Acting delicately when toddlers rub privates in public

A parent wrote me with a delicate question: How to stop a toddler from rubbing herself between the legs at preschool, without making the act itself shameful? Here’s our exchange.

My daughter’s nursery has informed me that in the last few days, she has taken to lying on her tummy and wiggling her hips and kind of grunting. I’d seen this at home and thought it was her way of settling down for a nap. But they said they’ve seen it before and it’s because kids “like the feelings down there” — implying there’s something sexual about it. They’ve tried to encourage her to go to sleep on her back and apparently she’s putting her hands down there, too.

I have no idea how to tackle this. It feels like a mine field: I don’t want her to think nice feelings are wrong or develop any kind of ‘hang up’ associated with this kind of thing. She’s only two, three in a couple months; I didn’t think we’d have to think about this kind of thing just yet!

I’m happy to pay any consultation fees to get any advice at all; I really want to do the right thing, and this feels like I need specialist guidance.

Thank you so much, Tracy. Any light you can shed would be greatly appreciated.

* * *

I’m happy to help! This is totally normal, but I know what you mean about it coming sooner than you expected. 🙂 Personally I would ask the teachers to work with you on it, send a positive message consistent with yours, and give it some time (be willing to repeat the message).

The message would be: “It feels good when you do that! And that is something to do at home, in your bed. We touch our private parts in private.”

Followed by success training (as it’s called in Language of Listening, the communication model I follow): “At school, how do we sleep? That’s right, hands by face.”
… maybe including some funny role-playing: “Do we sleep like this? [funny position] [Pause to see if she’ll respond before saying “Noooo.”] How about like this? [repeat, repeat] Like this? Yes!!”
… with gentle reminders if she does it: “Where do our hands go at nap time?”
… and acknowledgment as soon as she complies or any time they see success: “You’re following the rules of nap time at school! You’re on your side with your hands by your face. You know how to sleep at school.”

This is something you can role play with her at home, or maybe when you drop her off at school, as well as something her teachers can do.

At home, when she wiggles before naps, I would just say, “That feels good down here, doesn’t it, when you wiggle on your tummy. Your own bed is just the right place to do that.”

Also, it’s not too early to let her know what those body parts are called, as I wrote here:


* * *

Tracy, it’s one of the world’s most over-used phrases, but I genuinely cannot thank you enough! From the speed of your response to telling me it’s normal to reminding me to follow the same principles of listening, acknowledging and role playing. I’ll be honest I freaked out. I thought, if I don’t get this right from the start I could do real harm, and I panicked. I’ll let you know how we get on.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

* * *

My pleasure, honestly. Do real harm: I know exactly how you felt. You got this. 😊 Yes, let me know how it goes!

* * *

Quick update. Preschool has supported the approach we’ve taken and tonight, we did bath time, got her ready for bed, read a story and then Daddy and I kissed her goodnight. She said, “I can wiggle now can’t I?” and I said, “Yes, you’re in your bed, it’s your private time, you can wiggle.”

Thank you, I feel like we’ve navigated this one well, with your support. xxx

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Tracy Cutchlow

Tracy is the author of the international bestseller Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science, a public speaker, and a creator of places to speak and be heard. Sign up for her newsletter here.

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