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How to teach your preschooler healthy body boundaries

Q: My five-year-old son has been caught playing “show and tell” with his genitals on several occasions, with two girls who are seven. While I don’t believe my son is completely innocent, I find these girls are incessantly trying to get him alone. I have spoken to my son, the girls and their parents, but can’t figure out how to make the behaviour stop. I’m running out of ideas and I don’t want to overreact.

A: It is quite normal for children your son’s age and younger to be interested in exploring their own bodies, as well as others’. By age seven, however, I would expect the girls he’s playing with to be more inhibited, especially after repeatedly being asked to stop. Because the girls are older, and there are two of them, your son may feel pressure to go along with them.

In general, as long as their play does not include the imitation of sexual acts, it remains relatively harmless. That being said, I don’t think you would be overreacting if you prevented your son from playing with these girls for a while. You want to get across the message that you’d like the kids to find another way to play together. At the same time, you’ll want to keep your son safe and help him learn healthy boundaries about his body without giving the impression there is anything wrong with his natural curiosity. At this stage of his development it’s important he learn that exposing his private body parts to others is not appropriate.