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
Girl measuring herself on wall

Tips for Handling Your Child's Body Exploration

Don’t Overreact 

As with so many facets of parenting, your child will ultimately look to you for guidance. He will observe how you react when he embarks on any new experience, especially one that involves something he’s learning such as taking his first steps, using language for the first time, using the toilet alone, and yes, discovering his genitals.

Think back to when your child began to walk. You probably cheered him on excitedly from the sidelines, helping him gain momentum and confidence with each new step he took. Your joyful facial expressions and enthusiastic tone sent a positive message: “You’re doing an awesome job; keep up the great work!”

Your language, tone of voice, and expression could have a tremendous impact on whether your child perceives body exploration as shameful and bad or just a normal part of life.

The way you react to your child when you find them exploring their body will also send a message. Your language, tone of voice, and expression could have a tremendous impact on whether your child perceives body exploration as shameful and bad or just a normal part of life.

When you do find your child actively touching himself, even if it makes you uncomfortable, don't scold him. You don't want him to feel as though he's committed a crime. Instead, turn the situation into a teachable moment. Tell your child that body exploration is natural and explain that it's a private activity. Your child will continue to learn important lessons from you that can help pave the way for a healthy attitude toward their bodies and sexuality.

Remember, there's no shame

In How To Talk To Your Kids About Masturbation In A Healthy Way, sex education teacher Kim Cavill encourages using the topic of masturbation as an opportunity to teach skills and concepts that empower young people to grow into sexually healthy adults.

“Communicating acceptance is simple and sounds like this: ‘I see you’re touching your penis/vulva/anus. That feels good, doesn’t it? Touching those body parts feels really different than touching other parts, like elbows or knees. I’m glad you’re getting to know your body, because bodies are really cool.’”

I love how Cavill keeps body exploration simple and acceptable. This approach helps a child feel like there’s nothing dirty or shameful about self-touch.

Promote private body exploration

Begin teaching your child the difference between "public" and "private." If she starts touching herself in public, quietly tell her that some things are okay to do when she's alone but not when there are people around.

Sara Dimerman, a child and family therapist in Thornhill, Ontario, explains: "The message should be that touching in and of itself is not dirty or disgusting, so long as it’s done in an appropriate place and doesn’t put the child at risk of exploitation. It’s OK for them to touch themselves when they’re in their rooms alone, but not at the supermarket or the park."

In the case of the boy touching his privates in the pediatricians office, this would’ve been a great opportunity for his mother to quietly tell him, "That’s something we only do at home." To keep him from his preoccupation, she could have redirected him toward a toy, crayons, or some other interesting activity.


About the Author

Cheryl Butler

Cheryl L. Butler 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. Call the Mighty Mommy listener line at 401-284-7575 to ask a parenting question. Your call could be featured on the show!

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