My son is almost 2 1/2. Ever since he was a newborn, he has been fascinated with sticking his hands in his diaper and feeling his penis. We understand that this is “self-soothing” and don’t want to make it seem like it is “bad” or “wrong” to touch his penis. However, it has been causing real problems because the more my toddler touches his privates and jams his hands into his diapers, the more frequently we have to deal with diaper leaks because he compromises the diapers so much. That has been a continued problem.
Masturbation in the young child
Many young children touch their privates, and often it is simple curiosity: they are interested in “that thing” down there. They pull on it, push on it, wiggle it, and sometimes while exploring their diaper, they find some poop! Wow, that came out of ME?! This is fun! This touching type is usually just a very curious toddler exploring his body, much like his finger explores his nose to see what treasures he can find.
Masturbation in a child is different; the child will usually appear dazed, flushed, and preoccupied while rubbing themselves with their hand or another object. Children might masturbate several times per day or only once a week.
Why do they do this? Mostly because it feels good. Some might do it because they are unhappy about something like getting their pacifier taken away. Children might also do this simply because they are constantly being told not to. Masturbation is NOT caused by simple irritation in the area – this causes pain and/or itching.
Please don’t make a big deal about your toddler touching his privates. First of all, don’t worry. About one-third of young kids or toddlers touch their privates, and practically all teenagers do it. It is not abnormal unless they continue to do it in public beyond age 5-6.
It does NOT cause any physical harm and does NOT mean your child will grow up to be sexually promiscuous. However, if adults overreact and make the child think it’s evil or dirty, it can lead to emotional harm, such as guilt or sexual inhibitions.
Your Toddler is Touching his Privates: What To Do
- Have realistic goals. You won’t be able to stop your child from masturbating completely, so a realistic goal would be to control where your child does this. Try to limit it to just the bathroom and the bedroom. You can say to your child, “it is okay to do this in your bedroom when you are tired.” But don’t completely ignore the issue; otherwise, your child might think it is okay to do it anywhere.
- Do ignore it at naptime and bedtime. Just leave him alone during these times. Don’t keep checking on him or asking where his hands are.
- Try distraction. Other than naps and bedtime, try to distract this behavior with other activities or a toy. Getting his mind onto something else might help.
- Explain: If the distraction doesn’t help, then explain to your child, “I know that touching yourself feels good, but it is not polite to do it around other people. You can only do it in private.” It would be best to insist that the child only does this in his room or the bathroom.
- What about at preschool? The same principles should apply. The teacher should first try to distract the child with an activity. If that doesn’t work, then try to get the child to “snap out of it” and grab his attention with a comment like, “Okay, Johnny, we need you to join us now!” Masturbation should only be tolerated at naptime.
- Spend more “snuggle time” with your child. You might be able to decrease this behavior if you give more hugs and cuddles throughout the day.
WHAT NOT TO DO:
- Do not try to eliminate this. This will lead to more problems.
- Do not physically punish or yell at your child for masturbating.
- Do not use any physical restraints for their hands.
- Don’t label masturbation as dirty, sinful, or bad.
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