The first thing you do is stop freaking out. This is normal little boy behavior. Your boys have discovered a wonderful body part that can do interesting things. They are naturally curious and fascinated. When you react with concern, alarm, and scolding, it complicates things considerably. The negative attention may in fact reinforce the very behavior you are trying to stop. Of more concern is that it may make them ashamed of their bodies.
“According to healthychildren.org’s website, the following is a list of what pediatricians say is normal, common sexual behavior in children aged 2-6 year’s old.
- Touching/masturbating genitals in public or private
- Looking at or touching a peer’s or new sibling’s genitals
- Showing genitals to peers
- Standing or sitting too close to someone
- Trying to see peers or adults naked”
“It can be easy for parents to talk with their children about the differences between right and wrong, but it is often more difficult for parents to talk with their children about sexual development. At a very young age, children begin to explore their bodies by touching, poking, pulling, and rubbing their body parts, including their genitals. As children grow older, they will need guidance in learning about these body parts and their functions. When these behaviors happen, try to redirect your child’s attention to more appropriate behavior by saying something such as, “Grown-ups do that in private, and you should, too.” Reinforce that children should respect each other, and it is not OK to touch anyone else’s private parts. Also, remind your child to always tell you or another trusted grown-up if anyone ever touches his or her private parts.”
They also offer some Body Safety Teaching Tips for Parents:
“Use appropriate language. Teach children proper names for all body parts, including names such as genitals, penis, vagina, breasts, buttocks, and private parts. Making up names for body parts may give the idea that there is something bad about the proper name. Understand why your child has a special name for the body part but teach the proper name, too. Also, teach your child which parts are private (parts covered by a swimming suit).
Evaluate your family’s respect for modesty. While modesty isn’t a concept most young children can fully grasp, you can still use this age to lay a foundation for future discussions and model good behavior. If you have children of various ages, for example, it’s important to teach your younger children to give older siblings their privacy. Usually, older siblings will teach the younger ones to get their clothes on, for example, because they might have friends over or because they are maturing and feel modest even in front of their younger brothers and sisters.
Explain what a good vs. bad touches are. You can explain a “good touch” as a way for people to show they care for each other and help each other (i.e., hugging, holding hands, changing a baby’s diaper). A “bad touch” is the kind you don’t like and want it to stop right away (i.e., hitting, kicking, or touching private parts). Reassure your child that most touches are okay touches, but that they should say “NO” and need to tell you about any touches that are confusing or that scare them.”
Your kids do not need scolding. They need education. This is a good time to get some kids’ books about the human body. Help them learn the right names for their body parts and to understand that all boys look the same and all girls look the same. Fred Rogers of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” used to sing: “Boys are fancy on the outside. Girls are fancy on the inside. Everybody’s fancy. Everybody’s fine. Your body’s fancy and so is mine.” That’s all they need to know for now. They don’t need in-depth sex education. They just need body education.
Instead of telling them that exploring themselves is “wrong,” have a discussion about privacy and personal boundaries. You can help them understand that their bodies are special and private. Knowing about their bodies and understanding what is culturally acceptable is the basis for healthy sexuality later on.
I wish you well.
This article has been updated from the original version, which was originally published here on July 24, 2010.