My 3 year old son has recently found his penis. We have been ignoring it thinking it’s just a phase. But now he has been wanting to touch between my legs and he laughs and says “I’m touching your penis.” I simply tell him to stop and that we do not act like that. He has also been saying “touch my penis!” to me and my husband. We just correct him and tell him we do not do that. This situation has slowed down a lot he only does this occasionally. This is what makes me think it is just a phase. But a few times last week he went over to my mother-in-law’s and she said he told her “touch my penis.” And now he says that to her every time he goes over there. What should I do about this situation? Should we just keep ignoring it, not bringing much attention to it, like it’s a phase he is going through?
A: Exploration of the body is quite normal for young children, and I agree — it is most likely a phase. Discovering a new body part and learning to distinguish gender is developmentally appropriate, and he will most likely go through similar phases at different times.
However, it can be embarrassing for parents and others when your child is so vocal about it. A great standard parenting technique is to acknowledge your child then redirect his attention to something else. You don’t want to ignore it altogether, but you also don’t want to make a big deal out of it either.
You might want to look for some books at your local library on the subject, both from the parenting angle and age-appropriate books to read to your son. There are many excellent articles online to help guide parents with this kind of thing as well. Here’s one on the subject that I like:
You might also want to talk privately with your mother-in-law or any others your son spends a lot of time with, so that you can all be on the same page with how you handle it when he brings it up. It’s possible that by the time you read my response, your son will have moved on to some other obsession. If he doesn’t seem to be moving on or the issue gets worse, try talking with your pediatrician. Be patient and thanks for writing in.
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts