autism and rewards

Ask the expert: Help! My kid’s hand is always down his pants

My child really enjoys having his hand down his pants…and it always seems to be at the most embarrassing moments, like when we’re in public!

First of all, breathe, mama. It’s normal. It’s also normal to feel embarrassed by this behavior, and to cringe when your child is exploring his body in line at Target or at preschool. But don’t worry: we can help with teaching appropriate self-touch.

Teaching appropriate self-touch

It’s important to remember that people enjoying physical contact with their genitals is normal and natural. I know that’s not always culturally acceptable, but hear me out. Genitals are just another part of your child’s body. They are not more or less normal than any other part of the body. Most parents are happy to brag on the value of other parts of a child’s body. Example: ‘Your legs are growing so long and strong, look at you run! Your hands are getting so good at writing.. good job!’

Kids deserve to get to feel good about all the parts of their body without shame or guilt, genitals included. Now, we have special rules about behavior with genitals, but we have special rules about all kinds of body parts, don’t we? You can’t use your hands to grab people as they walk by. You can’t use your eyes to stare directly at the sun. You can’t have your pants off when you are out in public. All kinds of body rules, but no difference in body image.

Second, and probably more importantly, your child’s body is theirs. Feeling ownership about their body is the first lesson in autonomy and self-direction and consent. So, kids need to feel like they have control over their own body, and they need to feel like they have a say, without shame, over the things that feel good to their body.

Dovetailing into the need for autonomous control is this practical application: there is no way to have control over another person’s body without being coercive. This isn’t meant to be creepy. You can’t make a child eat if they don’t want to. You can’t make them poop if they don’t want to. You can’t take away their penis if they touch it too much for your comfort because it feels good.

So what can you do?

Just like all the other ways that parents help shape kids towards socially appropriate behavior, parents also sometimes have to shape kids in regard to when they can have their hands in their pants and when they can’t.

Step one: If you see your child with their hands in their pants, don’t overreact. In fact, try not to react at all. If it is happening in public, reach over and take their hand out and move on. If it doesn’t make your head explode, don’t even make a fuss about washing hands. If you feel like the hand has to be cleaned, squirt a little hand sanitizer on their hand and move on. The goal here is minimal input, and also, MOVE ON. The more attention you give it, the more likely you are to make it seem shameful and you are also more likely to make it persist. Just move on without a fuss.

Step Two: A key to teaching appropriate self-touch is the need to learn that there are some places where you can have your hands and some places where you can’t. The best place to practice this is at home. When you see your child touching their genitalia, say something like, ‘It looks like you need private time. You can go to your room/the bathroom’ or wherever you want them to do that privately. Deliver that message with a neutral tone and without any other instructions. When kids finish and return to a common area, don’t feel like you need to talk about it. No one asks you about what you do in your private time, and kids deserve the same respect.

Step Three: Expect that the behavior will increase or decrease. For some kids, having their hands in their pants becomes a habit. When they have to get up and go in another room and interrupt their flow, it’s just not as valuable and the behavior decreases. For some kids, this behavior feels good and meets a need. Those kids may take advantage of understanding the rules of where they can do this and where they cannot and increase the behavior when its appropriate. That’s good and means you have been successful at guiding them to get what they want in a way that is appropriate. If it becomes prohibitive—as in, they are going into their room all the time or for long periods of time–you may need to set a time limit to make sure that they have some balance.

Like what you’re learning? Pin it for later!

Teaching appropriate self touch

Related Posts

You may be interested in these posts from the same category.

Contact Us

Subscribe for More Info