I don't know where to begin with this question. It's awkward and to be honest, it makes me feel rather uncomfortable. Simply put, I'm led to believe that my four year old daughter is obsessed with my belly button. It all started one day during the summer when she was three. I decided to take my family to the pool, and I guess I didn't see my daughter follow me into the changing room. Mind you, she's still at the age where it's appropriate to see her parents naked, so I wasn't surprised when, after I finished changing into my bikini, I turned around to see her staring at me.

I followed her gaze and saw her looking directly at my belly button. I asked her what she was looking at and she screamed "mommy, I can see your belly button!" which made me giggle. I picked her up and kissed her forehead, telling her that everyone has a belly button.

I think I might have accidentally given her a green light, because over the next year she constantly asks me if she can stick her finger in my belly button, and if I don't let her, she begins to scream.

For her fourth birthday, she requested that I wear nothing but a sports bra and underwear (in toddler speak. It sounded like "mommy, show your belly button for my birthday!" I could have simply worn a crop top but i didn't want to risk her throwing a temper tantrum)

My husband obviously doesn't mind, because he gets to look at my belly button all the time but it really upsets me that my daughter's finger is constantly in my belly button.

Tomorrow is her fifth birthday and I want to discuss with her that it's not appropriate to always be poking my belly button. Any ideas on how i can talk to her without her throwing a screaming fit?

  • 86
    if I don't let her, she begins to scream - that is a different problem that should also be addressed, but separately.
    – Maarten
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 11:14
  • Please don't answer in comments; use the answer box instead. Thanks! Commented Jan 13, 2018 at 23:39

9 Answers 9


I would try appealing to her sense of empathy. She is young, but should be able to understand that you don't like/feel comfortable with her poking your navel, and if prompted she may be able to imagine what it would be like if there was something she didn't like and someone kept insisting on doing it. Beyond that, it may be necessary to just let her cry about it. I will tell you, if you go through her childhood allowing behavior that isn't appropriate because you are avoiding a tantrum, you have the tail wagging the dog and before long her finger in your belly-button will be the least of your troubles. She is easily old enough to learn about personal space, not engaging in unwanted touching, and to not be getting her way by pitching a fit. I really hope that you find this helpful. 😊

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    This last part, so important. She's definitely old enough to learn that "no means no" especially when it comes to unwanted touching.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 18:31
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    Well said. Caving in if she screams is only teaching her that screaming works. Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 1:12

This is an addition to @Mrssbolton already fine answer.

Surely there are things that you don't force her to do because she doesn't like it. Maybe you let her choose her own clothes, play games she likes, choose videos she enjoys, etc. Point this out to her, that you do this because it makes her happy. (This is teaching her about empathy.) Tell her that you do not enjoy having your belly poked and prodded, and that it kind of makes you feel like she might if she couldn't do one of those things. Put your belly button on personal (permanent) hiatus. Her belly button is as fascinating as your own, and they are made of exactly the same things and the same way. If she needs to warm her finger in one, her own should suffice (unless it's an "outie". In that case, there may be a bit more to this.)

If she still makes a fuss about not being allowed to poke your belly, put her in a time out. It's not appropriate to invade someone's personal space for one's own gratification (yep, you read that correctly.) If you want her to grow up having good boundaries, they have to be modeled for her. I mean, elementally, what's the difference between a poke in your umbilicus (to you) and a squeeze of her butt cheek (to her)? Would you like a man to stick his finger in your umbilicus uninvited? Both are invasions of personal space. Sure, one is more loaded, but she should learn "hands off/appropriate touch/boundaries" before she learns about sexual predation.

You can also speak comparatively about it. When she wants to poke her finger into your belly, ask her if she would also enjoy your little finger in her nose (or some other harmless but clear "violation" of boundaries. It's not meant as a tit-for-tat, but more as "I don't like this any more than you would like that, and I wouldn't do that to you, so can you respect that?"

This should be relatively easy after the initial objections. Good luck!

  • 10
    Should have been relatively easy in the beginning. She's been conditioned on the fact that it's perfectly fine for over a year now.
    – user25899
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 13:36

Take it as a chance to teach your child "my body is my temple". The body is a very important boundary where not only you, but also your child has to be able to make a disctinction between what is fine and what is not, and that it is important to respect when someone says "stop".

It does not matter whether it is a belly button or something else. If it is unacceptable to you to be "violated" there, then you have to set up a firm boundary. You can do this at any age, using appropriate communication tools. If they are very small indeed, you may not be able to do much more than consistently remove their finger from where it should not poke. If they are old enough to talk, you may be able to tell them that you do not like that. Even small children should understand that, eventually.

When they turn older, you can expand on that. For example, one of our daughters (8yo) loves to tickle and be tickled. Sometimes it is fun, but sometimes it is not. It took some time to make it clear that tickling can be quite nasty if the recipient is not in the mood, but eventually she got it; I told her, many times, in a very clear tone, and with a clear message, something like "If someone tells you that you cannot do XYZ with their body, then you have to respect that - also, if someone does something with your body that you do not like, you have to tell them loud and clear, and they have to stop". She does still get unhappy when we are not in the mood for tickling, but the message got across.

Welcome side effects, as mentioned in the comments, are to aid the natural separation between young children and especially their mothers (done judiciously, obviously, and never roughly); and also as a base layer for a mindset of self defense against harassment, bullying or whatever may befall them at some point later when they grow up. Of course there is no martial aspect here, but clearly saying "no" is a first step that is better than just shutting up and folding down...

  • 2
    Turning the problem into a learning experience is always the best. Children need to learn boundaries. +1 Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 13:15
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    I agree. By educating her about appropriate / inappropriate touching, you also protect her from abuse. This is the perfect opportunity to introduce the subject. Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 19:12
  • Absolutely, @200_success, that was the master plan. ;)
    – AnoE
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 19:15
  • 1
    I would emphasize in this great answer an "identity" aspect -- as children develop they first heavily identify with their mother. I would try to address the identity aspect more and say to the child that this is "Mommy's navel" and you need to ask permission and Mommy gets to say "no". ....And you get to do the same with your navel.
    – rrauenza
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 20:07

My husband obviously doesn't mind, because he gets to look at my belly button all the time but it really upsets me that my daughter's finger is constantly in my belly button.

The other answers are brilliant, but I want to pick up on this one. It is absolutely unacceptable for your husband to not be backing you up on this.

As parents, you need to present a united front when controlling your daughter's behaviour (because otherwise you might as well not bother), and if he can't, you need to correct him on that. It's especially relevant when it's something really important to you, and if it's actually upsetting you, you deserve his support.

  • 10
    Sorry, no. I do not read in the OP's text that the husband comments in any way. I.e., he does not encourage the toddler to play with the belly button, nor does he correct the wife about it being wrong; I read it to mean that he is simply keeping out of it, and neither the OP nor the child are trying to pull him in. I would certainly not want to be in a place where I need active support from someone else just to correct a child doing things with my body that I do not want. This just makes the SO a judge, which is a very bad place to be.
    – AnoE
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 10:51
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    I agree with @AnoE, the husband's role is not specified, but I did not read it as 'not backing you up'.
    – Maarten
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 11:13
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    @anoe Ah, see, I disagree. While I would not want to need active support, I would absolutely want the expectation as part of being a parent that that active support should always be there. My children need to know that this is not just a "mummy decision", but that it is expected behaviour from all parental figures.
    – deworde
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 11:25
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    @deworde: active support should always be there - yup, then let's agree to disagree. I'm of course soundly with you insofar as there should not be active or passive "anti-support", i.e. it would be bad if the SO stands next to mommy and makes grimaces to the child or something like that. My comment is as much about the Stack-Exchange format as about the parenting - the question simply does not lend itself to discuss the role of the SO since there is nothing hinting at wrong behaviour, as far as I can tell.
    – AnoE
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 11:35
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    @deworde I think you're reading way too much into that sentence. It may even have been a small oke.
    – Mast
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 17:10

I'd like to add that 4 and 5 year olds don't always understand talks - in fact I think they understand A LOT less than adults think. My point is this, have the talk, but in all circumstances politely refuse the awkward requests one or two times as is proper, then ignore her after that. Then on a totally separate interaction put her on timeout or discipline her in your normal way if she continues to focus on, bring up, and badger you about the belly button. Don't make the belly button the focus of anything, instead focus on her behavior, specifically not respecting your response.

This will teach her that when she is a grown up woman she can expect men and others to respect her wishes to not do the same thing. You are modeling for her what she will be when she is older.

How you choose to act, what you focus on is going to be how you teach her. Your talk can help her understand, but the teaching comes from the actions.

  • 1
    I'm not sure added anything to anongoodnurse's answer. I may delete this.
    – Adam Heeg
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 19:38
  • 3
    Leave it! It's valuable 🎉
    – Jelila
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 3:03

This is from a neuroscience perspective.

Until a certain age after gaining consciousness, children still have little conception of personal space. It varies between children.

It is okay to let a child that still hasn't grasped the conception of personal space to touch you.

Once she has, it is a bad idea from a parenting perspective because you are creating false sense of entitlement.

Secondly for her personal growth as the first step of learning is imitation. The behavior that you adapt in response to her demands is the same behavior that she will adapt (at least early on) in response to someone else demands.

I won't even go into bending to the will of an undeveloped mind to avoid tantrums. As a parent one should know better.


The personal boundaries between child and caretaker may sometimes be quite blurry, due to the child's dependence on the parent for things like washing, dressing, and so forth. But in order for the child to grow up and do things for themselves, they need to know that adults ordinarily maintain stricter personal boundaries. They should learn to view autonomy as a goal worth working toward.

You wouldn't want your child to allow anyone (including yourself) to poke her in the navel, certainly not repeatedly or without permission. So it's up to you to model the kind of behavior you want to teach your child. You model it by behaving as you would like her to behave under the same circumstances.

You wouldn't want her to send mixed messages about it, so you should be more direct in setting personal boundaries.

Poking people is unacceptable, as is excessive immodesty. First, don't allow it; then if necessary, discuss it with her. If she is unable to understand reason now, tell her you will explain it later, when she's mature enough. Then distract her attention with some healthier activity.

You might simply (and as kindly as possible) say something like, "We don't behave that way, Sally."

Pouting, on the verge of shedding crocodile tears, "Why, Mommy?"

"Because I said so."

Be very matter-of-fact (not angry, punitive, or accusatory), as if this is really about you and your personal boundaries, or about proper social behavior in general -- and not that she's done anything shameful. Let her feel that you understand that young children sometimes make forgivable mistakes.

Also allow yourself to acknowledge making mistakes which need correcting. Such as subconsciously encouraging excessive interest in your navel. And once corrected, it may also be forgiven.

After being lenient for so long, you should expect some melodramatics for awhile. She might even say the thing mothers most dread to hear, "Mommy, you're mean!" But it's better to modify problem behavior early, as soon as it is identified -- before it becomes habitual.

You correct her (and yourself) out of love, not out of meanness -- and she knows it. But she might make an attempt to manipulate your feelings of guilt, in a contest of wills. Just give her some time to calm down. Don't take it personally. Rest assured, the very next time she needs a favor from you, your status will be restored.

Whatever you do, don't engage in a power struggle with your child. The child needs the security of a parent who is confident in their ability to take proper care of the child. That kind of security can mitigate much of the confusion to be found in the immature mind of a child. Having confidence in you as their caretaker and teacher builds the necessary foundation for future learning of important life skills.

And: find healthier ways to enjoy time with your daughter. Encourage other, healthy interests that she must have. If she tends to fixate too much on things, try taking her outside to enjoy nature, fresh air, sunshine, and a walk or other play activities with her. Or read books to her, or have her read them to you.

The idea is to avoid fixating on your navel.


When my 5 year old daughter wanted to see me changing clothes, which for some reason she still thinks is fascinating, I said no. She asked me why not and I simply asked if she wanted me to watch her getting dressed. She said no, so I told her that I didn't want her watching me for exactly the same reasons.

With your daughter, you might poke her in the belly button randomly throughout the day. She'll eventually ask you to stop, then you can tell her you feel the same way about her poking your belly button. Or if you think she'd like that too much, tickle her. Then you can explain about boundaries and your belly button.

This gives your daughter a clear example she can understand. As long as you stop and explain things the moment she says stop, no harm done.

As for the crying and other things, let her. It will be annoying for a bit, but she'll survive.


I'm guessing that she wants to know 'where she comes from' - your belly button being 'where she was once connected to you'. How about explainng why the belly button is there, how it is the connection to mother for nurturing? Particularly as she asks for it 'on her birthday'. She may be sub-consciously fascinated by what it is - knowing it somehow connects to her birth but not knowing how. Putting her finger in it is like a request to 'go back to where I'm from'. It is also 'connecting to grandma!' On the great uterus-phone! Depending on where she's at, and her level of development and knowledge and depending on what feels comfortable and good for you, consider talking with her about belly buttons, birth and the 'birth bag' - placenta. How about doing a bit of body painting around the belly button, hers, yours, to celebrate it? It's really about 'where we are from' - mother and grandma. If you can explore what is under this - in her and in you - then you can hopefully find a way to resolve it creatively by exploring what it's really about

  • I also wonder if — and this is pure unfounded speculation — there's some transference on the child's part of a fascination with the unusual state of being around a naked parent (despite OP's remark that it's appropriate for a three-year-old) to a socially acceptable stand-in for that nakedness. Commented Jan 13, 2018 at 2:07

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