Parenting a boy and his penis

By | January 18, 2013 | Motherhood & Family

Parenting a boy and his penis

Before becoming a mother, I remember hearing about a family member’s struggle with her son’s bath time. Her son proudly demonstrated how he could make his penis stand up, sending that mom running out of the bathroom hysterically shouting, “Honey, get over here. NOW!” I winced when I heard this story. I thought, “Ewww… gross… I hope I never have boys.” No such luck. I have two of them. As a colleague wrote, “I’m surrounded by penises.”

To our young sons, their penis is just simply another part of their body; like a finger or toe. No big deal. They do not have the context to understand how adults view that area of the body. Young boys actively squish, crank, smash, and adjust their privates without any care that the adults around them might be sweating in discomfort.

Here are five ways I keep healthy boundaries between myself and my sons’ private parts, and to help them assert their boundaries of this area with others.

1.   Always call it a “penis.” Lord help the child who, in the middle of recess, shouts to the teacher, “Johnny just kicked me in the ding-dong.” Calling a spade a spade is also important for the child as they build a healthy adult relationship with their adult private parts. It can be hard to make the mental shift from ding-dong to penis.

2.   Touch your son’s privates as little as possible. I do not want to be the reason for it to, um, point skyward. I actually didn’t clean our boy’s penises when they were little; rather just pouring liquid soap into the bath. We got lucky because there were no infections or problems. According to my doctor husband, there should be no pain with cleaning an uncircumcised penis (no forcible retraction) and privates only need weekly cleaning. Show boys as early as possible how to clean that area themselves.

3.   Talk about their “private parts” early. When a child starts potty-training, you can say you are going to wipe their private parts (bum) for them because you are one of the people who are allowed to touch those areas. I often quizzed my sons, “Who is allowed to touch your private parts?” Thankfully, I brain-washed them into remembering, “Just you and Daddy.” If they go to daycare or preschool, you can add those teacher names to the list. You can also come up with a plan if someone does try to touch them there. Our plan is to say, “STOP!” and run to a trusted adult. There are excellent articles about how to handle this with older kids by Michele Borba, PhD.

4.   Don’t panic. Even though your son will get used to hearing his penis is a private part, you also need him to feel that if he has any questions or trouble, he can go to you for help. If your child suddenly drops his pants in front of you and your friends saying, “Mommy, my penis hurts. See!” it is important to stay calm. “Oh, we really need to check that out. Pull your pants up and we’ll take a closer look in the bathroom.” As your son gets older, he will do better if he knows there is an open door policy with you about any concerns he has.

5.   Don’t tell your son to stop touching his penis. Telling him to stop will make him do it more. Rather than give a direct instruction, make him feel it is his choice to not touch it in public. For example, “See… your Dad, Uncle and cousin Terry don’t touch their penises in front of others. I bet they’re really good at saving that for a time when they’re alone.” It worked for both our boys.

Note:  As this can be a very difficult dynamic for a mother who has experienced sexual trauma or difficulty, anyone who is struggling with their son and his penis is advised to seek professional help. Please don’t feel badly for needing help. There are a great number of moms out there who have experienced sexual challenges.

Are you a mom of boys? What boundaries have helped you in parenting your sons and their private parts?

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Andrea Nair

Andrea Nair is a psychotherapist and writer in London, Ontario Canada who specializes in the connection between parents and their children. Her therapy background helps the parents Andrea works with to understand, at a deeper level, what to do when kids drift away, behaviour goes wild, buttons are pushed, and old negative self-talk from the parent's childhood rears its head. Through Andrea's novel Stripped Down Running, on-line presence, workshops, and one-on-one counseling, Andrea hopes to bring families closer together. Learn more about Andrea at

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momto2yrold February 15, 2013 at 10:47 am

Not trying to be critical, but isn’t it a little strange to not clean your son’s penis in the bath with a washcloth when they’re little?  Would you have not cleaned a daughter’s genitals too?  By not cleaning one specific body part (and cleaning the rest), I feel like that draws more attention to the skipped part.  Sorry, I just don’t get it.  It’s a penis and should be cleaned with a washcloth just like any other part.

AlwaysARedhead November 16, 2013 at 4:35 pm

I remember when my son was an infant, I would have to gently hold the pen is down else I was always getting peed on. Just taking his diaper off, would make his penis point upwards and pee for some reason. Many a time pee was everywhere if I wasn’t quick enough to point it down. There was also a lot of laughter during diaper change.

BilboBaggins January 24, 2014 at 2:18 am

Wow!   I don’t wish to be rude or disrespectful but it is clear that this article has been written by someone with a debilitating problem with sexual repression.  No well adjusted adult, particularly not a parent, would ever feel disgust at seeing their toddler with an erection, and that this article even suggests this is an understandable reaction instead of the reaction of an adult with severe problems betrays the underlying problems the author herself is suffering from.
Children learn from the reaction of their parents, and the suggestion that you can react with such revulsion to your child’s genitals to the extent that even washing them is difficult for you and then expect your child to feel he can approach you if he has a problem with them later is simply delusional.  As a psychotherapist the author really should understand human reactions better than this.

BilboBaggins January 24, 2014 at 2:41 am

Actually, I have changed my mind.  It makes me angry to think that someone who clearly doesn’t understand that toddler erections have nothing to do with sexual stimulation, that washing your child’s genitals along with the rest of their body in the bath doesn’t cause erections, and who neglected her own child’s welfare by refusing to wash him properly because of her own personal hangups should be even allowed to advise other parents how to care for their own children.


JeromeJerrard October 24, 2015 at 6:59 am

Your sadly mistaken washing a boys penis while in the tub will cause an erection a male child doesn’t have to think sexually about a situation for it to give him an erection physical touch to the penis of any kind can give a male an erection and she’s just saying you want to limit your amount of contact with your sons penis as much as possible as a mother there is nothing wrong with what she’s saying your perception of it I’d just obscured

Edenmom December 29, 2015 at 8:55 am

i am a mom of several boys…as we are a nudist family,there are a lot of erections,,ages 4 to 12…and i see that they play ‘ Dr. sometimes,,,including oral as two on one…but i do not say any thing..they do not know what sex is and are just experamenting

Edenmom December 29, 2015 at 9:02 am

ther is nothing wrong with  washing mys boys penis’.. I am a single nursing mom,we are proud nudists ans we follow the ancient Celtic tradition of all washing all,,as we bathe in our private land boys are not ashamed of their nude bodies,or feeling natural

momto2yrold December 29, 2015 at 10:25 am

Edenmom what does that mean including two on one oral?????!!!!!!!!

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