Jun 3, 2013 Posts By: Peter L. Stavinoha, Ph.D.

Talking With Your Toddler About His Body
When talking with your toddler about his private body parts, appropriate behavior and the opposite sex, it's important to speak calmly and matter-of-factly.

What do you do when your toddler goes public with their private parts? Giggle and your child might start streaking through the supermarket in an attempt to get more laughs, and then the joke will never end.

One parent shares her concerns over how to handle her son's curiosity about not only his body, but those of the opposite sex. Learn from Peter L. Stavinoha, Ph.D., about the best tactics for dealing with this delicate dilemma.

Q

What is the best way to approach a 3-year-old boy who has discovered his private parts and thinks it is funny to point them out? Also, how do I address his curiosity with the opposite sex’s parts? — Danielle B.

Peter L. Stavinoha, Ph.D.
Peter L. Stavinoha, Ph.D.

AThe harm that might stem from ordinary sexual curiosity in toddlers is more likely to arise from adults’ reactions to the curiosity than from the behavior itself.

As parents, we sometimes impose adult motives on a child’s behavior. Thus, a boy exposing his genitals may take on a much more negative meaning for adults than it does for him.

The reaction the child gets — whether it is shock or surprise from adults or laughter from other children — can reinforce the behavior. Thus, simply ignoring it is one of the best strategies because you will take much of the excitement away. Or simply explain this behavior may be done at home in private, but not in front of others.

Keep the Discussion Calm

When the inevitable interest in the opposite sex’s private parts emerges, you should also deal with this normal curiosity calmly and matter-of-factly.

Depending on your modesty level and values, you have many options on talking with your toddler about the opposite sex and satisfy curiosity — from an age-appropriate picture book to offering some explanation when the toddler might accidentally see a family member naked. Also use these opportunities to teach your child about privacy and saying “no” to anybody touching him without permission.

— Peter L. Stavinoha, Ph.D., pediatric neuropsychologist at Children’s Medical Center and professor of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern.