As boys mature, their bodies start to stand up and take notice. Sometimes literally. Yep, the small erections your son’s body has been practicing since he was a baby are entering a new stage and they are occurring in response to sexual feelings. Unfortunately, erections can also happen spontaneously for no apparent reason and without any sort of visual, mental or physical trigger. And naturally, these spontaneous erections happen at the most inconvenient times. What’s a boy to do, and how can you as a parent help?

First, make sure he understands this happens to everyone with a penis. While it is embarrassing, it is normal! Of course, this knowledge doesn’t help him deal with the erection in the moment. Unfortunately, spontaneous erections that are not caused by sexy thoughts may not deflate with the usual antidote of removing the stimulus or unsexy thoughts, so it’s often just a question of getting through the few minutes it can last (these minutes may feel like hours).

You can help by working with him to find comfortable but tighter fitting underwear, such as a boxer brief or classic brief, that can help restrict movement. He may also want to wear looser-fitting clothing that can disguise ill-timed bulges. You can indulge odd requests, such as stalling when he is getting out of the car hoping his erection will pass. By this stage, you will also want to knock before you enter his room to give him the heads up you are coming.

He may not want to hear it from you, but there are also some tried and true strategies for dealing with spontaneous erections. These include sitting instead of standing, and putting a cold drink in his lap. If he is standing and is holding a book or a sweatshirt, he can use them to cover his crotch area. If he is lucky enough to have pockets in his pants or shorts, he can put his hands in his pockets to tent his clothing or tuck his erection into the waistband of his underwear to compress it. Some boys find that concentrating on something else (or even pinching themselves) can sometimes help, as can urinating or exercising.

Interestingly, research indicates that wet dreams (when ejaculation occurs during sleep) may not be sexual in nature. Obviously this is tricky to study! Wet dreams too are normal – it happens to many boys, although some never experience it. If you notice a damp patch on your son’s sheets, don’t ignore it- there is always the small chance it could be urine as a symptom of diabetes. Talking about it with him can normalize the experience so he knows it’s not shameful, and can also help him take some ownership of cleanup.

You could say something like: “I was doing laundry and saw something on your sheets. Do you know what that is and do you want to talk about it? If not, we can talk about it whenever you’re ready. When you notice it happens, can you use a damp washcloth to wipe off the affected area? You know, there are reasons girls have to do this too.”

Some boys may appreciate hearing stories from the men in their lives about their awkward experiences with spontaneous erections – it helps to know they’re not alone. Maybe someday your son will be able to look back on this phase and smile too.