Before I get started I want to say that this topic might make some of you uncomfortable. However, as a Parent Support Specialist, who gets this question a lot, I feel it's important to address. The topic is toddlers touching themselves.
I often get a comment or a concern about a toddler who has started touching themselves in their private area and sometimes it’s in public. Parents don’t know what to do or what to say. Hopefully these tips can help when/if this starts to happen to you.
First of all, it is normal. Kids are learning and exploring and part of that is with their own body. They will start to notice differences between them and their friends and might start to ask those uncomfortable questions… “Mom, whats a vagina?” “why doesn’t Lucy have a pee pee like I do?”, This usually happens around the ages of 3-5.
What can parents do about it?
Talk about their private parts from the time child is little. Avoiding talking about your private parts is going to make it worse. Just like you help your child understand what their nose and mouth are, it's important to help them learn the correct names for their genitals.
Figure out your family values and explain them to your child. Some parents will be fine if the child touches themselves in their home or in their bedroom and not out in public. However, some parents have different beliefs and values and won’t be comfortable with that option. There is no right or wrong, but definitely talk to your child about what you as the parents feel is appropriate and inappropriate. This will help when situations come up (either in public or not) where they start to touch themselves and you can remind them what you discussed as a family.
Don’t shame or punish the child if you see them touching themselves. If a child is punished or embarrassed they might start to feel ashamed of their bodies. Reacting in a negative way might make exploring sexuality when they are older hard for them and may lead to body issues. Our goal is for parents to have open communication with their children about this topic, shaming and punishing will most likely close off that communication.
You can try distracting the child with a game or a toy. Like I said earlier sometimes children don’t even realize they are touching themselves so if you ignore the behavior and try to distract instead they might stop doing it. Some children just need something to do with their hands, we have lots of activities on our pinterest boards that can help give you some ideas.
Like I said, this topic can make some uncomfortable, but it is important to talk about. If you would like to discuss this topic more or have other similar concerns about your child don’t be hesitant to call us 801-691-5322 and talk to a Parent Support Specialist.
References and more on this topic: