Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.
Dear Care and Feeding,
So this is an awkward question for me to write about.
My stepdaughter, who is almost 5, likes to rub herself on her car seat every time we are in the car. How do we get her to stop? According to my husband, she has done this for a while and it most likely started around age 2. He said that he and his ex-wife just ignored it. I remember masturbating as young as 4 and getting caught and being told what I was doing was “bad.” I don’t know how to gracefully tell her that it’s okay to do but not in the car or in front of other people. I don’t want her to be shamed for it (like I was) but I don’t want it to keep happening. And for the record, I don’t think it’s a sign of something deeper like sexual abuse. I wasn’t abused, and still did it. Little kids masturbate and touch themselves! How can I have an age-appropriate conversation with her about it?
—That Song by the Divinyls
I can cheerfully tell you that this happens to everyone, and you’re pretty much right on schedule. I have fielded this question a lot from friends and family raising young kids, because I apparently seem like someone who has a lot of good opinions on touching yourself.
The best practice (barring any deeply pointless and ill-advised religious objections to this most natural and harmless of activities) is to start talking about … Privacy. These things are fine, everyone does them … in Private. We touch ourselves there because it feels good … in Private. You see your kid doing it on the couch while we’re watching Daniel Tiger? Sweetheart, remember that’s something we do when we have Privacy.
It’s pretty straightforward. We attach all kinds of outsize meaning and significance to the act because we immediately fit it into the larger framework of human sexuality and relationships and whatever baggage we carry from our childhood and the fear of other people thinking our child is a Sex Pervert, when in fact your kid doesn’t attach any more importance to it than to scratching their elbow: It just feels nice.
This is a wonderful opportunity to do better for her than was done to you, but talk it out with your husband first so you can be sure he has your back. If he would rather stick with ignoring it, well, that’s not at all worst practices, as you well know.
Now you just need to prepare yourself for what the parents of one young man in my life faced: “Mommy, Daddy, you need to go away because I need Privacy right now.”
Dear Care and Feeding,
My all-time favorite movie is the original Jurassic Park, and I would like to get a sense of when it will be appropriate to watch it with my daughter for the first time. She’s only 6 months old, so I have a lot of time to figure it out and ask for advice. I just really love Jurassic Park and am excited to share it with my own daughter like my mother did with me!
—Life Finds a Way
As a fellow Jurassic Park enthusiast, I applaud your commitment to sharing the Good News even unto the 10th generation. To this day, seeing it with my father in THE THEATER in 1993, when I was a mere (counts on fingers) 11 years old, was the greatest experience I have ever had at the movies. And I think a year younger would have been fine? For me, no sooner, I was a bit of a wuss. You want it to be deliciously scary, squirmingly exciting; you want to tantalize and shiver the senses and the intellect, not provide fodder for their eventual psychotherapy sessions.
You are the best judge of what your kids can handle, and we’ve all met that 6-year-old who’s already louche and bored with our pathetic attempts to scare them. You could pop Event Horizon in for that kid and the only negative consequence would be his parents rightfully kicking the shit out of you.
Think about it when she’s 9, give it a whirl at 10. Pause and check in regularly, and if she seems a bit overwhelmed, find an excuse to save it for another year.
May all your enemies have venom unexpectedly spit in their eyes.
More Care and Feeding:
Dear Care and Feeding,
My oldest child, Kae, is a lovely, spirited second-grader with many friends. As we walk to and from her classroom, she’s always waving to other children and calling them by name, and they all smile and wave back. She also tells me every day after school that her day was “great!” But I’ve noticed that she doesn’t seem to have a dedicated “best” friend. When Kae tells me about her day, she sat with R at snack, played with B and C at recess, ate lunch with M, played basketball with T, etc. One of our neighbors’ children is in her class, and they play together on the weekend, but they don’t seem to play together much at school. Is this typical behavior? Again, she seems to have a great time at school and hasn’t complained to me about not having a deeper connection with other kids, but it is something I’ve noticed and am wondering if it is normal given her situation. She is our oldest, so this is new territory in so many ways. Any insight would be appreciated!
There has been a bit of a push over the past decade to softly discourage kids from pairing up as best friends at school, and instead foster exactly what you’re describing here: a larger circle of enjoyable friendships. Sometimes this is good (I think we all had the experience of having our little hearts crushed by a best friend who got tired of us and left us to wander the playground like a penguin who lost his husband) and sometimes it’s just silly and oddly intrusive, depending on how it’s handled and how actively it’s done, like pretty much anything else in the world. Heartbreak comes for us all, and changing the ancient ways of the playground is like trying to hold back the sea.
Whether your daughter has organically wound up here or has been mildly conditioned by well-meaning teachers, “here” sounds … pretty good! She’s happy, she’s not complaining, she has lots of friends, and can also adapt to new people in different situations (at home, in the class, at lunch, and in the playground). Kae is doing great. Way to go.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’ve having my first baby in September. Do I need to buy a wipe warmer? It’s on all the lists but it seems excessive.
—In My Day We Had Icicle Wipes
I’m so happy for you! I am also happy for me, because I have a very firm opinion for you on this one: No.
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