Hi! Love your page! My 10 month old has been playing with his penis recently. I have been using body positive language and it’s going well! we were outside and he was playing with it when his little friend started playing with my sons penis. My son didn’t mind but the other mom and I were wondering how to approach the situation. Should we let it continue or intervene? We both want to make sure our kids value consent and have a positive relationship with their body! Thank you!!
Great question! It’s tough to know what to do when babies are discovering their bodies …and the bodies of their friends. The immediate reaction might be to think this is some form of sexual abuse and grab the children and tear them away from each other.
Kids at 10 months are getting comfortable and familiar with their own bodies. There is no sexual shame at this point. They’re not even tuned in to “sex” yet. Just feeling good and minimizing pain. Total pleasure seekers.
You’ve probably seen kids this age up to 3 or 4 years old running around naked, regardless of the season. Such freedom!
That said, I want you to think about how we teach young children about the kitchen stove as you process how to handle this.
For example, when they’re little, when we talk about the stove, we say “hot” or “don’t touch”. We don’t bust out pics of 3rd-degree burns to scare them. Our tone conveys seriousness. But as our kids age, we introduce a finer grain of information for them to process. Later, we might tell them when the indicator light is on it means that the stove is hot. And then we teach them how to handle the stove as teens and to do that safely and hopefully minimizing harm.
The approach in this instance I describe is the same.
10 months old is going to be too young for them to understand “right and wrong”. I’m sure you know from a social perspective, touching another child’s penis, vulva, or anus is not a behavior that will be acceptable in playgroups or preschool+. That’s a sure-fire way to ostracism.
In Germany, there’s a program called PEKiP where kids play without clothes in a warm room (naked, or at least they did 18 years ago). Babies discovering their bodies is handled as a normal, natural part of development (because it is). The child might have a passing interest in something someone else has but it’s a fleeting interest. No shame. No adult is encouraging the touching. They move on to some other activity or preoccupation.
But that’s Germany. America is not nearly as “free” and we have hang-ups and socialize behaviors of others, in not so great ways sometimes.
Redirecting will work in this instance today. Without shock or emotion, just factually, state that penis belongs to him and it’s not polite to touch other people’s things (toys, body parts, etc) without asking. This might be the first way to deal with this at this age. And meanwhile, you are exercising a muscle to practice teaching consent lessons.
As he gets older you can acknowledge that while touching your own penis feels good, we do this in the privacy of our own room or bathroom when others aren’t around. Consent is part of this too. Others don’t consent to see a penis in public so it’s also respectful to not do this.
Then when they’re tweens/teens, you can explain that this is again where consent comes in. Kids of all genders should know not to force, guilt trip, or coerce someone else to touch their penis for them. If you ask a partner and they say no, then they should leave the topic alone. Tweens and teens also shouldn’t pose questions like this of kids that are a different age or mental ability than they are.
Thank you for trusting me with your question on how to handle babies discovering their bodies. I hope that helps you figure a way you want to handle this. Intuitively we have a gut feeling about how to handle this but that often gets clouded by fear and shame.
P.s., please comment below if this has happened to you and how you handled it. Did it work?