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.
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?