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What Do I Do About My Toddler Reaching in his Diaper to Play with his Penis?

By July 11, 2008

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A reader writes:
"My toddler has a relatively new habit of sticking his hand in his diaper and often playing with his penis. I don't want to tell him not to touch but I do wish he'd do it less. One forum I read suggested it's a sign of autism, but I'm not sure how or why. Is this normal? And should I just ignore it?"

First, rule out any medical issues like a dermatological condition, fungal infection or other illness. Look for obvious outward symptoms such as pain, problems urinating, flaky skin in the area, redness, swelling, bleeding or skin discoloration that wasn't there before. If any of those symptoms are present then see your health care provider immediately. This alone could resolve the issue.

Barring any medical problems, however, I would say that this is completely normal behavior not to worry about. There could still be some underlying issues, though. Since you are sending me this in July, I'm wondering if you have noticed it since summer started?

Read more of this answer or leave a comment below to share your own experiences with this issue.

July 11, 2008 at 5:12 pm
(1) Scott says:

ALL boys/men play with our penises! Start worrying if he plays with other boy’s penises!

July 11, 2008 at 7:13 pm
(2) RL says:

Ahhh, NO. Not ALL boys play with their pinuses, you moron. Is that what you tell yourself to make yourself feel better? GROW UP and get a real life.

July 11, 2008 at 7:52 pm
(3) CD says:

Uhhh…yes they do. And learn how to spell PENIS RL before you call someone else a MORON.

July 11, 2008 at 8:05 pm
(4) Heather says:

I have 2 sons (3 1/2 yo and 2 yo) and a husband and yes all males play with their penises. It’s a built in toy!

July 11, 2008 at 8:20 pm
(5) Carrie says:

YES…ALL boys play with their penises! It is natural, you just need to explain that it is something that is to be done in private. Kids will explore themselves, it is a natural development, we as parents just have to teach when and where it is appropriate to do those “private things”.

Good luck.

By the way, RL…you are the moron. If you know a boy/man that doesn’t play with their penis, something is seriously wrong with them. Men will play with their penis in their sleep if given the opportunity.

July 11, 2008 at 9:24 pm
(6) Mom of 2 toddlers says:

I started saying “hands out” very neutrally when he began to do it a lot, and now I have to say that less and less. I also say “you can touch your penis when you’re naked.” It works for him. Good luck!

July 12, 2008 at 1:32 pm
(7) RJ's Mom says:

I have an eighteen month old son and everytime he gets naked he grabs his “bird” and says what it is. At that age they are learning about themselves and everthing else. I don’t have any concerns about it and he is my first child. I think you are worrying a little much that’s all. Just talk to him about it. They understand more than they’re given credit for.

July 12, 2008 at 5:58 pm
(8) Dave says:

Well.. you could just let him be naked.. in the back yard naked with the potty there too.. gives you a good chance for him to air out (good for the skin) and learn about his body (good for his brain) and feel good about himself (good for his psyche).

Or I suppose you could tell him it’s dirty and bad and that he should fear the strange appendage..

July 12, 2008 at 8:42 pm
(9) Teresa (Nana) says:

Some people must live with heads buried in the sand. I’m kicking 50, And Years ago people where under the idea that it’s A sick thing to do. I think to tell A child that is A dangerous thing to do. Please don’t do that. kids have enough to worry about now days. Without hearing it from there own parents. Masterbation is normal for boys, girls, men and women, If you say it’s not, or that you don’t then someones telling stories. Just explain when it’s O.K. and it’s A private act. so stop worring especially when he is at such A young age. Nana…

July 13, 2008 at 4:49 pm
(10) Patti says:

My grandson does the same thing and it’s perfectly normal,as I told his mom. He’s just curious as to what that thing is hanging between his legs. Wouldn’t you be if you were a little boy? We just explain to him to do it in private when no one is looking.

July 14, 2008 at 1:20 pm
(11) Erika says:

I do believe it is quite normal. The age at which they become interested is probably the biggest differentiator in kids. I agree with Stephanie’s advice on ruling out medical issues and irritations. I also agree that how you feel about it will have a big impact on how he grows to feel about his organ and himself. If his penis is normal, natural and appropriate to be acknowledged in certain settings to you – then he will feel the same.

July 14, 2008 at 2:59 pm
(12) Kathy says:

Wow! What a heated discussion! Well, all I can say is that I am a single mom to a very healthy 3 year old boy. And yes, he does like to play with his penis occasionally. In fact, the first time he did that he became erect while at the potty and then said “Uh-oh Mommy, what happened”?? We both laughed at it and I still think it is funny. I don’t see any harm in him learning about his body and the way that it is intended to work.

July 16, 2008 at 10:04 pm
(13) BDaddy2005 says:

This is so funny:) Yeah, our son touches himself on the potty, when we change his diapers, when we go swimming, etc. We don’t make a fuss becase it’s a normal human thing. The more we parents stress out over stuff like this, the more kids will do it just to get your reaction.

July 18, 2008 at 12:34 am
(14) Dave - sahd of 2 says:

I already commented above.. but.. sheesh.. reading all the stuff about masterbation.. HELLO! it’s a toddler.. he ain’t masterbating!! he’s just playin’ with his penis.. the same way he plays with his fingers.. or his toes.. sheesh.. what’s wrong with this world.

July 18, 2008 at 11:39 am
(15) nikki says:

I don’t know if it’s just boys. I have a 16-month old girl and she plays in her diaper as well. She only recently started this and I think it may be a result of our attempts at potty training.

July 21, 2008 at 10:05 pm
(16) Dave (SAHD of three) says:

Maybe we could all try to get along, eh? I have two sons, one four and a half and one six months, and they each play with their penises on occasion. We tell our older son that he can touch his penis in his own room or in the bathroom, and we’ve not had any problems. I would not worry about this behavior. Good luck!

July 22, 2008 at 6:43 pm
(17) Kiey says:

Oh My Goodness,

He’s a baby..he’s going to play with it because it’s there…Dave you’re right…they are not masturbating at this age…my son grabs his when he’s naked, when he’s not, when he’s playing, when he’s eating, when ever he can…it’s not a big deal. My hubby holds his all the time…It’s just a guy thing. When he does it in public, I just tell him to play with his wanker when we get home and not in Wal-Mart, he stops…Don’t be so serious about everything, and RL, you really need to get a life if you know a guy that doesn’t grab his penis, then President Bush is a Democrat and I’m going to be the next Pope.

November 5, 2008 at 12:39 am
(18) Taylor says:

like most every one said its normal im 19 and i know i did hes just at the age where he wants to learn every thing about the things around him and his own body and carrie is right it is a toy to men

November 23, 2008 at 5:59 pm
(19) Thomas says:

Don’t worry. Boys want to learn about themselves. Just make sure your little one does this privately. Tell him that it is ok to do that but to do it in his room. When puberty comes it will be a different story but for now don’t worry. It is natural for a boy to play with his penis

December 11, 2008 at 9:18 am
(20) Loni says:

Ahh the penis… you ‘ain’t’ seen nothing until you’ve seen my Great Nephews (3.5 yr)get naked. They pull ‘em, flip ‘em, wiggle ‘em, write they’re names in the air with ‘em swinging their hips in every direction, use them as machine guns, quitars and chippendales has nothing on these guys, they dance like a ‘worm cut in half’ and it’s whipping everywhere. They’re on the couch, coffee table, toys, slide, kitchen chairs, rugs, just everywhere. They do it everyday and I was not very happy to be in the audience of laughing mothers and nana’s and aunts. After I left I could only wonder if I had a forensic body fluid detector lamp what would I have found I was sitting in…… right or wrong it’s not sanitary, they’re are other children and infants that share the same space, furniture and toys (face down on the couch for naps!) I have only witnessed this twice, once was a novelty and twice was insanity. Frankly it’s none of my business but someone needs to be aware of the pee and ecoli contamination, thats unacceptable… the daily audience has just become ‘matter of fact’ and are like a deer in the headlights.. Yikes when it was time for me to leave I refused a hug and kiss and settle for the ‘knuckle’ greeting where theres was the least contact… gorgeous smart loving children for sure, I’ll just stick with the email pics for now, LOL Happy Holidays!!

December 19, 2008 at 11:52 am
(21) Quintes says:

I have 5 daughters and 1 son. And yes they all did it! I took them to doctors and they said to leave them alone it’s normal. They are learning their bodies! I can’t stand to see my son grabbing at his penis.. However I just ask him not to do it in front of people! My daughters stopped early. The BOY is still exploring his body! HA! I just have to stop him from pulling it out in Walmart…

February 25, 2009 at 6:45 pm
(22) Lala-Marie says:

My son is 20 months… He plays with it all the time i mean ALL the time !!! Its normal, boys will be boys, they never stop playing with it. Just dont make a big fuss about it and if you see him doing it just take his hand out of his pants and tell him no very nicely. not NO DONT DO THAT, just shake your head and say no. Try to also hand him a toy or something to get his hands attention. My son is learning very quick and normally only tries to reach when I change him.

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