Helping Your Child Navigate Body Exploration

As they grow, children start exploring their bodies, including the parts it's not considered polite to touch in public. Mighty Mommy shares tips for taking the shame and stigma out of natural exploration while keeping your public dignity intact. 

Cheryl Butler
7-minute read
Episode #528

As they grow, children start exploring their bodies, including the parts it's not considered polite to touch in public. How should a parent respond to this natural curiosity? It begins with letting your child know there's nothing to be ashamed of.

In late December, I experienced an extraordinary parenting milestone I’ll treasure for the rest of my life—the birth of my first grandchild! Watching him enter this amazing world was surreal.

Because I enjoy spending time with him, I was excited when my daughter asked me to join her at his pediatrician appointment. I was catapulted back to a time when I used to cart my own babies (usually several at a time—by myself!) for check-ups. Most of those visits were a total blur. My one and only goal was getting my kids in and out with my sanity intact. This time, though, my daughter was the one handling the car carrier, organizing bottles and diapers, and soothing her son while he fussed. I just sat and savored the time with my new grandson.

We were waiting, as the baby slept peacefully, when a woman with a crying newborn and pre-school aged child came in and sat down across from us. The frazzled mom told her little boy to say seated while she cared for his baby sister. Though he had a small electronic toy in one hand, he was much more interested in the hand he had down his pants. I waited to see how his mother would handle this breach of public etiquette, but she was too busy with her crying baby to notice. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the nurse called my daughter in. We gathered the baby and his things and headed towards the exam room, leaving the little boy in the same position he arrived in.

My daughter, looking uncomfortable, asked me, “Mom, what was up with that little boy touching himself in public? Why didn’t his mother tell him to stop?” It's a good question! Let's take some of the mystery out of young children and body exploration.

It’s completely normal for kids as young as toddlers to become aware of their private parts.

Normal Sexual Behaviors and Exploration

Children’s curiosity can lead to exploring their own and each other’s body parts by looking and touching. As I explained to my daughter, it’s completely normal for kids as young as toddlers to become aware of their private parts. When they do, they're often so consumed with this self-discovery that they aren’t tuned in to who might be watching them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) shared a list of the follow normal sexual behaviors in children.

Ages 2 to 6

  • Touching or masturbating genitals in public or private
  • Looking at or touching a peer's or new sibling's genitals
  • Showing genitals to peers
  • Standing or sitting too close to someone
  • Trying to see peers or adults naked

Once a young child discovers their penis or vagina, you can expect them to become fascinated with looking and touching. This may be a normal activity, but it still causes parents embarrassment, especially when it happens in a public setting. As the mom of five boys, it has happened to me on many occasions. Although I knew it would pass, I also knew that how I reacted would help my children not feel ashamed of their bodies and give them a better understanding of what they could and couldn't do in public.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.