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?