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Look Ma, No Pants!

Look Ma, No Pants!

By Amalah

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.

Published August 26, 2013. Last updated August 26, 2013.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Isabel Kallman

    Isabel Kallman

    August 26, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Yes, to Amy’s advice.

    I, too, am a believer in ignoring negative behavior (although that is so much harder in a public setting) and reinforcing positive behavior.  

    When my son was going through a phase of saying curse words, I was instructed by a child behavior professional  to do the following and it worked!

    1) ignore whenever he said curse words (you should have seen how shocked he was). BUT I  then HAD to do the following…
    2) compliment whenever he used smart language.  I would find and look for those instances and compliment him for using “smart words”

    At first we saw and increase in the curse words (that’s when you have to stay strong), but then, it fell off a cliff. and there were no curse words. 

    It’s harder in a public setting, so I recommend Amalah’s advice and remove him from the situation and say “you’ll have another chance to make better choices next time.”  OR, at the playground, before he pulls down his pants catch him behaving appropriately and say something like “wow, you’re making good choices” or “wow, you’re such a big boy.”  The goal is to catch and praise him for doing the opposite of the inappropriate behavior.  Try to be as specific as possible.  🙂


  • Cheryl L.

    August 26, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    I think Amy’s got it right. The next time you go to the playground, tell him before hand that if he pulls down his pants, you are leaving. And then DO IT. Go scoop his pantsless butt up and haul him into the car. And leave. No matter how much he cries and swears he won’t do it again, go home. Guarantee it will only take making good on the threat once or twice and the pants dropping will stop.

    Also, I bet he won’t even think about doing it in school. Kids just know what they can get away with.

    And don’t forget, in the scheme of things, this is not a big deal. He’s being 5. It will be a funny story to tell his girlfriends later!! 🙂

    • Kate

      September 25, 2013 at 6:01 pm

      This is how we taught my son not to throw sand when he was 2. He was little enough that he got one warning “We don’t throw sand. If you throw sand again playground will be over”) but I think it only took 3 days for him to stop.

  • Hannah

    August 26, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    No, no! What kind of bunch of readers are you? You must IMMEDIATELY criticize the OP for OBVIOUSLY failing to wear pants at the playground, thus modelling inappropriate behaviors!

    Kidding aside, I find immediate removal from the situation and ignoring are the two solutions that work best for my kid. Depending on the circumstances, clearly. We also have Naked Bathroom Dance Party Time, which is (a) hilarious and (b) helpful in terms of satisfying the naked urge.

  • J

    August 26, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    hmmm. I guess I should have clarified that he does this on the playground while he’s at daycare. Otherwise we would pack up and go straight home. I don’t learn what happened until I pick him up, several hours after the fact. Thanks for answering!

  • Jeannie

    August 26, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    Yes to everything Amy said, and also to add: I have found that peer pressure at “big kid school” is, for better or worse, a really good way to get your kid to conform to the social norm, and I would bet that — if he even tries it — the negative reaction he will get from other kids will fix that quickly. 

    And yes, I also find that my son (7) conforms to social norms I *don’t* like, but c’est la vie!

  • Kimm

    August 26, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    the belt/overalls idea is good, if the daycare teachers don’t mind the extra work when potty time comes around. Maybe talk to the daycare teachers-can they remove him from the playground immediately when he does it? to a boring place? It will pass, though. And I’m sure the daycare has dealt with it before.

  • Hillary

    August 27, 2013 at 11:47 am

    Picked this up from a friend, but when my 3.5yo is having a hard time following rules (cursing, poor table manners, stripping) we talk about how we’re going to have a rule-free break at home soon. We have bad manners dinner, etc and sometimes she’ll stop the acting out right away if we tell her she’ll get a chance to thwart social custom at home in a day or two. (yes, this means we sometimes eat dinner sans clothing. :)) You could tell your son before daycare that if he can do a good job keeping his pants on all week, maybe on Saturday or Sunday he can have a pants-free dinner.

  • MR

    August 27, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    Since this is happening at daycare, this is really a thing for you to be talking to the daycare providers about. How are THEY dealing with it? Simply telling you at the end of the day is not ok. It really sounds like they are not handling it appropriately. They are the ones there when it occurs, so they are the ones who really have to address it. I’d schedule a meet up with the daycare to talk specifics and make sure you are all on the same page.

    • Myriam

      August 27, 2013 at 2:06 pm

      I agree that “what happens at daycare is DEALT with at daycare”, especially if is is not happening at home. You shouldn’t punish him at home for something that happens only at daycare… Talk to the teachers, get their take on it, explain that you “believe” them, but as he never does it at home, it is really hard for you to intervene. If you only say that you never see this behavior, they might interpret it as “you are not believing them”, or “blaming them”… Your other option however, is to encourage good behavior by bribing with an awesome at-home reward for the weekend, if you get good reports that whole week. No punishement if there is an incident, but a no-pants dinner at home is a good idea!

  • Olivia

    August 27, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    It sounds like you might just have wait until he starts school for the behavior to stop. You have no idea if the other boys’ parents are trying to stop the pants dropping game so anything you tell your son will be ineffective. I think he just needs a new peer group.

  • Karen

    February 24, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    When there is something that important to stop, I remove the child from the location. Then I use the divert technique where I do something different with them. At another time, when peers are not present and the situation is calm, I have a good conversation with the child that includes their ideas. Like this, “We had to leave ____ because you were pulling your pants down. We cannot have that. What do you think about it?’ ” Well it’s funny and everyone laughs. I like it when other people laugh.” “What is funny about that?” “Well ..” “You’re showing your private parts, and private needs to stay private. Can we think of some other ways to make people laugh or maybe have fun?'” “I’m not sure.” “Well, lets work on that.” Then before you go to the playground again, “Well, you’ve done a great job keeping your privates private. Good for you. But would you like keeping privates private at the playgound?” “Can we go back?” ” Well, I think you can do it. What do you think?” “I know I can do it right now.” “What if the other kids do it?” “I’ll look away …” “What could you say?” “I like privates to be private.” “You have a good plan. Lets go to the park. Where do you want to start playing first?” “I like doing tricks on the monkey bars.” “I notice other kids like that too. I’ll be there if you need help. I’m proud of you and I want you to have fun playing but not doing inappropriate things to have fun.”

  • Lindsey

    May 24, 2015 at 9:48 am

    I know this is super belated, but I read it and can’t help commenting because I’ve actually dealt with this! This exact thing! In a 5-year-old boy! I worked at a daycare in high school/college and one of our five year olds suddenly, inexplicably started pulling his pants down at nap time. I think it was just a fun way to breathe some life into an otherwise boring hour where he was expected to lie quietly even if he wasn’t sleeping. Anyway, it kept up for a few days and we tried all the usual…removing privileges, time outs, of course we talked to parents, etc. None of that did anything. Finally, we asked his parents if we could put him in a diaper for nap time. By that time they were up for anything, so before nap we sent him to the nurse, who took his underwear and gave him a pull up. We all explained that underwear are only for big boys who can keep their pants on, and when he stopped pulling his pants down, he could wear underwear at nap again. 

    That was the end of our problems, because no five year old in the planet wants his classmates to see him in a diaper/pull up. The next day before nap we explained that if he pulled his pants down he’d go back to the nurse to exchange his underwear for a pull up, and lo! Never again did he pull down his pants.