I was sitting in the kitchen when my 3 3/4 year old son came into the kitchen. He was half-dressed and ringing his penis like a train bell. By "ringing his penis like a train bell," I mean, he was pulling on it and exclaiming, "Ding-ding!" very loudly. It didn't occur to me as masturbation (though it might have felt good). It was clearly another toy from the toy box, only this one was attached to him. After a moment, he turned to me and said, "Mama, we need to replace it."
Me: Replace what?
Him: My penis. It's getting old and worn out.
Me: Couldn't you just repair it? I mean, you are an engineer driving a train.
Him: Mama, no. It just needs to be replaced.
Me: Hmmm . . . Well, we could look into it.
And the conversation ended. Later on I thought of all the ways in which I could have shamed him. I could have yelled at him for coming into the kitchen naked. Or playing with his penis. Or I could even have been upset that he was joking around about his penis (after all, it's a very serious matter, isn't it?). Instead, I chose to sit back and see what was going to unfold.
First, no one else was in the kitchen, so it didn't seem important to me that he run and play with his genitals in a different room. If someone had, then I probably would have suggested he put down his penis and get dressed.
Secondly, we weren't at breakfast yet. When we got there, I would have him wash his hands. No big deal.
Thirdly, I found the whole thing funny. He thinks his penis is funny. He thinks it's sometimes a train bell, sometimes a pencil to draw the alphabet with. You get the picture. Genitalia will become serious enough in the future, why start now?
Lastly, it has become increasingly important to me that my son can feel comfortable, self-expressed, and experience total non-shaming around his body. Sure, there's a time and place for him to explore his body - and usually that's not the kitchen - but for that moment, it was fine.
It's a tricky dance, this. On the one hand, I want my son to revel in his innocence (he's not even four years old). At the same time, I want to continue to teach him consent (see my other post on consent for that one). Add to that non-shaming. Add to that self-expression and exploration. Add time/place appropriate. Stir, then parent. But before you do that, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ding-ding of your child joyfully playing. After all, at this moment it's really just a train bell.
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