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

Mixed race boy playing with toy on sofa

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Many toddlers have a habit of playing with their penises. Barring any medical problems, however, this is completely normal behavior and you should not worry about it. Keep your response mild and neutral; scolding could cause long-lasting shame.

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.

Little Boys, Self Discovery, and Genital Touching

Touching, scratching, or tugging in the genital area is just a normal activity for boys, especially between ages two and six. They might rearrange their genitals for comfort, scratch an itch, or spend more time diaper-free if they are learning to use the toilet. In the course of doing this, toddlers may realize that touching themselves in this area feels pleasurable. Toddlers may also become more aware of their natural erections.

Toddlers don't have that filter in place that tells them it's not appropriate to touch your penis anytime or anywhere the urge strikes. Before age five or six, a child is a little too young to absorb this lesson.

Rule Out Health Issues

If this is a new behavior or has become much more frequent, check your child for 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 you notice any of those symptoms, call your child's healthcare provider.

Genital chafing and irritation are common for boys, especially when wearing diapers in warmer weather. These strategies might help:

  • Find the right diaper tightness. Diapers that are too tight are irritating, but diapers that are too loose can be just as bad; constant friction in an active toddler contributes to chafing.
  • Change his diaper more frequently so that his genitals are not sticking to his diapers.
  • If you notice his genitals sticking to the diaper or his scrotum and penis sticking together, use a chafe-preventing product such as Monistat Chafing Relief Powder-Gel. 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.
  • Start potty training if your child is ready.

How to Respond

If your child is playing with his penis all the time, or you'd like him to not do it in public, don't call too much attention to it. Use redirection, giving him something else to do with his hands (like play with a toy or hold a book). Ask him to do something with his hands with prompts like, "How tall are you?" "Show me how big a kitty cat is," "Point to the stop sign," or "Give me high five."

Once your child is out of diapers, or you notice he's doing this 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. Be matter-of-fact; this is a normal activity, but it's something to do in private.

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