What Do I Do About My Toddler Playing With His Penis?

Mixed race boy playing with toy on sofa
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If your toddler has developed a habit of playing with his penis, you may be concerned about whether this is normal. Should you do anything about it? Barring any medical problems, however, this is completely normal behavior and you should not worry about it. Learn about what to check and what you might do.

Normal Behavior for Boys

Touching, scratching or tugging in the genital area is just a normal activity for boys of ages 2 to 6. They have to rearrange their genitals for comfort or relieve an itch. In the course of doing this, toddlers may take a moment and realize that it feels pleasurable. They may also become more aware of their natural erections. They don't have that filter in place that tells them it's not appropriate to touch your penis anytime the urge strikes. As a toddler or 2-year-old, a child is a little too young to start reinforcing that just yet. 

Your son may be getting used to waistbands. When you switch from loose onesie/jumper type clothing to more big boy type clothes, the waistbands are tighter or are located slightly lower than the baby items. That may lead to more exploration as well as a need for adjustment.

Ruling Out Health Issues

First, rule out any medical issues like a dermatological condition, fungal infection, or other illness. Look for obvious outward symptoms such as pain, problems urinating, flaky skin in the area, redness, swelling, bleeding, or skin discoloration that wasn't there before. If any of those symptoms are present then see your healthcare provider immediately.

Genital chafing and irritation are common for boys, especially when wearing diapers in warmer weather. You may want to use these tactics:

  • Find the right diaper tightness. Diapers that are too tight are irritating but diapers that are too loose can be just as bad since that allows for constant friction in an active toddler, contributing to chafing.
  • Change his diaper more frequently so that his genitals are not sticking to his diapers.
  • If you notice sticking to the diaper or his scrotum and penis sticking together, use a product such as Monistat Chafing Relief Powder-Gel to prevent this chafing. Apply it at each diaper change, especially in warm weather.
  • Let him run around naked for a day. If you note less penis play, it could be that his diapers or clothing are contributing to his habit.
  • Make sure his waistbands are looser for comfort.
  • Consider starting potty training if your child is ready.

What Might You Do?

If he's doing it all the time or you'd like him to not do it in public, what might you do? Don't call too much attention to it. Use redirection, giving him something else to do with his hands (like a toy or book). Ask him to do something with his hands with questions like, "How tall are you?" "Show me how big a kitty cat is," "Point to the stop sign," or "Give me high five."

Once he is out of diapers or you notice he's doing it as a self-soothing activity, you may want to begin modifying his behavior. Start talking about appropriate times and places for touching that part of your body. Nearly all boys need that talk at some point. They need to learn to make adjustments without anyone seeing and they must learn the appropriate time and place for masturbation.

Some parents have said they were told that playing with the penis is a possible early sign of autism. Be assured that it is not listed as such by experts. Any single behavior taken alone when your child is otherwise developing normally should not be mistaken for autism.

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