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Little Explorers: What to do when your kids start investigating their bodies

explorersAh, to be as comfortable with our bodies as our toddlers are. Most parents have experienced the joy of having their little nudist strip down mid-birthday party or wander into the dining room wearing no pants when the boss is over for dinner. And they have probably also experienced the accompanying announcement: “Hey look, everyone! My penis!”

One mother told me the story of sitting on a bench in the crowded, bustling train station with her two-year old daughter who suddenly stood up, whipped her dress over her head, yanked her panties down and ran laughing into the crowd. The red-faced mother had to chase her down and wrangle her back into her clothes.

This is all perfectly natural, of course, and does not mean your child will eventually have a career in exotic dancing or join a nudist colony. Young kids, especially when they are out of diapers and suddenly less restricted in what they can touch and feel down there, are very excited to discover their bodies and are eager to share their discovery with others.

But what do you do if your child starts playing with their genitals on a regular basis? Some kids, once they figure out that it’s interesting and even soothing to touch themselves, might spend every available opportunity with their hands down their pants or stripping down on the couch.

While this might make you uncomfortable or even embarrass you if you have guests over or are out in public, it’s very important to never shame your kids for touching their bodies. This is a normal and healthy part of development, and your negative reaction could contribute to unhealthy attitudes toward their bodies or make them feel like there’s something wrong with them.

The key to dealing with kids exploring their bodies is to simply explain to them that this is something to do in private, and not around other people. Introduce the idea of “private parts” and tell them what parts of our bodies are private and what parts we can show other people. Calmly explain that if they want to have a look or touch their private parts, it’s fine to do in their bedroom or in the bath.

Use real words like penis and vagina and avoid using baby talk or made-up words. When your child eventually discovers the actual words for their genitals, they might feel like the made-up words were used to disguise something shameful or wrong.

If it’s a recurring problem and they just don’t seem to be honoring the “private, not public” rule, be patient and repeat the rule every single time you see this behavior. It won’t last long, and once the novelty wears off they will understand that they should only be doing it when they’re alone.

If you can navigate this phase without anger or disgust, you will be doing your children a huge favor and setting them up for a lifetime of feeling secure with their bodies.

What’s YOUR best advice on this subject? I’d love to hear from you in the ‘Comments’ section below!

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