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Playing "Doctor" Is Not OK

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After I found out my son was playing "doctor" with his cousin, I turned to a real doctor to find out if this game is OK.

kids playing doctor

Radical Mommy: Recently I found out that my five-year-old son was asking his cousin to touch his penis during their little game of doctor, and I wasn't sure what to do.

My sister and I had decided to talk to our kids separately about their game to remind them that their bodies were their own and that other people are not allowed to touch them.

Afterward, I was afraid that we might have done something wrong. Had I traumatized my son for being sexually curious? Should we have just allowed them to continue their little game? I was really upset, so I turned to momlogic's Dr. Michelle Golland, a licensed clinical psychologist, to find out her prescription for playing "doctor."

Radical Mommy: Did I do the right thing by stopping the game and talking to my son?
Dr. Golland: When we become aware that our children are getting excited sexually, we need to pay attention to it, we can't just ignore it, and you did the right thing by talking to him about it. Talking about it normalizes their feelings, but we have to be very direct in telling them that there is a certain time and place, and only certain people that can touch you -- quick honest answers are the best. In that situation, I would talk to them alone.

Radical Mommy: What should a parent say to their child in this circumstance?
Dr. Golland: I know it feels good to touch your penis -- and be sure to call it what it is: penis is penis and vagina is vagina -- but only Mommy, Daddy, and perhaps a regular babysitter, who might have to bathe and dry a child, are allowed to touch your penis. With my own kids, I always make sure to remind them, before they go anywhere I am not going to be, that no one should ever touch their penis or their vagina -- that includes your friends, your friends' siblings, parents, or anyone.

Radical Mommy: So is it normal for a child to want to touch themselves?
Dr. Golland: Absolutely. But if a child wants to touch themselves, then you need to explain that it's OK to do it, but that they have to do it in private -- in their room, alone, for example. This is especially true for the child who loves to watch TV while touching him/herself, or the child who always has a hand down his or her pants -- because it becomes a lot less interesting if you have to go to your room and be all by yourself to do it.

Radical Mommy: So in short, is playing "doctor" OK in any circumstance?
Dr. Golland: No. It can feel good to be touched. But we have to sort of help our kids understand that even though it feels good, it doesn't mean that you can do it with that person. And just because it feels good to do it with that person doesn't mean it's OK to do it with that person. Also, in situations like this, there is the possibility that things become lopsided -- and that is definitely something you don't want.

next: Kids -- We're Getting Back Together!
8 comments so far | Post a comment now
Kat Wilder July 20, 2009, 12:39 PM

I and probably thousands of boomer kids have grown up playing doctor. As far as I know, the majority of us did not become sexual perverts, freaks, molesters, nymphos or BDSMers.

Sure, kids need to know what’s OK and what’s not OK when it comes to their privates. But they don’t view those parts as sexual things as we adults do; they just know that it feels good.

The worst thing that a parent can do is overreact — then you’ll have yet another generation filled with shame and guilt about their body!

Just Sayin' July 20, 2009, 2:33 PM

Moms and Dads - when having the ‘talk’ with your children PLEASE remember to add ‘or a doctor in the doctor’s office’ just in case that ever occurs, otherwise the doctor will have a hard time helping the child - the ‘doctor’s office’ part is so that no one tells your kids he is a doctor and tries something.

Sitter? July 20, 2009, 4:00 PM

There’s no reason a babysitter has to dry off a five year old kid. Don’t confuse them. Mother, father, doctor - period.

Ginny July 20, 2009, 8:14 PM

I always tell my kids that doctors or nurses are only allowed to touch private parts if they need to for a reason and if a parent is in the room.

Kristina July 31, 2009, 1:04 AM

Our neighbor found my daughter (5) and hers (4) playing doctor. Rather than talking with the girls, she assumed my daughter was at fault, and has banned the girls from playing together again - ever… After I talked with my daughter, she told me what all they’d done (and her story matched the neighbor’s), but she said that it was both of them, not just her… How do I handle this other parent’s overreaction? My daughter is devastated, and daily asks why they don’t like her anymore. She doesn’t need the daily reminder… Or the feeling of being constantly judged by these neighbors… in my mind, I’ve addressed it with her openly but sternly, and would really like to move on… any advice?

wilbur July 17, 2010, 1:36 PM


Sir Amic September 25, 2010, 10:43 AM

I must admit, that this is total bullshit. first of all, there is nothing wrong at that age on touching and exploring, if you want a kid, that will grow up knowing nothing, and at the age of 13-14 when he/she will begin the 1000th generation rebellion against his/her parents, he will start doing exactly that, that will end badly.
the genitalia are not a bad thing, they only are because that is what you make of them. for kids, its a part of the body, as any other, for grown-ups, its a part of the body like any other. but, due to religion and another 1043 reasons, it became a taboo.

so, to sum it all up. there is nothing wrong with kids playing doctor, and as a father, there is nothing wrong with kids having sex. AS LONG, as you tell them whats involved, so, instead of telling them “no no no” tell them the reasons why it should not be done, and let them decide (once again, this is about older kids 12-18)

CaDad October 3, 2010, 11:25 AM

A few copmments if I may, obviously explainging to a child about body privacy is very important. Keeping an eye on them when they reach this stage so you can gently discourage this behavior is one of things we have to just do:-] I do have a comment about age approprioate play, On a lot of sites I see where older kids ( mostly girls) are allowed to bath with a lot of younger boys, or the boys are allowed to go nude in front of older preteen girls without any regard to the privacy or modesty of the young boy. I find this behavior even more disturbing the the doctor play wirh similar age children.In MHO, I find this far worse. I will bet a lot of women, including you Doctor, will say something really ignorant like you find this normal , boys have no modeaty, etc. Put this situaltion in reverse, have older boys bathing with young girls or have young girls run nude around older preteen boys-Ah-I bet the old double standard prevails!

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