Q&A: short end of the stick

Daylight savings time! Gah. No matter how many times we go through it, it still screws us up in my house. (Tips for dealing with it in the link.) Feel free to post all DST-related complaints in the comments section.

And now a question that will surely give all of us a case of the Mondays. Kelly writes:

"I do hope you can help!  I have a 2.5yr old boy who’s absolutely in love with his penis.  That’s fine, and I know it’s normal and don’t want to discourage him or make him feel bad or that it’s wrong or anything. However, he’s constantly trying to get at it, and very regularly pulls off his clothes during nap time or at night to play with himself.  Not too much of a problem, save that he’s not even remotely potty trained, which ends with a lot of washed sheets and middle-of-the-day baths. It’s also causing a problem in that he loves his 3mo brother’s as well and though he’s not allowed to touch it he loves watching us change the baby and asks for us to change him and throws tantrums when we close the baby’s diaper (to which we now try to take the baby into another room to change, but that’s not always an option).  Is there any way we can get his hands out of his pants and keep his crib dry without affecting his future attitude towards masturbation (which we view as healthy and normal) or sex or his body?"

I always kind of feel bad when people write in with philosophical problems with their kids masturbating, but at least they’re pretty easy to address (kids need to explore their bodies, just let them do it). A logistical problem with masturbation, however, while easier emotionally, is much more complicated to come up with decent advice.

As I see it, you have a few options:

1. Potty train ASAP. It won’t do anything about his trying to get at his penis constantly, but it’ll mostly fix the mess and clothes-washing problem.

2. Put him in shirts that snap at the crotch inside long pants that he can’t easily get undone. Solves the access problem, but will probably cause fights while you’re dressing him.

3. Go crazy with penises all the time–talking about them, playing with anatomically correct dolls (some here and here), drawing pictures of them, etc.–and see if that helps calm him down about his own (or at least his brother’s) penis.

4. As much naked time as possible (this will also help with potty training). If he has more access in general, he may not be so desperate to do it when he needs to be clothed. The big problem here is that he could get really cold if you’re in a climate that’s still in winter.

It seems to me that the big problem here is that he’s still on the young side to be able to understand that touching himself is fine, just not at certain times. And, even then, the standard "That’s something we only do in our own rooms or in the bathroom" line (works equally well for masturbating and for nose-picking) doesn’t help with your problem.

So I’m not really coming up with anything sure-fire. I think if none of the above suggestions affect his need to get at his penis at night and naps, you are going to end up just waiting it out. In another 6 months or so he’ll be better able to understand situational rules and that he can touch himself, just not when his clothes need to stay fastened.

If anyone else has anything, feel free to jump in.