Kids and their Privates

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Playing ''doctor'' in 2 and 4 y o sibs- normal?

Oct 2007

My 4.5 year old son and 2.5 year old daughter were playing very nicely and quietly one afternoon while I was cleaning the house. When I checked on them after a while, I saw that the door to the room was shut and when I tried to open it, my son said, ''don't come in until I say it's okay.'' Thinking it was a game, I went along with it and opened it after he okayed it (10 seconds later) and saw that my daughter's shorts were pulled up haphazardly. I asked if her pants were off and she said that they were- she and he both denied that there was any touching of private parts- my son said that they were playing ''doctor'' but wouldn't say exactly what he meant. He did say that he learned about it from playing it with other kids at preschool. Other than giving them very clear messages about it NOT being okay to ask the other to remove clothing or to touch one another's private parts, for them to know it is not okay for ANYONE aside from themselves to touch there and for me to inquire the teachers about what is going on at school- would you do anything else regarding this sexual exploration type of play? Has anyone else encountered anything like this in this age range? Concerned Mom

While ''exploration'' and body curiosity is normal for young kids, I am more concerned about the secretive nature of the event and his request that you not come in. It sounds like you handled it well. I would speak to the teachers very directly and soon. If it happens again (hopefully it won't), calmly make it very clear that his sister's body is absolutely NOT for his ''games''. And I would add some books to your children's library...''The Right Touch'' and ''My Body is Private'' and ''It's MY body''. There are others out there, but these are some that my kids responded to well. I would institute a ''no closed doors'' policy when they are playing together, and I would a maintain a close, close watch on them. Sad mom w/ a sad story

7-mo Daughter Labia Grabbing During Diaper Changes

May 2007

My 7-mo old daughter has a habit of grabbing her labia during diaper changes. We've had several diaper rashes in the past, but this doesn't seem to be the cause as I don't see a rash currently. This habit is very frustrating for me because she sometimes gets poop on her hand! I've tried giving her toys (rotating every few days so she doesn't get bored), holding her hands, and saying NO firmly...all to no avail. Does anyone have experience with this? I'm going to call our pediatrician to get her advice and to rule out any medical problem. Any additional advice would be much appreciated. Thanks!

I think you are seeing what may be the beginning of years of genital touching. My kids are 3 and 5 and when they are naked they spend a fair amount of time playing with themselves (my son can keep himself busy with his penis for an eternity!). It is totally normal and I don't think you should discourage it (I only discourage it when we are out in public and remind my kids that they should only touch their private parts when we are at home). anon

Your daughter is doing something completely natural - the labia is a part of her body she doesn't get to explore due to being diapered, and she wants to check it out. Let her! Wipe quickly when she poops and if she gets poop on her hands, wash it off. Saying ''No'' firmly to a 7 month old is a mistake. Babies DO NOT need discipline - they need redirection. You are only instilling a bad feeling around a part of her body. You should be giving her diaper free time anyhow - and that will take care of both her curiosity and her diaper rash. It's her labia, let her play with it! labias are lovely!

My daughter (now 10 mos.) does this at every diaper change, too. (My son did as well.) I don't think she does it necessarily because it's her genitalia - I think it's just because it's there, and it's novel to have it in the open air. (She also grabs her stomach whenever I take her shirt off.) It's certainly gross when she has a lot of poop in the diaper, as you said, but other than that you can think of it as normal and not ''bad'' behavior. Your daughter is too young to respond to ''no'' commands. My tactic when I know the diaper is poopy is just to make sure I have an interesting toy handy, ideally a big one that will occupy both hands, so I can get the area cleaned up before she starts grabbing. A no-fail favorite is a string of shiny Mardi Gras beads! But if there's no poop, and she's not grabbing so hard that she hurts herself, I don't think there's any problem with letting her do it. Don't worry!

Baby putting her hands on privates during diaper changes

Dec 2004

Our daughter has recently begun to put her fingers in her private parts every time we are changing her diaper. She also puts her fingers in her mouth afterwards. We at first thought this was just curiousity but have recently begun to think there might be a bad influence causing this. She has started playschool a couple of months ago and we are wondering if it is the childcare provider that is playing some sort of games with her. It is our first child so we do not have anything to compare it to. Have any other parents had any similar experiences? She also keeps touching her mother\x92s breast and then looking for some kind of a reaction from her mother. Does anyone think this is strange or is it normal? berkeley parent

It is totally normal for babies to play with their privates - they are exploring their bodies and learning that their privates exist. Boys and girls both begin playing/exploring while in diapers. You may want to give her a toy or some other thing to distract her during diaper changes. Babies also seem to be very interested in mommy's breasts, so I wouldn't worry about that either. Hope that helps.

Sounds perfectly normal. anon

Have you given any thoughts to the fact that she might do it because it is pleasurable? All my kids have done it in enfancy, I never stopped them and it did not make me feel uncomfortable. I believe the discovery of their genitals is a totally normal phase for infants. None of my children, now approching their teens, have contracted compulsive masturbation habits. unworried mom

I think this is really normal behavior. I don't know if you said how old your daughter is, but I'll assume she's 6 months or older, give or take.

Babies are learning all the time and exploring new things, new have a body and if they touch something there's a sensation, and WOW...this part feels really good!!! As far as hands in mouth...babies put their hands in their mouth a lot. I doubt that she considers where her hand has been before going into the mouth (it could have been in a sand box or petting the dog or cat).

When she gets old enough to understand, you can teach her that touching her privates is something she can do when she's by herself but not in public (my opinion). mom of normal kids who did the same thing

I belief that both touching her own genitals and touching her mother's breasts is very normal. Also touching their father's private parts can happen if they get the opportunity. They touch everything they are interested in at this age, just looking at something is too abstract. And they are still a bit young to get the concept that touching these parts is not accepted. Preventing them from doing it at all can actually make it more attractive.

I've seen it frequently in many children, including even 3 year olds, on the playground. Some seem to do it more, others less. My own daughter (now 2.5) is very keen on playing with my breasts and nipples, but I don't like it at all (she's not gentle to start with) and I have to very frequently put her hand away or ask her to do it. She's very persistent it that, a bit annoying for me, it's become a struggle. Herself she doesn't touch so often. When she does, and I don't comment on that. That all said, if you have the feeling there's something wrong with her daycare, try to find out more. As a firrst step, can you talk to other parents in the daycare?

As to the hygenical concerns, that's a good point. Not that much a kid spreading his own germs and bacteria from one body part to another, but one kid transmitting them to another kid. It has been studied in daycare centers (video tapes). They observed, kids simply put their hands in their diapers, and they touch toys themselves and other kids afterwoods. What can we do about that? I don't know... Regular hand washing, especially routinely before meals certainly helps a lot. And giving the children healthy food, exercise, sun and fresh air to support the immune system. Julia

I wouldn't be alarmed ... both my kids went through the hands- down-the-pants stage around age 2 or 3. They were also both very interested in my breasts. I didn't make a big deal out of it; just asked them gently to stop if the behavior seemed excessive. From what my friends tell me, most kids do this. Sara

They all do that, and just wait till toilet training starts. As soon as that diaper comes off, the hands are down there ALL the time. Mom of 3

First off: As well as being a mom and the sibling to 5 others, I worked in family day care for 7 years as an assistant and i'll tell you, there are kids who just like to touch themselves. There is nothing more aggravating then being blamed for a child's curiousity about themselves. Also, there are other kids out there who like to engage children in curious games. (Which is most likely). Very rarely are providers (who are usually women) charged with such accusations and FYI, when you report something like that, it goes on a VERY permanent record with social services. Thus, making it very difficult for that provider to rec've future clients. My daughter is 3, and still squeezes my boob to get reactions. She watches me dress, she bathes with me... of course she's going to be curious. She already knows that I have a vagina and so does she. Therefore, we are one in the same. Making her more interested in herself because, essentially, although we have the same parts, mine look different. It's all very abstract right now.

Please explore other avenues before pointing the finger at someone. That's dangerous territory... also, if you have a history of reporting people, no one will ever wnat you in thier school, further making it difficult for you to place you child anywhere in the future.

Why not speak to other parents at the same school first. Maybe bring your child to her doctor for an exam. Also, you might want a therapist referral to find out if there's something in her actions that says something about your initial concerns.

But, like I said, some kids just like to touch themselves. We are ALL sexual beings and for some it starts earlier with pure unadulterated and flamboyant curiousity and for others it takes years and years of shyness and quiet exploration.

Please tread carefully.... as this is a very touchy subject.

I have two daughters - three and five years old and had a similar situation with my youngest. She always wanted to put her hand down her diaper or run around naked which was fine with us, but as she's gotten older we've taught her that her ''privates'' are only for her to touch in privacy. My husband and I used to make jokes about how advanced she was because she clearly gets pleasure from touching herself before, during and after bath, (and during diaper changes when she was younger.) I'm pretty sure it's something she figured out by herself because my older daughter has seen her behaviour and hasn't picked it up. The older helps us remind the younger one to go to the bathroom for privacy if she needs to do that. They also are both required to go into the bathroom to pick their noses or to say ''potty'' words. It's a kind of game. I figure that if she is so tuned into her body, she needs to learn how to explore in a way that's acceptable. As for the fingers in the mouth, she did/does that as well and so far there have been no problems. When she had a poopy diaper I would catch her hands, clean them, finish cleaning up and tell her it's not ok to touch poop. -D

Completely normal. Genitals are inherently interesting (shoot, as adults we're pretty fixated on are no different....) She's just doing what all kids do. Remember when she was really excited about her hands? Same thing, different body part. She does it during diaper changes because that's probably the only time she sees her crotch.

The thing to watch out for is poopy fingers going in the mouth. Now, that's nasty. Sara

I noticed after reading the wonderful advice givcen by all the parents out there about not worrying about your child touching herslef...I noticed that no one had mentioned anything about how the initial reaction was to blame the provider at her daughter's school. I think that's a very serious accusation...even in it's thinking stage. And in regards to the future involvement with other schools, providers and other people that will come in and out of your daughter's life, that is path you might need to explore concerning yourself and your own issues about trust. That statment had me most concerned. And I was hoping that more moms out there had something to say about it. Clearly Confused

5-yr-old son curious about sister's anatomy

January 2007

My 5-yr-old son is commenting on the differences between his genitals and our daughters, who is 2 1/2. My dilemma is that I noticed him sneak behind the recliner and call her over after she'd just gotten out of the bath (still naked) and was he clearly wanting to investigate. I created a distraction and I'm watching them like a hawk until I figure out how to proceed here. I know it's natural for him to be interested in how the female body is different and what it's all about, and I'm seeing the signs that I need to educate him in some way given his interest.

I know exploration at a certain age is normal, but being a first-time parent I need some guidance on a few things. How can I make absolutely certain to avoid any risk of my daughter becoming his research subject? I don't want to have to continue watching them like a hawk, and I don't want to forbid him from acting on his curiousities because that's likely to make him more interested, more sneaky, or make him feel bad about himself.

Does anyone have any advice about how to think about this and/or how to handle it? What books might I be able to read or show him? One friend told her kids that exploring was perfectly fine and normal as long as a)the person was the same age and equally interested and comfortable participating, b)the person was not a sibling, c)it was done in private, and d)there was no pentration of any kind. So far that's the only suggestion I've gotten and the thought of actually endorsing his pursuits competely freaks me out but I really want to set my insecurities aside and do the right things as a parent. I'm really hoping to get some perspective and some direction! Anything will help! Thank you!


To be honest, I can't believe your 5 and 2 year old don't bathe together. I think you may be making this more complicated than you need to, and possibly by being overly modest or secretive about your daughter's body, you have piqued his curiosity. I don't think anything is wrong with his interest, but I do think he will persist if he has questions that go on unanswered.

If I were you, I would put them both in the bathtub and be very low-key about it. If you see him looking at a part of her body, you could say, ''Amy's body is different than yours, isn't it? You have a penis and she has a vulva.'' (You could teach him about the vagina part too if you want to go into more detail, but that is not what he is looking at--unfortunately, that's what everyone seems to be teaching their kids, but it is anatomically incorrect and they are being misinformed.)

Your kids are so young, this is the perfect time for them to learn about the human body without having to involve the sexual element yet. Later, your son will need to be more private and the opportunity to learn about the female body in such an easy way won't be there. I think you should definitely be around to answer questions (don't just let him inspect or poke around another child's body unsupervised). Your daughter will learn from this as well! Elizabeth

Get your son a book about anatomy and tell him to leave his sister's private parts alone. Maybe give him a clear explanation of what private means. But you are the mom, you are in charge, and it's OK to lay down the rules without a hand- wringing explantion. Your kids will feel better with absolute rules in place.

Where they get confused is all this negotiation. Young kids don't think the way we do. They don't understand gray areas. They prefer black and white.

If there's one area where strict, unwavering rules are absolutely neccesary, it's regarding touching. anon

6-year-old's doctor games - inappropriate touching

Sept 2004

Hi, I have a 6 year old daughter who contunues to initiate playing ''doctor'' type games that involve touching other kid's genitals. We have had problems over this last year where the parents of her friends have made a pretty big deal about it. We have had conversations with her about this letting her know it's ok for her to touch herself in private (and have defined what ''private'' means etc.), but not with her friends and especially not touching. We have all agreed to have them keep there clothes on etc. while playing. Last night while visiting, my friend put all of the kids in the bath together. They were once again caught ''playing'' with each other. Are we making too big a deal about this? Should we make a bigger deal of it? I can tell my friend feels really uncomfortable about this. Initially I felt it was natural and the kid's would lose interest in time but my friends think that crossing the line into touching is an actual sexual act because it causes pleasure and therefore is not ok. I tend to agree but don't know for sure. The questions is what is the definition of ''playing doctor''? All of the books say ''playing doctor'' is ok and natural. I would assume it involves some touching and that kid's don't think of it as a sexual thing but more of a curious thing. I don't know and am clearly confused on what is appropriate or inappropriate. Sorry for being so wordy and thanks for any and all advice. Concerned mom

Getting a kid to understand body boundaries is a process, not an event. It's possible that your daughter is taking longer to learn these boundaries than the average girl, but I don't see it as being very far off the norm.

However, six years old is too old to be sharing baths with friends, especially for a kid who has trouble setting limits on her own. My advice is to keep emphasizing the message, but keep her out of temptation's way. No co-bathing; separate beds at sleepovers; and generally keep an eye on the kids when they play together.

Setting limits for her in a loving and watchful way will help her to learn to set limits for herself. It will also help her to learn to set limits with others when her own body is the object of interest. It sounds to me like you're already on your way. Letitia

Hi- I missed the original post, so hope I'm not off base with this, but I'd like to put in a good word for playing doctor, sharing beds and baths with friends, and such! I did all those things as a kid, and contrary to feeling damaged by them, they were fun, educational, and are among my fondest memories of childhood. The first time I saw a vagina was with a flashlight, under the covers, sleeping over with a friend (shared bed) at about age 10. We were both very curious and eager to take a peek at each other- completely mutual, no coercion, giggly not guilty. Of course, in those days, clinical diagrams were not available for children's instruction and the word vagina was barely whispered- but, I think I'd choose my experience over clinical diagrams. anon

7 year old exploring her genitals

March 2004

I'm not sure if I did the right thing when yesterday I walked into my 7 year old daughter's room and found her on the floor naked from the waist down playing with her Barbies. I asked her what she was doing and she started crying. I believe she was exploring her gentalia with her Barbie dolls. I told her that wanting to explore herself was very normal, that she should only use her hands/fingers to explore and that using another object might injure her. She was quite upset/embarrassed and didn't want to talk about it any further. I did tell her that if she had any questions she could ask me anything but she just clammed up. Did I handle this correctly? Is this normal for a child so young? I'd love to hear from anyone with a similar experience.
A concerned mom

Yes, it is normal at this age. My daughter isn't old enough yet, but I remember that I started, um, ''exploring'' when I was 7, too. I think you handled it quite well, except for one thing, which you may have done, and just didn't mention, but in case you DIDN'T do it, my suggestion would be also to *apologize* to your daughter for walking in on her. Also, I would strongly urge you to promise never to do it again and that you will always *knock* (and wait for her to say ''you can come in'') before you enter her room. She's old enough now (clearly) to need some privacy, so showing that you acknowledge that and will respect her privacy is really important, I think. anon

Siblings exploring each others' private parts

October 2003

Our 6.5 year old recently told us that her brother (our 2.5 yr old) said it was okay to touch his penis, so she can let him touch her vagina. While we don't want to shut down curiousity, this doesn't sit well with us. We're tempted to talk with her about ''private parts'' and not letting anyone touch her there. How have others handled this situation? anonymous

I guess I'd be more concerned about where the 2.5 year old got the idea that it was ''okay'' for your daughter to touch his penis than I would be about shutting down curiousity -- especially if he's in day care of any kind. Apart from that, this seems like a very apt time to explain to the kids that certain kinds of touchings are not appropriate. Doubt that you'll make them less curious and you will make them safer.

I am surprised that this is a topic that has not already been discussed with both of your children. I have had this discussion with my daughter since she was two. I taught her the proper terms for her private parts and explained that these parts are special and so no one should touch them but her (and even this needs to be done respectfully), unless she had just gone to the bathroom and needed to be cleaned.

I have always been strict about manners, but have made it very clear that she can be as rude and defiant as she wants to anyone who touches her privates. I frequently repeat the converstaion. Her pediatrician told me it is important to make it a common conversation, otherwise kids can forget.

The best protection you can give your child from sexual abuse is to inform them of their rights to their bodies! Otherwise, they don't know what is O.K. for people to do or not. Most types of sexual abuse are inflicted on children by people they know and are comfortable with and if you don't make it clear to them that NO ONE has the right to play with or explore their bodies they won't have a clue.

Children become very exploratory around age 4-5 and it is important that they understand that it is not O.K. to explore on other people/ children. I know there are people who believe that exploration is natural and innocent, but without boundries anything can get out of hand. I think that with a boy and girl on your hands you should start teaching them about respecting each other's bodies at an early age. You don't have to make it sound evil or bad, I took more of a respect approach: respect for your body and those of others.

We also practiced how to say no in scenerios, this is also agood idea to do when teaching them not to go off with strangers. It is important that they get a chance to practice a behavior.

Good luck! I know it may be a hard thing for some to discuss. I got over my shyness quickly, you will too. It has to be something your child can feel comfortable discussing with you if you expect them to be able to come to you later should something arise. Marcela

I would say to be firm on this one. Just tell her that only mommies and daddies and doctors can touch there and that's only when their babies. Right now it sounds a little ify but if you waited it could become serius. Say no. Anonymas

The book ''Becoming the parent you want to be'' by Keyser and Davis has a chapter on this. You might want to take a look at it. It will help you make up your mind and find a solution that will work for your family. good luck