Now every one of our children has been caught engaging in some sort of "playing doctor" scenario with a friend. Our older two were about 4 years old and 2 years old when they engaged in this play. They were innocently playing doctor with a 3-year-old friend who was always at the doctor for constant UTIs. She was showing them how the doctor examined her. This was totally age appropriate play (though inappropriate, of course). There was nothing concerning happening. We talked with our kids about their bodies and keeping them private and respecting other people's bodies and keeping them private.
Fast forward 7 years and now our youngest has been involved in playing doctor. However, his case was quite a bit different and more concerning.
Our youngest is 5 years old. He's had a playmate living very close to us for quite a few years and they've been playing together since his playmate was 2 1/2 and Zander was 1 1/2. We love this family. They are good friends of ours. A few months ago, after our son had been 5 for a few months he told me that his friend Benton (name changed) had poked his finger in his bum and he didn't like it so he didn't do it back. This was absolutely NOT something that he would think of on his own. I knew it must have happened, so I asked him where it happened and how he felt about it. I praised him for following his feelings; since he didn't like it, he didn't have to play. I talked with my husband and we decided that our son would not be allowed to play at the other boy's house (because it seemed to have happened there) and they would not be allowed to play without adult supervision at our house. This was because we weren't sure what had happened and if it really happened with this boy because the name of the friend changed throughout the conversation. It can be really hard to glean actual events from a 5-year-old (especially when it happened a while ago). This was the only instance he brought up.
Well, after a few months of nothing happening, my husband and I were still strict about the boys playing at our house, but less strict about following them around when they were alone in a room.
One evening while the kids were running all over the house (we had double the amount of kids in our house than actually live here). Our Z-man and Benton came out of our boys' room and ran upstairs to play with the other kids. I looked at my husband and he could feel the same thing.......something had just happened in the boys room. I called the two boys down and took them in a private room, away from the other kids. I asked what happened. Z-man told me that Benton had licked his penis. Benton was looking uncomfortable and ashamed, but Z-man was giggly and thought it was funny.
We talked about respecting people's bodies. I also asked if they felt like they needed to hide when they played like this (because they were in closets as best we can tell from both instances). They said yes and we talked about how games we play where we feel we need to hide are not good games to play. We can always say no to a game, even if it seems fun if it feels like we need to hide. We sent the kids off to play again and told them to stay with the other kids. We also assured the boys that they were not in trouble, but we also stressed the importance of playing appropriately. Our friends have since moved and there were no other instances of this kind of play.
I was definitely concerned about this kind of playing doctor and talked to Benton's mom because he was pushing the realm of typical behavior into concerning behavior. I didn't like that this happened, but Z-man didn't seem to think it was anything beyond play. Because of Benton's shameful attitude, I could tell something was happening in his life that needed to be addressed. I knew his dad was into pornography and wondered if maybe Benton had seen something that was causing his playing doctor to start crossing over to more concerning behavior.
These are the guidelines for age appropriate playing doctor.
Z-man and Benton were less than 3 years apart (typical). Z-man was giggle, happy, and curious. Benton was fearful and withdrawn. The concerning part for me was that Benton was encouraging sticking fingers and mouths on genitalia. Z-man did not think of this and has never introduced this play with another child. He didn't like it, although he thought it was funny at the time. After we discussed the behavior with both boys, it stopped, at least, Z-man stopped playing like this. I don't know if Benton started this game with other kids. Since 3 of the 4 were typical behavior for Z-man, I wasn't too worried, but I have made sure to ask him about his play with other kids every few months. I have paid close attention to how he feels around his friends. I am so grateful that the spirit whispered to both me and my husband that something was amiss and we could address it immediately. I think that really helped nip the behavior in the bud and prevent further and even more concerning play.