When you go to pick up your 4 year-old from daycare, the teacher gives you some unpleasant news: your little pre-schooler has pulled down a playmate’s pants. Embarrassed, your child’s victim cried till his mommy picked him up a little while ago. Meanwhile, your son is still running around the classroom laughing. Even though he was reprimanded immediately and sent to the “thinking chair” for 15 minutes, he doesn’t seem to be remorseful.
How should you react? Is a child pulling down other kids’ pants a serious matter? Is your child a deviant? Has he been sexually abused? Why isn’t he feeling guilty or ashamed of himself?
First off, the good news. When it comes to really young children like toddlers and pre-schoolers, pulling down another child’s pants rarely has anything to do with sexual malice or sexual maladjustment. In all likelihood your child thought that it would be a funny thing to do, and the ensuing laughter by peers probably confirmed his or her belief. Targets of pants-pulling tend to be random playmates; in young children, attacking someone in this way is not generally an act of deliberate aggression against someone they do not like. (This is not equally true for older kids, however. For instance, a 10 year-old who pulls down another child’s pants may very well be targeting an “enemy” or otherwise engaging in angry, bullying behavior.)
This said, it’s still a behavior worth correcting. Correcting the behavior is an opportunity to educate your child about issues of privacy, in a way that is appropriate to his or her age. Most importantly, a child who pulls down a playmate’s pants is lacking in the trait of empathy. To help a child acquire more empathy, use the technique of “emotional coaching” on a regular basis. This skill essentially involves naming a child’s feelings BEFORE solving problems or addressing issues. Naming feelings can take place all day long. For instance, when a child says, “I don’t want to wear my gloves today,” a parent can name feelings BEFORE deciding what to do about the gloves. It might sound like this, “I know. It’s a bother to pull those gloves on and off all the time. It can be annoying, right?” Then the parent can “solve” the glove problem any which way he or she desires. For instance, “You’ve had a cold this week and I really think the gloves are important to help you get better and stay better. I’d like you to put them on anyways.” Or, “You don’t have to wear them, but I’d like you to take them so that you have them in case you get cold.” When you tell a child to stop calling his brother names and the child says, “He broke my model!” you can name feelings FIRST before solving the brother problem. “That must be so frustrating! You really worked hard on that model. No wonder you are upset with him!” Now solve the problem whichever way you want. For instance, “However, you still can’t call him names. You can tell him you don’t like what he did and you can tell me if you need help. You can tell him that you aren’t going to play with him tonight because you’re upset. You just can’t insult him or hurt him, do you understand?” Of course, you may also use discipline to discourage the child from name-calling. You can discipline the child who broke the model and so on. The step of emotional coaching has been shown in large research studies to help improve a child’s emotional intelligence, making him more empathetic to others and more socially aware. This helps prevent misbehaviors like pulling down people’s pants!
The following are some tips on how to deal with a child caught pulling down another kid’s pants:
Find Out Where Your Child Learned to Do It
Start by asking your child where he or she got the idea to pull their playmate’s pants. Did your child see it on television? Then explain that certain things on T.V. are not O.K. (and perhaps try to supervise your child’s T.V. experience more closely till he is a little older). Did someone else in the playground start it, and your child just followed along? Then maybe teaching them about not joining unacceptable behavior is in order. Or was your child dared by an older sibling? Then you may need to have a talk with your other child as well.
Explain Why Pants-Pulling is Wrong
Young children are likely still unaware that their behavior is wrong. Take the opportunity to teach them about privacy, and emphasize why it’s important for kids to respect it. Explain that people wear clothes like pants and underpants because they don’t want to be naked around people who are not in their family (keep in mind that toddlers and preschoolers are often naked in their own homes while they are getting dressed and undressed and when having their baths). Share how pulling down another child’s pants at school or in the park can make that child feel exposed, upset, emabarrassed and uncomfortable.
Ask How They Would Feel if Someone Else Pulled Down Their Pants
To encourage empathy, ask your child how he would have felt if the situations were reversed, if it was HIS pants that were pulled down. How would he feel if other kids laughed at him? More often than not, your child will say that he will not like it. Teach him “The Golden Rule” – do not do unto others that which you don’t want done to you!
To help reinforce the lesson, tell your child that you do not want this to happen again. Let your youngster know that if you find out that he has done this again, he will have a punishment at home (tell him exactly what punishment you have in mind – for instance, losing dessert, going to bed early, losing T.V. or computer privileges or whatever you think is appropriate and would act as a deterrent).