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Tips for Talking to Toddlers About Their ‘Private’ Parts

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Tips for Talking to Toddlers About Their ‘Private’ Parts

Oct 20, 2014

When toddlers start to discover, and in some cases, share and display their private parts, many parents get nervous. Dr. Cindy Gellner says this curiosity is all part of normal development. She gives tips for approaching the issue with your child and reminds parents of the one thing to never do when teaching kids about private parts.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Gellner: Your child and keeping their privates private. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner and that's what we'll talk about today on The Scope.

Announcer: Medical news and research from University of Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Dr. Gellner: It's not uncommon for a parent to come in and say, "My child has figured out that he's a boy. And he likes to be putting his hands down his pants." or "The little girl that's at daycare with my child decided to show that she has different parts than my son does and I'm not sure how to handle this." It's very, very common. And if your child does it, the first thing I want to tell you is relax, it's normal. Kids around the age of three start figuring out their bodies are a little bit different than the others. Girls are different than boys. They're starting to figure out, we're potty trained and we figured out we go to the bathroom different ways.

That's usually what starts it. Then they want to explore, it's a normal thing. Kids are very curious at that age about everything and they don't quite understand that you're supposed to keep your privates to yourself. That's why they call it privates. So, one of the things I do when I'm doing a well exam on a child about three is I ask them, when I'm going to check their body, I say, "So, is everything okay in your privates?" And they'll look at me and I say, "Do you know what your privates are?" And I'll say, "Hey, it's down here." and I'll point to where their privates are.

And I'll say, "Does anybody look at your privates?" "No." "Does anybody touch your privates?" "No." And I will tell them, even doctors can't touch or look at your privates without your parents here. So that way they get the understanding that, "Oh, okay, what's going on down here is for me and me only." If you catch your child touching themselves you want to just pull them aside, don't make them feel like they're in trouble, just talk calmly to them and say, "You know what? That's your privates. Okay? And we keep our privates to ourselves. We don't touch our privates when other kids are around or when other adults are around. You can only touch your privates in a private place like your bedroom or your bathroom."

And you tell them you may not touch anybody else's private parts. And if your child tries to touch other people's privates it's important to let your child know that's their privates, you have your privates, and they're called privates because nobody should be touching or looking at them. If you do catch your child exposing themselves to somebody else, remind them again about privates. They're not for display. I know the kids are going to be curious, they are going to want to show them off. You know the joke and kids still do this today, "I'll show you mine if you show me yours," and just let them know that's not okay.

Most importantly you want to not yell at them or punish them for this because that's going to make them scared. And you don't want them scared of their body. You want them to know, "Okay, this is part of my body, but it's my part that only I am allowed to touch or look at." That's the key thing. This is normal and you need to treat it as normal. It's actually a very important part in childhood development because kids realize differences and you want to make sure that your child understands that there are rules to the privates but they are not anything to be ashamed of.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.