Masturbation or exploration? What to know about toddlers touching private parts

Kinderling News & Features

We’ve all seen kids, in the middle of a public place, stick their hands down their pants and have a good ole play. And as a parent, it’s a part of life you’re probably going to have to deal with at one point. How should we behave when toddlers won’t stop touching their bits?

Here’s a few pointers on how to react when it happens.

Know that it’s all kids

For some parents, there is absolutely nothing more mortifying or embarrassing than catching your young child in the act of masturbation, particularly when you’re in public or there are other people around. Because while no one likes a finger up the nose, it’s hands down the pants that tend to make people a whole lot more uneasy. And it’s not just little boys who do it either. Little girls can be just as curious about their private parts, so even if there’s no penis to play with, don’t assume they won’t enjoy touching themselves ‘down there’ either.

Listen to Kinderling Conversation:

Sex is far from their minds

The first thing to remember is that masturbation in toddlers is not sexual. Young children don’t even know what sex is and only touch themselves because they’re exploring their bodies and have discovered that it feels good. It varies from child to child, but masturbation often starts around the age of two or three when they’re toilet training and not wearing a fastened nappy all the time. It’s completely normal and is nothing to worry about. However, it is essential to know how to handle it properly. 

How to react

Feeling flustered or clueless? Here are some tips and suggestions for how to deal with your toddler’s masturbation:

  • Don’t panic – It’s safe, normal and natural, so there’s no need to freak out or worry your child is turning into a sex maniac. It’s just a new phase they’re going through, and if you have a boy – relax, because he won’t start ejaculating until he hits puberty (around 11 years at the earliest).

  • Ignore it – In some instances, it might be appropriate to turn a blind eye and not draw attention to a child’s masturbating (such as when they’re in the bath or bed). Making a big fuss about it might make them want to do it even more or create anxiety around it.

  • Don’t react badly – It’s essential that you don’t make your child feel guilty for masturbating or that there’s something dirty or wrong about it: this could lead to future issues with sexuality.

  • Teach boundaries – While privacy doesn’t mean much to a toddler, it’s never too early to explain that touching her private parts is to be reserved only for herself and when she’s in private.

  •  Distract them – A lot of the time toddlers masturbate because they’re bored. So, if your child is prone to doing it in public or in front of others (e.g. in the supermarket trolley!), then be sure to have a few toys or games handy to keep her hands busy.

It could be a health issue

Toddlers may actually touch themselves excessively because they have a urinary tract infection (UTI), rash or thrush (which can be a side effect of antibiotics). Given young children have limited communication, it’s important to look for warning signs such as pain or discomfort when going to the toilet, a fever, strong smelling urine or scratching their genitals (as opposed to rubbing and touching).

Nervous touching

If your toddler is masturbating frequently and often at inappropriate times (despite explaining the boundaries), then there is also the possibility that they’re doing it because they feel anxious or overwhelmed, or aren’t getting enough attention at home. So be sure to keep tabs on your toddler’s masturbation and look into it if you feel as though something’s not quite right. 

If you’re ever concerned about your toddler’s masturbation, please speak to your doctor. 

This post originally appeared on Babyology.