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Toddler Masturbation Happens! 5 Signs When You Need To WorryA child touches himself out of curiosity about his body.by Thumby Server-Veloso .
Most of us are not comfortable when talking about sex. It could be for religious, cultural, or generational reasons. But the bottom line is many of us would rather not discuss sexual concerns with others, especially when they involve our children.
For example, when some parents see their young children touching themselves, they are horrified. They worry about what it means, what should be done, and something wrong with their son or daughter.
Many moms and dads will keep quiet rather than seek advice for fear of having people judge their child. Some end up shouting or punishing their children, hoping it will stop them from repeating the behavior.
To help answer our questions on masturbation among young children, I called on the help of Dr. Sylvia Estrada, a pediatric endocrinologist. She cited Nancy Kellog’s “Clinical Report: Evaluation of Sexual Behaviors in Children” as her primary reference.ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW
Dr. Estrada emphasizes, “Masturbation is the scientific term for self-stimulation. Among toddlers, it is NOT a sexual activity.”
Parents often wonder self-stimulation starts. Dr. Estrada replies, “Many times, it is a behavior that is accidentally ‘discovered’ by a young child as he studies his body.”
“In adolescence, masturbation is an act that is associated with sexual fantasy or pleasure.”CONTINUE READING BELOWRecommended Videos
Kids touch themselves out of curiosity about their bodies
Children are curious by nature, and something they love to learn about is their bodies. It’s common for 2 to 6-year-olds to do the following, Dr. Estrada enumerates:
- Viewing or touching the genitals of a new sibling or peer
- Showing their genitals to playmates
- Trying to view adult nudity.
- Standing or sitting too close to a peer.
We shouldn’t worry too much about these actions because Dr. Estrada assures us, the kids will outgrow them eventually. Dr. Estrada says, “These are transient behaviors and are reported to occur less in between the 6-12 year old bracket.”ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW
Masturbation among young children is not a rare occurrence. Dr. Estrada points out, “Literature cites that it occurs in about 50% of children below the age of 13 and is more commonly reported as part of normal sexual behavior among 2-6 year old children. It is usually part of a child’s curiosity of his own body.”
But it is “a transient behavior among the 2-6 years old age bracket.” It could take a bit longer for them to outgrow, depending on the family environment, such as “the exposure to nudity or adult sexual behavior (TV, magazines), stressors or absence of adult supervision.”
Dr. Estrada adds, “Children living with older siblings become more curious with their own bodies when they see the naked bodies of older siblings looking different from their own.”
What to do if you catch your child doing self-stimulation
Dr. Estrada shares rules to remember when you see your children engaged in self-touching:ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW
- Do not embarrass your child.
- Observe the duration of the activity. When masturbation is prolonged or repetitive, one can approach the child and gently redirect his/her attention to another activity.
- Suppose the child cannot be persuaded to do something else or gets angry when distracted from the activity. In that case, the parent may probe by gently asking questions like, “Is your vagina or penis itchy or ‘owie’?” or, “Are your underpants too tight?”
When should parents worry? Dr. Estrada identifies these as the red flags:
- When masturbation is associated with aggressive behavior.
- If the child seems to simulate the adult sexual act.
- When there is pain.
- If the child refuses to be redirected to another activity.
- When self-stimulation is a regular and frequent behavior.
“When the masturbation is persistent and associated with red flags, this child may need to be evaluated by a behavior specialist or child psychiatrist to evaluate for possible underlying causes.” Dr. Estrada advises.ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW
Some parents think that self-stimulating in childhood may be an indicator of sexual behavior in adulthood.
Dr. Estrada responds, “Masturbation is an innocent behavior in children and is not associated with future deviant sexual behavior, provided the child’s parents or caregivers are able to address this issue appropriately.”
We can help children who are curious about their bodies by sharing children’s picture books on the topic or talking to them in very straightforward and easy-to-understand ways. (Books like Ako Ay May Kiki and Ako Ay May Titi can help.)
Other ways to assist them redirect their attention, watching out for any red flags and finding them the proper support when needed.
We must remember that young children have no malicious intent, and we need to help them feel safe, so they can grow into well-adjusted adults.
Barbara Server-Veloso is known as Teacher Thumby in her preschool, Toddlers Unlimited, and Ms. Thumby in her grade school, Thinkers Unlimited, Alabang. She is also a partner in Spark Discovery Center in Jupiter Street, Makati, where she teaches the Baby and Me Class. Teacher Thumby has a Master’s degree from the University of the Philippines in Family Life and Child Development. She has been teaching since 1993. She is also the mother of Lucas and Verena.ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW
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