Joanna Schroeder isn’t worried about the Play-Doh tool that looks like a penis. She’s worried that parents freaking out over it teaches kids to keep secrets.
Apparently Play-Doh’s new Sweet Shoppe Cake Mountain play set has a decorating toy that looks like a penis. I’ve seen the photos, and it definitely does raise an eyebrow.
But that’s not what I’m concerned about. What worries me is seeing commentary on social media from parents who are completely and totally freaked out about this. Why? Because you’re sending messages to your kids with how you react, and the best thing you can do for your kids at a moment like that is to play it cool.
Why? Because this is your opportunity to show that you are a safe person to talk about taboo stuff with – be it silly or serious.
First, your kid may not realize this thing looks like a penis. Because it is a two-part toy (sort of like a syringe, with a plunger), your kid will probably see it for exactly what Play-Doh intended: To make Play-Doh shapes with. If you don’t bring it up to your child, they’ll probably never be the wiser.
Second, if your kid does happen to say, “Hey, this looks like a penis!” I’d suggest replying with, “You know what? It does. But obviously it’s for making Play-Doh frosting shapes,” and then go on about life. If they laugh, you can laugh, it is sort of funny! But move on. If you want to write an email to Play-Doh about it, or call them, do so on your own time and don’t involve your kid.
At some point, most of our kids learn that they should keep secrets from their parents. Often this happens as they get older and want to experiment with autonomy. They may not tell you about their crushes, or a bad grade, or something embarrassing that happened. All of this is normal kid stuff. It’s not ideal for kids to keep secrets about important things, but it is an instinct most kid encounter. I know I did.
What you want to avoid is making kids feel like talking about any body part is off-limits. Either because you’ll become embarrassed or that you’ll freak out. If you see that this toy has an accidental penis-shaped element to it and you take the toy away, your kid is going to learn that talking to you about penises or sex has bad ramifications. Your kid is also going to learn that certain body parts are bad, and that mom or dad see them as shameful.
So what does a kid who has learned this accidental lesson do when he or she wonders about the serious stuff, or encounters a serious situation in relation to genitalia or other private parts? They don’t go to you, because they’re afraid of your reaction.
Whether it’s a health issue, an issue with friends making inappropriate jokes or media choices, or even abuse, what we want most as parents is for our kids to feel like they can talk to us about anything, silly or serious, relating to genitals or sex. But you have to prove you’re worthy of that honor in every interaction, including ones like this.
Of course, this Play-Doh toy isn’t about sex. It’s just a part of a toy that happens to look like a penis. You’re not going to be able to avoid that altogether, someday you’ll come across a funny mushroom or a sea snake or even a kielbasa (I mean, come on) and you’ll need to confront this reality. Stuff looks like a penis. Some stuff even looks like a vulva. Welcome to life.
But how you react to it sends all sorts of messages to kids. Make sure that what you teach them, even inadvertently, is that they can talk to you about this stuff without any sort of shame or fallout.
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