How to Stop a Child From Touching or Playing With His Privates

Young boy's hands on an open button-down shirt

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Most kids at a certain stage of development discover their penis or vagina, otherwise referred to as "privates." While the self-discovery of private parts is a very natural stage and can be equated to playing with fingers and toes, the behavior is still not condoned when in a child care setting. It can create embarrassing moments for a child care provider, a parent, or even other children.

How to Handle a Child Who Plays With His or Her Privates

Most child experts caution that there is a balance between innocent self-discovery and doing something that causes discomfort for anyone. Playing with or examining private parts is something that certainly should be discouraged in a low-key way, without passing judgment or making a child feel that any such action is bad or wrong. Parents can assess any moral/parenting discussion to the action; child care providers simply stop the behavior because it is not appropriate around others.

A tried-and-true recommendation is to clearly state rules of required dress and then re-directing any behavior that involves the removal of any clothes, including socks and shoes when not allowed. Of course, parents should be brought in the loop so that a provider-parent partnership can be worked out to stop the behavior. Almost certainly, regardless of parents' views on inquisitive play of privates, they won't want their child doing such an activity in a public setting.

In addition, the same approach can be utilized when kids touch others inappropriately, and that doesn't need to be something of a sexual or private parts type of touching. Kids may swat another's backside or tickle them under the arms or even the inner thighs based on what someone has done to them. While the action may be innocent, the key rule to remember is that if it could make anyone uncomfortable then it is not appropriate in whatever context it may have been meant.

The Importance of Discussing Appropriate and Inappropriate Touching

By this same token, discussions about appropriate and inappropriate touching or looking is also a must-have conversation with children at an early age, although the talk should be geared toward the age and maturity level of kids. Kids need to know expectations as to what is acceptable behavior and privacy requirements (that include touching, looking, taking pictures, etc.) of themselves.

It is recommended that child care providers notify parents in advance of a planned conversation with kids in their charge about this topic and encourage parents to have additional conversations with their kids outside the child care setting. Parents may very well have questions about what will be discussed and how issues may be presented, and certainly have the right to ask that their child not be included in the conversation.

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