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My toddler won’t stop playing with his penis! Is this normal?

As a new mom, you might be concerned the first time you notice your toddler has discovered himself. If he’s a boy, for example, he might be pulling his penis and when you change him, you might notice he has an erection.

Some moms are also not sure how to respond to certain sexual behaviours, for example, when their toddler grabs at their breasts or puts their tongue in your ear.

You don’t want to overreact, but how do you respond to your little one without it becoming something “dirty”?

Typical behaviour for his age

According to experts, it might help to know that touching, looking at and talking about bodies is common at this age.

Between the ages of 1-3 years, your toddler might:

  • Touch or rub his genitals
  • Show his genitals to someone else
  • Look at or touch the genitals of familiar children or adults in a fun way during play, at bath time or in the toilet
  • Repeat words, expressions and slang for toileting, body functions or body parts
  • Enjoy being nude
  • Show interest in body parts and how they work.

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The reasons why your toddler behaves this way is because:

  • It feels good
  • He’s learning about touch and social rules
  • He’s curious about the differences between boys’ and girls’ bodies
  • He’s working out how bodies work
  • His vocabulary and understanding of language is developing
  • He’s trying to understand families and relationships.

How to respond

While some moms and dads will be perfectly okay with this behaviour at such a young age, others aren’t. So how you respond will probably depend on your values. But experts say that the most important thing is to be calm, and to try distract him from the behaviour by shifting his attention to something else that will attract his attention.

You can also use this as an opportunity to help your toddler learn about public and private body parts, how girls and boys are different, and ways of talking about bodies. Talk with your toddler and answer his questions openly and honestly, but also at a level he can understand.

They say it’s also a good idea to use the proper words for body parts – vagina, vulva, breasts, penis, testicles and so on. This helps your child learn about his body so he can ask you about any questions or concerns he has.

Dr Alan Greene, a world-renowned paediatrician, author and founder of the paediatric website Dr Greene, adds that it’s also normal for kids to have crushes on their moms at this age, and if you’re uncomfortable with him grabbing your breasts, for example, the message he needs to hear is that these are private parts of your body that are not for other people to touch.

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