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My Kid 'Played Doctor' with Her Cousin!

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Guest blogger Maria: I know that it's normal for kids of a certain age to play the "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" game. I did it, and everyone I've spoken to about this has admitted to it as well. Yet I didn't know what to do when, one afternoon, I walked in on my own daughter with another little boy, Josh. Her cousin Josh.

young kids kissing

When I pulled back the covers (yep, they were in bed) they were giggling, so I didn't think anything at first. But then I realized that they were in their underwear, and it became clear: They had been playing doctor. Umm ....

Remaining cool wasn't easy -- the Mama Bear in me wanted to roar! But somehow I managed to remain chill. "What are you guys up to?" I asked.

"Josh showed me his peanuts," my daughter answered, and giggled. "And Sofie showed me hers," Josh said. "Her vagina, not her peanuts." Could this really be happening?! I called in my sister for her to witness our half-naked children talking about their "peanuts and vagina" (good lord). We scooped them up, dressed them and sent them off to play something more appropriate. And then we did what any normal parents of cousins who were caught exploring each other's private parts would do: We uncorked a bottle of wine and talked.

We laughed a lot, actually, to dispel the overall "WTF just happened?!" feeling we were both experiencing. We knew we'd have to set our kids straight as to what was appropriate -- without making them feel like they'd done something bad. But what, exactly, would we say? My sister pulled out her laptop, and we did a little Web surfing. According to Wikipedia, playing doctor is "considered ... to be a normal step in childhood sexual development ... so long as all parties are willing participants and relatively close in age." Willing participants, yes -- but also first flipping cousins! Did the definition still apply? I mean, they're 4 and 5 years old; it had to be normal, right? It's not like we'd caught them as teenagers making out in the back seat of the family car. Right?

We decided to stop wasting time on the Net and to call our cousin, Alex, who happens to be a pediatrician. She confirmed that what our kids had done was simply a way for them to satisfy the curiosity they have about each other's bodies. And the fact that they are cousins, she said, didn't matter one bit (at that age, anyway). She suggested that we put down the wine, get our kids in front of us before more time passed, and use the situation as a "teachable moment." She stressed the importance of not making a scene, but calmly and matter-of-factly explaining that their "game," while inappropriate, was natural, and not dirty or shameful. We had to be careful, she said, not to put an undeserved emphasis on something that might make our kids feel weird or embarrassed about their bodies.

Admittedly, after the whole "cousins" issue was resolved, we felt more prepared to deal with the whole thing. We brought the kids back to the bed they'd been playing in and explained that it was normal to be curious about each other's private parts, but that they were called "private" for a reason. There was more to the conversation, but the outcome was that they understood they should find other games to play with each other -- with their clothes on! My sister and I agreed to monitor their time together more closely, and to just generally keep an eye on the situation. If it happens again, well -- with a little wine and another call to our cousin, Alex, we figure we can handle anything.

Have any of you ever caught young family members playing doctor? How did you handle it?


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39 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous June 7, 2010, 5:08 AM

Gross. I never “played” doctor with anyone. All body parts, male & female, were explained to me and I was shown appropriate books from a young age to see the and understand the “parts” I didn’t have but I was always well aware that my private parts were private for a reason. I honestly don’t know anyone who played doctor so this is just totally weird and bizarre to me.

Kristin June 7, 2010, 8:18 AM

Most kids do. I did, a lot of friends did (I’m sure more than I know because some wouldn’t admit to it). I think you handled it very well.

sherrie June 7, 2010, 4:06 PM

When I was six, a couple of girls and I played ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours’ with some boys from the neighborhood. We were at my house in the garage. We all stripped naked and ‘compared’ body parts. I remember being surprised at the boys little things sticking out. One boy asked, “how come you don’t have a dingler?” I didn’t know what to tell him as I’d never thought about it before. After a couple of minutes, we put our clothes back on and continued playing out in the back yard. It never happened again, our parents never found out about it, we grew up and the whole thing was forgotten. It’s not a big deal at all and parents should ABSOLUTELY not make any kind of deal about it because, at that age, being told that what you did was ‘dirty’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ will profoundly affect a child’s self esteem and later the child’s concept of his or hers sexual behavior.

SteCold June 7, 2010, 4:06 PM

That’s really funny! I never played doctor, and was never shown books. Just didn’t care I guess?!
I can’t wait to be a mom! HAHA!

diane June 7, 2010, 4:38 PM

Parents have to be extremely careful when dealing with certain situations. I agree with what Sherrie said; if a child participates in a ‘show me’ game, the child should not be told that he/she is ‘bad’ etc. In my house, my brother and I were never taught that our bodies were ‘bad’ or’dirty’ or that we should be ashamed of them or that seeing each other naked was somehow ‘wrong’. Robbie and I bathed together from the time we were infants. To save time and mom’s energy, I guess. We bathed together til I was 12 and he was 10. The only reason we stopped bathing together is because we got to big for the bathtub. The two of us couln’t fit in it at the same time. The thing is, we were never bothered by each others naked bodies. It meant absolutely nothing if Robbie or I saw each other naked, even when we were in high school. We saw each other naked all the time and it was a complete non-issue. I am raising my kids the same way.

Debs June 7, 2010, 9:05 PM

An absurd overreaction to a normal piece of growing up. As for the whole cousin thing, would you have really felt more comfortable if it was a stranger - REALLY? People used to marry their cousins all the time. Who cares. Find something important to spend your time worrying about.

rayna June 8, 2010, 11:59 AM

I see nothing wrong with kids getting together and exploring their bodies with each other. It’s normal behavior. Curiosity of anything, including naked bodies or comparing body parts, is a natural part of learning. It’s just one aspect of a human being’s desire to learn about the world around him/her. Once a kid ‘compares’ body parts and satisfies this part of curiosity, he/she will continue to learn other things about the world they live in. In school, they will learn math, science, history, etc. But it’s normal to want to satisfy one’s curiosity. Don’t make a big deal about ‘show me yours and I’ll show you mine’. The kids are not going to grow up to be rapists or pedophiles.

kristin June 14, 2010, 10:27 AM

I found my 8 yr. old daughter and my 6 yr. old son comparing body parts and touching each other. I decided not to say or do anything. Sure enough, after a time when their curiosity was satisfied, they stopped exploring each others bodies and the whole thing was forgotten and they grew up. They’re in high school now and I bet they don’t even remember the incident.

WorryOrNot August 3, 2010, 11:19 AM

Is it normal for the cousins to be age 10 and 12 (both girls) exploring bodies?

elaine August 10, 2010, 2:35 PM

To: WorryOrNot
Yes it is normal for people that age to ‘explore bodies’. It is part of human nature. People are born with curiosity as part of the psycological makeup. That’s why some people become scientists and engineers. Curiosity is normal and most kids will become curious about many things. At a young age, their curiosity will turn to body parts and and physical sensations. It’s a ‘why does it feel good if I do this?’ kind of thing. It’s natural, normal and harmless. On the other hand, if you confront them about it, they will be horribly humiliated, filled with terrible guilt and feelings of failure. Their self-esteem wil be utterly destroyed. All these awful, negative feelings will last for years. They will hate the person who ‘outed’ them. They will never feel the same toward you as before they were ‘outed’. So on one hand they are willingly engaging in a harmless activity that gives them pleasure. On the other hand their young minds will be shattered.

Erika September 2, 2010, 12:59 PM

Recently I found my 8 year old son and 7 year old daughter standing naked in his bedroom. They had their arms around each other and were kissing. I know it was my daughter’s idea. She started doing sexual ‘play’ very early. But they weren’t merely kissing, they were ‘making out’ as we used to call it. Even though their bodies were touching, I could see that my son had an erection. Is this just more
‘curiosity’ and ‘exploring’? Will they eventually stop? I don’t want to traumatize them and affect their self-esteem or sexuality.

Anonymous September 4, 2010, 5:41 PM

I’m very concerned, I walked in on my 9 year old daughter and her 5 year old male cousin with a Doctor kit. He was pulling his shirt out of his shorts, as if he had quickly pulled his shorts up. Should I be worried?


Madison September 7, 2010, 3:17 PM

No. They are just playing. Neither of them is going to grow up to be John Wayne Gacy.

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