Look Ma, No Pants!
Hi! I have a fairly simple question…how do I keep my five-year-old son from pulling his pants down on the playground? We’ve talked to him about keeping his parts private. But then his friends do it, so he joins in. (It’s also hard to tell if he’s the leader or just a follower…he has a very big imagination). He understands that there are consequences for bad decisions – but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t have a favorite toy that we can take away and he if he loses screen time, he just waits it out. No big deal. His older brother never did this…why aren’t my children exactly the same? He starts kindergarten in two weeks and I would really like for this to sink in so we don’t get called to the Principal’s office.
Ah yes. Boys and their bizness. The things I have seen, y’all. The THINGS. So many penis-related hijinks.
I’ll just leave my children’s personal weirdness at that, however, and address this particular behavior directly. It sounds to me like a classic “I get a big reaction when I do this, so…THIS!” line of thinking, mixed with run-of-the-mill 5-year-old impulse control issues. His friends all giggle and hoot and do the same, the little girls scatter and shriek, and you (understandably) freak out because NO! NOOOOO! Plus, it’s funny. Underwear is funny. Penises are funny. Butts are funny. Heh heh, butts.
Most likely, with a touch more maturity/impulse control (not to mention a new peer group at school and the playground), that you’ll see this little habit stop all on its own. (My 7-year-old refused to change clothes at summer because his peer group all suddenly developed a mass “EWWWW GROSS” opinion about even glancing at each other’s bizness in the locker room. So they all sat around in wet suits all day instead, which…EWWWW GROSS.) If your son is NOT the leader/instigator, it might simply not occur to him to see how the Pantless Show plays at school. Kids do behave differently at school in a whole heap of ways — often right from the get-go they understand what will simply NOT FLY there, because getting in trouble with a teacher carries more weight than with you. (Sorry, Mom.)
If he IS the leader and decides to try it at school, he’ll learn VERY QUICKLY that his classmates will be more likely to run away and “tell” on him than join in. And while I understand the parental horror of that scenario, I would bet a 5-pack of superhero underwear that getting in School Trouble would be the end of this, once and for damn all.
My oldest once picked up a rather unsavory word/saying from another boy that he thought was REEEEEALLY funny. We had the talk about inappropriate language over and over at home and put punishments in place if we heard it, but he kept repeating it. Until one day his music teacher heard it and sent his little butt to the principal’s office. I got a call. And contrary to what I thought that moment would be like before it happened, I did not immediately burst into flames of parental failure and embarrassment and my child was not banned from school for life for potty language. The principal simply repeated what she and my son had talked about (giving me the key phrases to repeat at home so we’d be consistent) and I told her what we’d been talking about at home and blah blah collaboration cakes.
He never, ever said it again. BOOM.
But of course it’d be awesome if it didn’t have to come to that. Helping young children develop better impulse control is tough and there’s no quick, surefire fix. (Everything I’ve ever read about it is like, “make sure they get enough exercise and that you are modeling good behavior.” You’ve already got the kid on the playground and I’M GUESSING you’re modeling keep yo’ pants on just fine.) Perhaps leaving the playground immediately would be a suitable punishment, rather than a delayed loss of privilege later? Go zero tolerance and until he understands that if he pulls his pants down, his playground/friend time is DONE and you’re going home. Put it on a behavior chart so he can “earn” a privilege instead of having it lead to “losing” one — some kids just react better to that formula than others. (Balance the zero tolerance out, however, with not being overly uptight about private parts at home. If he wants to run around naked or in his underwear sometimes, that’s no big deal. That might help take the OMG BEHOLD MAH BUTT OMG excitement over the playground displays if he realizes he won’t ALWAYS get a big reaction from you about it. Five year olds are usually pretty okay at understanding the distinction of what’s acceptable at home vs. school vs. the grocery store, etc., but of course you know your particular kid best.)
You could also try 1) being upfront with his teacher that this is a social concern of yours and ask for any advice/keywords/social stories you could BOTH use to really reinforce the issue in case it crops up at school, or 2) putting him in belts or overalls or other things to simply make “pulling his pants down” more of a pain. This might not work at school unless the teacher is onboard with helping him come restroom time, but it might make your personal visits to the playground more relaxing if you know he can’t work a belt buckle and thus going full monty by the swings isn’t going to happen on your watch.