This has been going on a little while and the health visitor says its normal but we are a bit concerned about the force our child is using when he pulls at his penis: He really yanks it and it looks like it could do some damage...

Particularly when he stretches both as far as he can!

And the other day his nail cut him on his scrotum while I was changing him so I was even more concerned about bacteria.

How can I encourage him to stop doing it so forcefully without teaching him it's wrong to explore his body?

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    I don't think this got anything to do with sex, thus I re-tagged. Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 9:15
  • Thank you @Shadow Wizard, i couldn't find any tags, probably because i was doing it via my phone Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 10:14
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    Fair enough, and it even gave you two hats. :) Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 11:09
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    While I agree with this answer, there is a chance he's doing it because something irritates him there. Did you go to a doctor for a close inspection? Also, does he cry while doing it? Or show any sign of pain? (not due to pulling, before that) Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 14:15
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    Clenching the legs sounds weird, but if you say there's no sign for pain guess it's all good. My own son is nearly 2 years old by now, and he's doing it only in bath, though not really as hard as you describe. Anyway hope the advice in the answer would help you! :) Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 15:29

3 Answers 3


Ultimately it's self-limiting. As he gets older it'll hurt more (partly as he'll be stronger) and he will stop. Our boys all did this and we didn't discourage it but put boundaries around it -- "You can do that in the bath, but not out the bath". And then of course as they got older (3-5) and they went through another phase of doing it we made the rule that if they do do it they need to wash their hands afterwards, which is not a punishment as such but more of an inconvenience and a disruption.

Boundaries are the first step to helping him out of the habit of it because like many things including energetic games, shouting, dancing, reading, running, throwing etc there are very natural boundaries around where you can and can't do them. Not a punishment, just learning how to do life.

  • I find it so hard to use boundaries because I feel he is too young to understand. Is it simply a case of pulling his hands away while he is out of the bath, but not doing so while he is in the bath? Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 15:26
  • also my main concern is; is there any real risk of him damaging himself? Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 15:32
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    My experience, and a lot of research shows that even at 12 months old a child can understand a great deal of language, and as long as it's consistent and clear he will understand. I would use the words first, and then if he doesn't understand or make the connection, gently pulling his hands away, and then of course giving him something else to play with so it's not considered a punishment more a redirection. Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 16:09
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    @chrispepper1989 - In my experience from raising a boy who did the same thing at that age -- no, there's no real risk of hurting himself, particularly as long as he's only using his hands ("tools"/foreign objects are a completely different matter). As David said, it's self limiting. A child isn't likely to continue doing something that causes pain, and pain in that area is going to happen quite a while before real damage under these kinds of circumstances.
    – Shauna
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 20:58

I took Child Development a couple years ago. This is a phase all children (yes, boys and girls) will go through as a self-soothing thing. The phase will stick around for a year or two then mostly vanish. It'll show back up in the teenage years. As for the force your son is using- he'll probably stop when it hurts.

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    I just love the phrase, It'll show back up in the teenage years.
    – martin
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 10:57

"...the health visitor says its normal..."

Then why disbelieve him? You think you'll get more authoritative answers here? :)

Really though, every little boy on the planet does this, and he'll be doing it for a while. If he starts pulling so hard it actually hurts him and makes him cry/bleed, then he might have some mental compulsion/anxiety issues about it; but if it gets to this point it will be very obvious and you shouldn't worry about missing it.

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    Sadly we are a bit untrusting since they said his excessive crying was normal and after 6 months of this they diagnosed him with a milk intolerance :( Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 20:49
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    Came across this today... Why disbelieve them the answer asks? If ours were anything to go by then it's more 'why engage with them at all' since without exception (and in more than one region) we dealt with the kind of feckless numbskulls whose ability to signal their presence at our front door (which has both a knocker and a doorbell) was outdone by a spotty 17-year-old oik from Pizza Hut... more than once. I've heard there are good HV's but my sampling of the dozen or more I've dealt with to date does not support that assertion. Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 16:12

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