How to Handle Kids Playing Doctor

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When you open your child's bedroom door and find him playing doctor -- naked -- with his friend, your first reaction is likely either anger, embarrassment or stunned silence. Children show an interest in their bodies at an early age, and playing doctor helps satisfy their curiosity about themselves and the opposite gender. Most kids don't play doctor for any kind of sexual gratification. According to AskDrSears.com, if you catch your child giving his friend a checkup in a way that seems inappropriate to you, take the opportunity to teach him about his body and what constitutes appropriate play.

  • Take a moment to calm yourself down if catch your child playing doctor in a way that makes you uncomfortable. Your child and his friend might be unclothed or touching one another in what seems like an inappropriate manner. This does not mean that your child is purposely acting in a sexual way. If you yell at your child and angrily demand he stop what he's doing, he might feel guilty or ashamed for his behavior.

  • Suggest a new activity for the children, such as eating a snack or playing a game outside, to distract them from playing doctor.

  • Determine whether your child's play was acceptable or unacceptable. Playing doctor is acceptable if both kids are under 7 years old and about the same age, if both agreed to playing and one child did not force the other into the game or threaten that the activity be a secret. The game was probably innocent, even if the children were acting secretive or hiding in a closed, private room, according to AskDrSears.com. If the children are more than three years apart in age, the play might be inappropriate. Oral-genital contact is also unacceptable, especially if one child is several years older than the other.

  • Wait for the other child to go home before confronting your child, to avoid embarrassing him in front of his friend. If his playmate is a sibling or someone else who lives with you, wait until you and your child are alone before starting the discussion.

  • Explain to your child the difference between acceptable and unacceptable play. For example, pretending to take each other's temperature, or giving shots or putting on bandages is fine, according to Glenn E. Jennings, M.D., in his article "What Do I Do About Kids Playing Doctor?'' on the website Piedmont Parent.com. Tell him that playing doctor while fully naked or touching genitals is not appropriate.

  • Tell your child that it's normal for him to be curious about other kids' bodies, especially the bodies of the opposite gender, according to Jennings. Say that his genitals are private, and he shouldn't show them to his friends.

  • Teach your child the correct names for male and female genitalia. Many adults tell children to call their genitals by a nickname or slang word, but this tends to cause confusion for kids. For example, avoid using the term "pee-pee" to describe the genitals for either gender.

  • Instruct your child to tell you or another trusted adult if anyone ever forces him to play in a sexual manner. Tell him that it's okay to say "no" if he doesn't feel comfortable with something his playmate wants to do.

  • Invite your child to ask you any questions he may have about genitalia or sexuality. Age-appropriate books can also help sate your child's curiosity about gender differences, sex, babies and related topics.

References

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