Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
March 22 2007 8:12 AM

Child's Play

Should I stop my preschool-aged daughter from exploring her body?

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Dear Prudence,
I am the mother of a beautiful, clever, generally well-behaved 4-year-old girl. I adore her, and she's a delight to be with in public and sweet as pie with other adults. My problem isn't something that other moms talk about, or that I've seen other little girls do. My daughter likes to—uh, how shall I put this?—rub herself on things: tables, chairs, ottomans, stairs. She really gets into it, and can go for long periods—half an hour, 45 minutes. She becomes very intent and flushed, and often gets upset when we try to stop her (probably because it feels good—duh!). My husband and I call it "doing that thing" and we have been generally tolerant of it, even though it has embarrassed us when she's done it in public places like bookstores or at the babysitter's house. We think exploring one's body is a normal thing and that probably she will grow out of this, but when friends come over and see her "doing that thing" on the coffee table, it's a real conversation-stopper. Should we prevent or prohibit this behavior, just because it embarrasses us? I don't think it's a disciplinary issue, because she's not disobeying us or hurting us or herself. We just figured it was something that she would grow out of, but she's doing it more and more. It's just such a strange, awkward habit, and I can't settle on a graceful, sensible, loving solution.

—Puzzled

Dear Puzzled,
Now that you know what your daughter's up to, look more closely and you may occasionally notice other sweet little girls plastered to furniture, oblivious to their surroundings. Of course she's upset when you try to stop her. If you felt you had 10 orgasms to go, you'd be annoyed if your mother told you you'd had enough. There's nothing strange about preschoolers masturbating—for reassurance, read about it at this University of Michigan site, or in the book Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They'd Ask)—you will be able to relate to the mother of a 2-1/2-year-old who is quoted as saying, "Oh, my God, I realized Ella's humping Barney." How confusing and crushing for your daughter it would be if you tried to stop this behavior completely because of your own embarrassment. You want her to be comfortable with exploring her body and with the idea that it can be a source of pleasure. But at age 4, she is old enough to understand the distinction between things that are fine in private but not in public (she's toilet-trained, after all). You can explain to her that "doing that thing" is for at home when there's no company (if there's company, let her know she can do it in her room). When you're in public, and she starts approaching the nearest ottoman with that look on her face, tell her that's for when you're home, and come up with something to distract her. As for outgrowing "that thing," in a few years she will take it completely private (you needn't worry that your daughter will be rocking herself on the coffee table when she's 16), but you want to handle this now in such a way that you help her retain her robust joy in her body.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
Recently, my husband and I were guests at a home where a racial slur was used in casual conversation by another guest, in front of four children under the age of 15. I was so shocked at hearing this word, it felt almost like a physical blow, and I immediately went into another room to be out of the conversation. My question to you is, did I do the right thing? I've been feeling guilty about my lack of action or at the least, not letting the offender know he'd offended. The home we were at was my brother and sister-in-law's; we have a polite relationship at best. My husband and I have striven to keep the relationship alive so we can be good examples for our young nieces. Have we blown it?

—Appalled

Dear Appalled,
I consulted etiquette guide The New Basic Black for how best to handle such a situation. The authors recommend that when confronted with racist speech in a social setting, respond calmly (for instance, "My mother never allowed that word in her presence, and I'd just as soon not hear it, either. Black people simply are not described that way"). But don't beat yourself up over being caught short in a terribly awkward situation in someone else's home—I assume the look on your face and your departure did convey your disapproval. When you next see your nieces, you can bring up the incident and say the word that was used is never acceptable, and you wish you had said so to the guest who uttered it.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I have a teenage brother, and since I'm a lot older than he, I've played a significant role in raising him. Apparently he's come out of the closet via MySpace.com, and to his social circle at school. My other siblings and I have had our suspicions about him possibly being gay, which we've come to terms with, since we were raised in America and are more socially open-minded. However, my parents are very, very traditional old-world Asians. I know that my parents love their children unconditionally, but if they ever found out that their precious baby is gay, it would literally kill them. They will be shamed among their friends and family in the Asian community. I've told my brother that maybe he is confused and it could be a phase, but if in fact he is gay, then we'd love him anyway. However, I told him that he would be forced to live a double life when it came to my parents: They come from a different world, a different culture, and they just won't be able to accept it. Am I wrong for telling my brother that? Have I hindered him being open and honest with me?

—Loving Big Sister

Dear Loving,
If you want your brother to live a double life for your parents' benefit, then you don't actually believe your parents love their children unconditionally, because your brother's condition is that he's gay. Of course you respect your parents' traditions, but they are the ones who brought you to America to be exposed to new ones. How much more beneficial it will be for all of you if you can help bring some of your open-mindedness to your parents. Does having your brother live a lifetime of deceit really honor your parents? I can also assure you, and your parents, that having old-world values does not prevent homosexuality, and even their friends back home have gay family members. When you say this news would kill your parents, unless you mean that they would commit suicide (you don't believe they would, I'm sure), finding out your son is gay is not listed as a risk factor for heart attack or stroke. Yes, it will be difficult for them when they hear this, but the rest of you can help ease their way by demonstrating your continuing love, support, and acceptance of your brother.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I was out for an evening walk with my dog when she squatted to make No. 1. At that exact moment, a man I'd never met was walking toward us. He stopped, looked at us, and shook his head as he said, "Great, you know I live right there. Genius." I apologized (weakly) and continued on my way. He lived in a corner house, and she did her business on the side of the house, right next to the driveway so it wasn't even in front of the house! I always pick up her other business, but this was just No. 1, and I think the man was very rude and way out of line. I wish I had had the presence of mind to tell him what I thought of him and his comments, but this has never happened to me before. Am I out of line for finding him rude and believing I have not committed even the slightest transgression?

—Well-Mannered Doggie Owner

Dear Well,
I myself am a well-mannered doggie owner (even if I have an ill-mannered dog) who never fails to be amazed by the number of bombs left behind by other doggie owners. As far as urination is concerned, you should always try to get your dog to go on public property—or your own yard. Once dogs smell urine in a particular spot, they are drawn to leave their own calling card there. So, how much offense can you take at someone who reacted negatively to your dog relieving herself on his property? It's good you didn't say what was on your mind: "My dog's only doing No. 1, but you're a poopy-head!" and instead offered a correct (if weak) apology.

—Prudie