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My 4 Year Old Son Thinks It Is Funny To Touch Other Kid's Privates.

by Sarah Smith
(Moorseville, NC)

My 4 year old son thinks that it is funny to touch others private parts and his own as well. It is constant and I do not know how to get him to stop.

Comments for My 4 Year Old Son Thinks It Is Funny To Touch Other Kid's Privates.

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Learning About Bodies & Appropriate Touch
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Sarah,
Teaching our kids what is appropriate behavior can be tricky, particularly when it comes to bodies. We don’t want to give the message that he is bad, naughty or that touching himself is dirty or to make him ashamed of his body.

What's Normal?

It is very normal and common for little children to be touching their genitals - it feels good, sometimes exciting, and with boys in particular interesting things happen! Many children take it further and do masturbate, and our job is not to suppress their sensuality or innocent sexuality, but to give our kids appropriate boundaries for touching.

Many small children hold their genitals for comfort, girls often rock rhythmically, and boys of course learn that they hold their penis to pee, and many boys will regularly have a hand in a pocket holding on for dear life!

So we tend to teach our kids that kind of play is dirty, bad, wrong etc. Unfortunately that also teaches them that their bodies are not innocent, that they are bad or naughty and that their sexual or sensual feelings should be repressed. We have all sorts of taboos about nakedness, and children learn to hide their private parts, which ends up in increasing the allure of hidden bits!

I am not sure if your son is an only child, but often kids who don't have any siblings and don't see Mom or Dad naked, are understandably more curious about what is in other children's knickers! When they have grown up in the bath with a little sister there is not such a mystery.

Respecting Others

Of course, when it comes to other children, it is not OK to touch without their permission. Kids do explore each others bodies and innocently enjoy tickling, comparing and exploring, and then many move on to playing doctors and nurses etc that might involve some deliberately sexual play. Mutual play is totally fine if you are not uncomfortable - however our society tends to fairly repressive when it comes to children enjoying sexual play. And the boundaries can get very blurred when there is an age difference and one child could be seen to be influencing or dominating another.

Part two Follows . . .

Learning About Bodies & Appropriate Touch - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

So how do you handle it? First of all, don't make a big deal out of him being naughty, dirty or bad - He isn't. He needs some information about what is OK in private and what is not.

Some families are OK about nudity in the privacy of the home, some are fine about innocent touching, most parents are uncomfortable with seeing a child touch or stroke themselves. You can set some boundaries - like touching in the toilet or the bath or in your bed is fine. But that we keep that kind of touching private. Explain to him in a non-judgmental way that touching other children without their permission is not OK that everyone has the right to keep their bits private! Teach him that his body is a special amazing thing, that you love him and how gorgeous he is, but that some parts of our bodies we keep to ourselves or only share with very special people.

Books & Information

I would also suggest you get some body books, and a book on how babies are made, and educate him from a young age about what the bits are for. Your local library will most likely have a good selection. This is a brilliant book about how bodies work:
See Inside Your Body

Learning about how our bodies work is fascinating for children, and also showing the functions of some of those private bits takes away some of the mystery. Of course it will also stimulate his curiosity too! "Have you got one of those Mommy?" I always recommend that parents teach children about making babies really early on, and yes, even the sexual part of it all. Trying to have that kind of conversation with a teenager is way too late! If you talk about all parts of the body and what role they play and just answer questions when they come up, then it is not such a big deal.

From your previous question, I suspect your son will latch onto something that he knows will push a few buttons! So just be careful not to make a big drama out of it, or to be constantly on his back about not touching himself. Distraction works well! If you notice he is sitting watching TV playing with himself and you are not comfortable with that, then give him something more exciting to do, without even mentioning what he is doing. It can become a habit with many children to sooth themselves by doing something that feels nice. Makes sense doesn't it? But we want our kids to find more socially appropriate ways to self sooth as they get older. Many adults use sex as a way to make themselves feel better, and sometimes in inappropriate or unsafe ways.

Part Three Follows . . .

Learning About Bodies & Appropriate Touch - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

Help your son to be joyous in his body and feel good about himself physically in lots of ways - running jumping, dancing twirling. He may well be a very physical tactile child and need lots of body contact and physical touching. Chasing and tickling and roughhouse play will be great - Dads can be particularly good at playing rough and tumble type games. Back massage, playing the drawing on the back game - all this kind of play gives him lots of physical connection joy in his body without it only being sexual feelings. Sensuality is the whole body, not just our genitals.

We all need lots of body contact and touch, but people that are more kinaesthetic, relate to the world through their feelings and physical awareness. So touch and movement is vital to learning.

It can also be easy to overstep the boundaries of others though, when you need to touch people to connect and understand them. You may be able to think of people that seem to invade your personal space, or constantly touch others as they talk. These kind of people are usually feeling orientated and experience the world via how they feel. Many of us are visual, so need to see things clearly to understand and make sense of things. It may well be that your little boy is more kinaesthetic, so needs physical movement, touch and connection to integrate what he learns. So it can be harder for him to respect the boundaries of others, he might come bouncing into a room of other children and knock or touch others as he goes by, without being aware that he might be a bit too full on for some children. Then when it comes to sexual play again, he might find it harder to hold back his curiosity.

One thing to just be a bit aware of - I know from your previous question that he can be a bit defiant. He may well figure out that sexual play can involve some dominance or that he can coerce or that it is exciting to chase other kids and pull down their knickers etc. It is easy for there to be a link between excitement, sexual excitement, power, and control. Don't make a big thing out of it, just give him lots of information about bodies and general talk about appropriate touching, without constantly being on his back about don't touch, stop doing that, etc.

There are another couple of similar questions I have answered that you might find helpful, and there are some comments from other parents.

My Daughter Wants To Run Around Naked!

Sexual Curiosity At Six?

All the best with it Sarah, it can be a tricky thing to handle, we want our kids to act appropriately in different situations, and of course to respect others, and we also want them to love their bodies and enjoy them without teaching them some feelings are bad or wrong. Take care,
Annie D :)

Great Book About Private Parts
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Sarah,

I finally tracked down the other book I was thinking about that is a great one talking about all the issues you have raised.

Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts is a great way to introduce all the ideas of privacy and boundaries in a way that is not telling him off, or particularly targeting his behavior. But it gives the opportunity to talk about the issues in a more abstract way when you are reading a story.

It can also be easier for parents to discuss topics that can be a little embarrassing, when done via a book.

Best of luck,
Annie D :)

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