO” at them? Or, should you relax and patiently explain to them what their genitals are all about?
The fact of the matter is, our children are young and curious about the world around them. They are new to this whole adventure called “life”, but we as parents have to have our “first time” experiencing awkward situations from an authoritative perspective as well. Situations which prompt us to figure out what to do when your child plays with themselves can often be a tricky predicament to maneuver!
When Your Child Plays With Themselves
In my experience, children are naturally curious and, early on, don’t have a sense of what is acceptable and unacceptable. As toddlers, they begin learning certain things are hot and can cause them pain, or if they hit someone it is hurtful. So, when your child plays with themselves and has discovered a part of their body with new sensations, I feel it is important to keep in mind that this is part of their discovery process. Making their body or their actions wrong can create a lot of problems in the future, and shouting NO at the situation runs the risk of amplifying the challenge altogether. So here is what my husband and I did when our son discovered himself “down there.” Keep in mind how I handled this situation is relevant to my parenting style and though it worked well for my son, each child is different and may require a different approach.
What WE Do When Our Child Touches Himself
First and foremost, I knew I would be (and still am) fully responsible for how and what my son learned as he developed through his various toddler stages. Part of this meant it was my duty as his mother to teach him the proper names for his body parts as well as the names for female body parts, doing so without making them wrong, or bad, or gross in any way. Doing this would only pique his curiosity further, and quite possibly lead to the forbidden fruit effect. Meaning, what was once innocent play and discovery turns into a secret guilty pleasure.
Soon the day came when he discovered his penis and asked in his tiny little voice what it was. My response was natural and uninhibited, “That is your penis, son”. Of course, he repeated the name in question form. When he started playing with his penis, my husband and I did what we could to not make it dirty or give it some other negative connotation that could lead to him being emotionally scarred about his body.
We did tell him it was not socially acceptable to play with his penis out in public, or when there were guests over. We gave him permission by saying if he wanted to play with himself, he could go to his room to do so. We called it his “alone time”. This stemmed from our belief of self-discovery as an important part of growing up, and to be ashamed of our body, in any way, isn’t only emotionally painful, but creates a negative self-image we could carry for the rest of our lives (unless some kind of intervention is achieved).
He went on to inquire if all people had a penis, to which I responded, “No, girls have a vagina”, which he then repeated as a question, (insert smiley face, very cute). I answered the questions multiple times throughout the following months as matter-of-factly as possible and we were able to develop his understanding that boys and girls were different anatomically, yet the same in other ways.
When he decided he wanted to play with himself, we reminded him there was a time and a place for it, and after a while his playful occurrences diminished. I strongly believe this had to do with our there-is-nothing-wrong-with-it mentality.
As he grew, his curiosity grew. His curiosity, of course, was not limited to our bodies “private parts”. He began asking questions about where our hearts were and what they looked like. He wanted to view images of vocal chords, ear drums, intestines, the skeletal structure and so on. What started out as him exploring his own body, turned into a springboard for his education. He began asking questions about where we came from. He wanted to know if our bodies had always been the way they are now, and to say the least, We watched documentaries together. I read him articles and from textbooks. We studied images taken of bones millions of years old. We set scales to learn the evolution of height and the development of the human brain. He was fascinated and I was one happy mommy!
I cannot definitively say teaching him he didn’t have a “wee wee”, but rather a penis resulted in his eagerness to learn as much as possible about the human body, however, I do believe it helped. He is a child and children love to learn, push boundaries. This is an obvious truth for most children, but for my child finding a more supportive way to inspire his lust for knowledge began with my desire to teach him to respect his penis enough to call it his penis and not make it wrong when he wanted to play around with it.
In summary, my husband’s and my method doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I am convinced it was the best route to take for our son. We feel giving him room to breathe and explore is healthy.
Have you ever experienced this before? How did you handle it and what was your experience?
Love and hugs,