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How to Handle Children's “Playing Doctor”

2 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of Talking to Children about Sex

Although many parents buy children a toy doctor’s kit, most don’t do so expecting their children to play “doctor” — also known as “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” So imagine walking into the playroom and discovering your child and the neighbor girl, both naked and possibly even touching each other in inappropriate ways. What should a parent do when he discovers two naked children clearly examining each other’s bodies?

Most children play doctor because they are naturally curious about each other’s bodies. Under normal circumstances, no harm can come to children this way. If you discover children engaging in this activity, you have to tell them to stop — not because their behavior is inherently bad, but because you don’t want the other parents in the neighborhood to think you’re running an illegal sex clinic in your basement. But don’t tell them to stop in an angry way, as if they had been behaving badly. Just let them know that people have to respect one another’s privacy and that they shouldn’t engage in that kind of play anymore.

Although it’s okay for children to experiment with their bodies through games, remember a few words of caution:

  • Make sure that an older sibling doesn’t take part in this play. That can change the dynamics, especially if the child is much older.

  • Keep an eye out for how often children play these games. In most cases, this behavior isn’t a regular habit among children. Sometimes, however, one child tends to lead the others in such games again and again.

    Any young child who seems to be obsessed with sexual matters may have a problem. Perhaps some form of sexual abuse is going on in that child’s home, or maybe the parents are just overstimulating the child in some way, but you don’t want it to affect your child negatively.

    If you find that the neighborhood children play doctor regularly, and especially if one child seems to be the instigator, find a way of stopping the activity. You may want to talk to the other parents, but certainly try to take your child out of this situation.

  • One consequence of such games, or of little girls seeing their brothers naked, is that the daughter may feel that she is missing something — namely, a penis. Again, don’t make a big issue out of this, but simply explain to her that boys and girls are built differently and that she isn’t missing anything; rather, she is constructed just the way Mommy is and is perfect just the way she is.

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The Essentials of Talking to Children about Sex

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