We’re continuing to dive into the uncomfortable topic if dealing with “self-touch”/masturbation and our kids, and we’ve established that when our children are very young, “self-touch” is a normal process of self-discovery.  When we discover our children engaged in some type of this exploration, it’s important not to shame them or embarrass them unnecessarily.  Instead, as parents, we need to help them understand what their body parts are, how they work, and establish what is and what isn’t appropriate (see Monday’s blog on kids playing “doctor”) in an age-appropriate way.  Often, when children are very young and their engaging in some type of “awkward” behavior, they are just bored, and we can distract them just by picking them up, offering a new toy or changing their environment.

There is a point at which self-touch crosses the line from normal, self-exploration to problematic, and there are a few behaviors that we should be aware of and watch out for.  If your child is engaging in the following behaviors, then it is probably time to seek some professional advice from your child’s doctor: 

  1. For some children (both young and teens), masturbation can be a way to manage excessive stress.  If this is the case, it may be best to try to identify and reduce the source of the stress, which will naturally reduce the child’s preoccupation/habit of self-touch.
  2. If your child’s self-touch is becoming a preoccupation/getting in the way of life, then it’s time to have a conversation.  I’ve talked with parents of three-year-olds who felt as though they literally could not get their son or daughter to stop touching themselves—this preoccupation can indicate a problematic situation.
  3. If your child’s self-touch/masturbation is rubbing them raw, then it’s time to talk to a doctor.  If the pleasure of the touching overtakes even the pain/blisters/skin irritation that ensues, then it’s time for additional measures (and it’s also possible they have a skin infection, not a masturbation problem).
  4. If your child starts engaging in repeated sexual behaviors with other children, then it’s possible that they have had some type of exposure to sexual content or pornography.
  5. If your child starts using slang terms while touching themselves or while touching others, then it’s highly likely that they have had some type of inappropriate exposure or interaction with pornography or another individual that will need to be corrected by you (for example, a mom recently heard her five-year-old son tell another child to “suck his cock”… a term he had learned from a movie the child’s older brother had shown him).

Do you have other ideas/situations that you’ve encountered as problematic?  If so, it would be great for you to share them with our parent community here.