Toddler Taboo – a girls relationship with her private parts

I’ve been pondering for a few days about the best title for this post, I’m aiming for something that makes people understand what it’s about without attracting the ‘wrong sort’ of reader…what a flipping nightmare! I should just add now that this isn’t meant to be a ‘shock controversial’ type of post otherwise I would had titled it ‘Help my preschoolers m*ste*b*ting!’

Bean is 3 now and for the past year she has been rubbing herself when tired, down below. It happens the way way every time, she gets tired, lies down on her front and starts to wiggle about rubbing herself and if you question what she’s doing she says she is ‘doing her bits’. It’s not something one normally talks about in polite society however this morning I was sat in a coffee shop with a friend and confided in her of Beans ‘doing her bits’ only to be met with a sigh of relief that her daughter (aged 2) does it too when she gets tired and she’s felt unable to tell anyone. It’s got me wondering that maybe it’s just a normal, natural thing but that  maybe there are other parents out there who are encountering this sort of behaviour and worrying. I know this isn’t a sexual act, she does it purely because she finds some sort of comfort or enjoyment out of it.

Of course it’s a hard thing to actually phrase, so for this post I’ll refer to it in Beans own words of ‘doing her bits’, I’d like to steer clear of such descriptive phrases as ‘grinding’, ‘humping’ and ‘pleasuring’ which although are relevant may attract the wrong sort of attention.

When she first started to do this we discussed the best way to approach it. There was much ‘tell her not to do it’ and ‘she should go to her bedroom if she’s going to do that type of thing’  discussions between myself and Papasaurus. Finally we decided to tackle it like most toddler/pre-school behaviour with not making a big deal out of it and simply ignoring it. It’s odd that even with a toddler you over-analyse  your parental decision making, will how I handle this situation have any bearing on her future being? It may sound a bit bonkers but I really did worry that if I tell her it’s ‘dirty and wrong’ (which I don’t believe is true) that she’d grow up into some sort of repressed young woman!

We have told her that it’s something that should only be done at home though – the thought of kindergarten ringing me up to have the ‘your daughter appears to be pleasuring herself’ talk is enough to make me go and crawl in the cupboard under the stairs where it’s dark never come out again…

I do worry though that maybe it’s not the ‘done thing’, after all if we are sat as a family on the sofa reading books or watching a film and she sprawls out and starts ‘doing her bits’ is that acceptable? Gosh she’s only 3 years old – it really can’t be time for our first ‘uncomfortable chat’ can it ?!

The problem is is that we live in a culture of ‘got a problem? Google it!’ and I don’t want to try and Google about this for fear of what I may be greeted with.

So my question is does your child do this / has done this and how do/did you handle it? It has on occasions stressed me out quite a bit, she shows no sign of growing out of it yet and I do wonder whether my relaxed attitude is right (ah the good old parental self-doubt!)

I appreciate that this topic may not be the most comfortable for people so feel free to comment anonymously if you so wish…


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  1. says

    I have three girls 9.8 and 5 and they all do/have done it. My 3 year old boy seems much less friendly with his bits!
    We do tell them it’s private and they should do it in their bedroom. I’ve caught mine humping various things in public and I don’t tell them off, but do remind them that it’s not polite.
    I treat it like any other kind of manners I’m trying to teach them.

  2. says

    I have a boy, and he does the same thing. To be honest it hasn’t worried me, I am confident he only does it at home, and hey if I had a willy I’d play with it too, looks fascinating! I have been known to say “oh yes its a lovely willy, now please put it down so I can put your nappy on, thank you”.

    I would just totally ignore it, and only tackle it if it becomes a problem, out in public, vicar round for tea etc. I think you are absolutely right calling it dirty sends the wrong message. I do think you could start introducing the concept of “private” and “public” that some touching we do in private, and others are ok in public.

    I think she’s totally normal and she’ll either grow out of it, or learn that its something she does in private.

  3. says

    I haven’t reached this stage with Little A yet although I do feel its totally normal for toddlers/preschoolers to do their bits. She is just getting to know her body. I think it may also depend on the personality of the child – what were your other children like? It actually may be a good indicator that Bean has a good relationship with her body and feels very comfortable in her skin. Sounds like you are caught between a rock and a hard place. If you tell her to stop doing it she will do it even more right? Sounds like you are handling it really well actually by giving an appropriate boundary around it i.e. at home not in the shopping centre.

    • says

      Thank you x
      I have to admit I have started to worry that she’ll start doing it at nursery! Oh the joys of having children – there’s always something to make you giggle!

  4. says

    You can’t google it in case one day your computer breaks and you take it in for repair and end up with the police on your doorstep!
    Now I’m going to put myself right out there, and say that I remember doing it myself at around the age of 4/5 and my mother being shocked and cross with me. I felt really bad about it, but I didn’t stop – it just became a guilty secret, which I think probably set me up for all sorts of problems further down the line, but lets not get into that here!
    GG is always fiddling and if I say anything it is just to let her know that it is private and she should do it on her own. Otherwise I just try not to notice and leave her to her own devices.
    God you really know how to pick a post don’t you! Now look what I’ve gone and said!!! Too much!

    • says

      Ah it’s all coming out now ! ;)
      I remember my mum walking in on me when I was about 10 and I was doing that, I still cringe about it to this day!
      Thank you for sharing, I’m making a mental note of it as a topic of discussion when we meet next month!

  5. says

    Yay! Finally a post about something my 3 year old has also recently started doing! I’ve been thinking about posting about it but had the same concerns are you so keep putting it off!
    I remember Jenna doing it when very little rocking back and forth and then she didn’t do it for absolute ages and has just recently started again.
    I know it’s a totally normal part of developement when learning about her body but it is very disconcerting to see her “sorting herself out”.
    She calls it her “silly nunnie games” and likes it because it’s a nice tickle. We’ve also had the it’s private discussion and she now goes to her room if she wants to do it and then rejoins us once done. I think her’s is also related to when she is tired as it generally happens before nap time or early evening when watching tv.
    As you said “so glad it’s not just mine”.

    • says

      Phew! I can relax a bit now. It’s just one of those things that you don’t start talking about at playgroup over the dry playdoh so it’s hard to work out if it’s ‘normal’.

  6. says

    This really made me laugh – I know it’s such a worry dealing with kids sexuality in the right way. I’m sure just being kind and accepting and trying to avoid too many public displays is the way forward. For us it’s been an obsession for my son more than my daughter – a friend’s little boy got his out on the bus and started waving tit around which she found quite embarrassing – our problem is they grab each other in the bath which can actually be quite painful. It will pass though. x

  7. says

    People aren’t remotely surprised at boys fiddling with their bits. Is it too contorversial to suggest that maybe that says something about society’s attitude to female sexuality? We’ve taken a similar line to everyone else, it’s fine but private. Fab post. x

    • says

      It’s odd isn’t it that in this day and age of ‘open mindedness’ that I still looked at it as I’d half expect it of Ozzy but not from Bean ? You have got me thinking now!

  8. says

    As regards ‘that conversation’ a friend of mine said you just tell them what they want to know and no more. It gradually gets more explicit until eventually they know it all. GG (7) wanted to know about all the bits of a woman’s body and why girls can have babies and boys can’t so I told her all the gynae words and explained. The next time we talked about bottoms being private, she said ‘Fine Mummy, just so long as we don’t have to talk about peanuts and eurekas again!’ (I dont think she gets it!)

  9. says

    What a great post and great top read all the replies that it happens a lot. I don’t remember my DD doing this but I do remember my sister when she was little, crossing her legs and rocking back and forth, usually when she was tired or upset. She called it ‘shuffling’ and now I can’t hear that song “Everbody’s shuffling” without laughing!

  10. says

    My eldest daughter, 5, likes to go repeatedly on a ride at legoland as it “tickled her gina”.

    She has always fiddled as does my son with his.

    I am pretty certain they will grow up just fine.

    On case you are wondering yes I also went on the ride and no it didn’t have the same effect on a grown up.

    J x

  11. Anonymous says

    Thankfully we are not at this stage yet. But reading your post and the comments fills me with trepidation for the future!

    I agree with not making to much of a big deal out of it, and gently telling them to do it in private. That said, I expect I’ll be the mother hollering down the tube carriage…PUT IT AWAY. NOW!!!)

  12. says

    Thankfully we are not at this stage yet but I am filled with trepidation after reading your post and the comments!

    I think I’d favour the softly, softly approach, not making too much of a big deal out of it and saying that it is ok to do it at home, but not in public.

    • says

      Thanks! I feel more confident that I’m handling it ok now!
      Bean once went through a phase of saying a certain swear word and I told her off and made a big deal out of it. Of course then she said it even more! we live and learn – ho hum!

  13. says

    Completely and utterly normal as far as I am concerned, one of my 4 year old twin girls is always at it.

    JJ is that little bit older and we have always just explained to him that it is fine to touch himself but it is something to be done in private.

    Mich x

  14. says

    Alison does it and as you said only when tired, not sure why, and we do tell her to stop occassionally when she is a bit umm enthusiastic ;)

    Elizabeth never bothered but then Alison potty trained earlier and therefore has more freedom as there is no nappy in the way.

    Dont worry and just think of all the little children up and down the country doing it they will be in 10 years anyway ;)

    • says

      Oh yes, don;t get me started on teenagers. Husband number one rang me a few weeks back to say that he had been finding a lot of scrunched up loo roll in my 13 yr olds bedroom and could I have ‘the chat’ with him !

      Oh now that’s another post right there!

  15. says

    I’m not there with my DD (she’s just 2) but I’d definitely take the ignoring it approach. It is perfectly normal and would probably only say something to my kids if they did start doing it in public. The things we have to deal with eh?!

    • says

      Oh it’s charming – if they aren’t announcing to strangers that ‘mummy had a smelly pooh’ then they are scratching their bottoms in public.
      We are a lucky bunch!

  16. says

    I have two boys (6 and 2) who are always playing with their winkies, ALWAYS. When they both used to get in the bath together, the youngest would sometimes lurch for the eldest’s one! Really quite amusing! In fact the doctor said it’s something boys should be doing because things need a little loosening, so it’s probably nature taking its course with your girlie. Think they’re all at it behind closed doors.

    • says

      Do you think doctors tell grown men that it’s something they should be doing ” because things need a little loosening” ?
      That would definitely explain some of the questionable menfolk that I have had the ‘pleasure’ of meeting in the past!

  17. MaryM says

    “It may sound a bit bonkers but I really did worry that if I tell her it’s ‘dirty and wrong’ (which I don’t believe is true) that she’d grow up into some sort of repressed young woman!”

    Don’t think you’re bonkers mammasaurus, my 2 and a half year old daughter does something similar, and I only ever say quietly positive things when she does. The last thing I want is for her to grow up feeling ashamed of any part of herself I agree with catparrot re. female sexuality.. Really brave post, thankyou :)

  18. Curly Mum says

    My daughter does this and I think it’s absolutely normal. There was a discussion about it on a parenting forum I frequent and was quite surprised how many people said their children (boys and girls) often have a fiddle there. I suppose to a small child it is just a part of their body the same as any other and they will explore it just the same too.

  19. says

    Our little lad is fascinated with his ‘winkle’ but we’ve not progressed to the stage that your daughter’s at yet, but I do like the idea of including this when teaching them manners in other aspects of his life.

    It’s not an easy subject to discuss, really good post!

  20. says

    I’m so glad you’ve written this – in the glad it’s not just mine vein. Oldest daughter has never done it (although occasionally fiddles with her knickers which I have told her is not polite in public but OK in her room).

    Youngest is another story (she’s 3) and to be honest I can’t remember when she hasn’t done it – she has done it right from when she was little in a sleeping bag in her cot and continues to this day. I have pretty much ignored it (hoping she just grows out of it !) and she also only does it when she is tired – in bed or in front of the TV. I’ve never seen her do it anywhere but home so reckon we’re OK but I did tell her recently not to do it while I was reading her a story and that if she wanted to continue she should wait until she was on her own. I do like the idea of the good manners bit and I’m soo glad to know it’s normal :)

    Thank you once again mammasaurus!

  21. says

    My oldest is 14 now and glad to say he no longer does this in public – don’t want to think about the privacy of his own bedroom thank you very much.

    I remember when he was 5 and we stayed at my cousin’s house (who had friends round too that we’d never met) and my son started to do this – that is when we started telling him that it was *ok* to do but not in public.

    Since then can’t say I’ve noticed either way with the other 3 because I know it is just part of growing up.


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