27 answers

2 1/2 Year Old Daughter Self-stimulating

My almost 3 year old daughter has always been very tactile. She is a thumb sucker, blanket rubber, and has always liked to rub the soft side of velcro or her daddy's scratchy beard to self-soothe. She is very verbal and active but doesn't like crowds or large playgroups (more than 3 or 4 children) esp. if she doesn't know everyone. It really bothers her if there are people around whose names she doesn't know. Anyhow, as early as 12 months she would tighten her abdomen muscles whenever she was contained in a carseat, grocery cart, etc. and got bored. People always thought she was pooping so we started calling it exercising.
By about 18 motnhs she discovered it felt good to rub herself on the arm of the couch or her rocking horse. She also called this exercising. It would come and go and she would forget about it completely for weeks at a time and then something would trigger it and she would do it again on and off for a bit.
In the last month it has really increased to where she is doing it 10 - 15 times a day for 2 - 5 minutes each and often in public or situations she feels overwhelmed by (playgroup, company for dinner, etc.) I know she is feeling extra stress because her dad is now working 12 - 15 hour days and so she often doesn't see him at home, just when we have lunch with him. This will only last another 6 weeks as his busy time is seasonal.
She has also complained in the last few weeks about her bottom hurting. I do have an appt. with her doctor in about a week. Everything looks normal, no discharge, etc. and she doesn't seem to have symptons of a bladder infection (but she isn't potty trained so hard to tell). She did have a very red bottom a few weeks ago and desitin helped that so I am looking into medical reasons. I'm not sure if it's the chicken or the egg (is she stimulating more because the area is itchy or is it sore and itchy because she's irritating it by stimulating it too much)
Besides the obvious health questions my main concerns are: the social stigma. I don't want her to feel bad about her body or her sexuality in the future but I also know that if she continues it too much in public someone is going to comment or shame her. I am also concerned about her using it as a primary means of self-soothing (as opposed to thumb-sucking, her blanket, me, talking, etc.)
Has anyone else dealt with this! To be honest it is also embarassing for me but I want to handle it correctly so I don't pass on any of my adult shame or taboos to her. I have read quite a bit from both Dr. Sears and Dr. Brazelton and a few others who basically say to ignore it and tell her it's a private thing that needs to be done in her room (but they both say that's hard to do before they are 4 or 5). So . . . any input into this would be most helpful!

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What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Thanks so much for so much input on a not often discussed subject! We had a great visit with her ped. this week. I had her wait in the waiting room wtih my mom while I took the baby in for her "checkup" so I was able to talk to the dr. without her listening and then she came in. Physically everything checked out fine. We are discussing what private and non-private means and it seems to be decreasing. She is very verbal so it is pretty amusing because she has been asking me if this is a private spot or if she can "exercise" here. She has also been asking if other people exercise and if they have to go to a private spot! Grandma is already working on her answer to the questions she knows is coming! So we are just trying to be really matter of fact but also firm about it being a private thing that can't be done when others are around. We have also been discussing all the things that are OK to do in public (suck your thumb, cuddle your blankie, cuddle your mom, etc.). The other day we were over at her friend's house and I heard her telling her little 2 year old friend that she couldn't exercise at her house because it wasn't private but she could suck her thumb because everyone had a thumb! Thanks also to those who expressed concerned about abuse. With my husbands summer schedule she literally hasn't been out of my sight in about 2 months so I can pretty safely rule that out but I know it is always something to be aware of. Thanks again for all the input.

Featured Answers

After ruling out any medical reason, as you are, I think telling her that it is something she should be doing in private might at least start giving her the message. It's not shameful and the way you are handling it is so gentle. Since ignoring it isn't working. I would at least plant the seed that it's a private thing. Yes, at her age it will be hard to get that across, but I think you can gently ask her to stop after you say it.

If I see that my 3 year old son is interested in his private area, I ask him if he has to go to the bathroom. He'll usually say no, and then I ask him to stop touching then. Usually just asking if he has to go reminds him to stop messing with that area. Honestly, it's hard to tell if he has to go, or if it's something else. So, that's an easy way for us to handle it.

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M.,

I read most of the responders and nearly all of them told you a similar situation-usually with their daughter or some other child they knew. They told you what they did and how they handled it and sometimes the outcome.

This is taking a huge amount of lip chewing for me but this describes me as a little girl. I was not abused sexually. I remember as early as age four discovering certain things felt good and that after I'd done this a while it was easier to fall asleep. I discovered it in bed because I laid awake for hours unable to sleep. (As an adult, I'm still an insomniac and night owl.)

I never- EVER did this in public. I was a VERY modest child and rather aware of things early though I had no details. I did not want anyone knowing and I recall that the desire was there for it.

Unfortunately for me, my mother discovered one night what was going on when I apparently fell asleep in the middle of it. She confronted me the next day by tossing my instrument of choice-a teddy bear-on the her bed in front of me to watch my reaction. I found I was so embaressed I could not look her in the eyes. She asked me repeatedly what I had been doing and why. My mother shamed me greatly. My bear disappeared. All my teddy bears disappeared after that though my mother must have been sneaky about removing them. It took me until just earlier this year to realize that is what happened to all my teddy bears. I've had an aversion to teddy bears-and realized this was why. One of my daughters likes them and I've caught myself gritting my teeth over having one near by. Took a bit of soul-searching to figure out why.

My mother was NOT comfortable with The sex talk and her explanation was worse than the actual act. I was so grossed out by her explanation that I was uncomfortable around all men/ boys a long time afterwards since I had an incorrect visual in my head. This confrontation with the bear occurred after THE talk and it was Worse than the talk had been.

My mother is not an open person about any of this. She doesn't have desire. I don't really wish to know more at this point. However-she decided this behavior had to be stopped and she began pushing me to be baptized.

One night after everyone else had gone to bed she began to push me again and this time she had an answer for every reason I gave for not being ready. She pushed and pushed and finally I gave in and agreed though I felt sick about it. She woke up my siblings and father so they could get dressed so that we could get me baptized right away there at home. Then she sat me down and made me confess out loud to her all my sins. I told her everything I felt really bad about but left this out. She wouldn't accept the confession without that being a part of it and prompted me by reminding me of "the bear". With tears rolling down my face and deep sobs of shame I confessed that action as part of my "sin." I was baptized that night and ever after I struggled with the desire and need for this action. I felt I was a dirty, sinful person for any time I did it after even well into adulthood and into my marriage.

Taking the teddy bears did not stop me. I found other ways. Most children probably will. I NEVER did it in public. Not once. Ever. I got caught once and paid for it until my mother felt she'd FIXED the issue. To her it was wrong and I'm sure she'd say to this day that it is Sinful.

I have felt such guilt and gone through cycles of striving to be a good christian woman and getting rid of anything sexually exciting down to skimpy bed clothes and through cycles of binging on the stuff. My husband never understood this back and forth but I finally figured out just earlier this year the why behind it.

Took a lot of courage to think back and go through all those memories again but as I did so I peppered various thoughts with prayer. While I was thinking through all this two thoughts became clear to me.

The first thought was that my baptism counted-as I made the choice for myself and definately purged myself of everything I felt was wrong and then felt a difference when I popped out of the water.

The second thought was a realization. At 4 years old why wasn't I sleeping well? During childhood I also had trouble sweating and got overheated easily. I had horrible cramps and terrible endometriosis. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia shortly after marriage at age 20 and have experienced many other health issues. I finally learned that my pituitary gland is dysfunctional-and my Thyroid doesn't work correctly-so my hormones are very unbalanced and I dealt with the symptoms from early on but didnt' realize it. I figured out that the very STRONG sex drive I discovered early as a child is actually a SYMPTOM! Not my fault! What a revelation!

20 years ago that would never have been considered. If my mother had thought to have me checked out-if my hormone levels had been checked including a full panel of thyroid tests instead of just the three usual ones preformed here in the USA then it is possible I could have avoided many of the health issues I endured later on.

I think you are a marvelous mother for wanting to do right by your child and for getting her to a dr. I will caution you though because today's medical doctors often shrug off things without doing enough checking. I myself know this FIRST hand. My first four doctors tested my thyroid but only did the most routine test. By that one I'm fine...but what is normal for one person isn't necessarily normal for another.

I don't know what a pediatrician might say if you requested hormone testing for your child. In my experience Doctors will often look at you like you are an idiot and have no idea. Any time one does I find a new doctor. I'm the patient or the mother of one and I KNOW what I'm experiencing and I sure as heck know what my kid is dealing with since I'm with them all the time. This attitude has not only prevented further health trouble with me but has saved my youngest daughter's life. (Pediatrician checked out a "tummy ache" with fever that wouldn't go away and diagnosed it as a virus. ER discovered she'd had appendicitis, it'd ruptured and abcessed.) We're thankful she's alive! If I'd listened to just that one doctor-well i hate to think of what might have happened.

Needless to say I'm a lot more open about things and even though some discussions are difficult for me I work to not have that uncomfortableness tinge my daughter's experiences.

I would advise you to look overall at your daughter. I was very shy as a child myself but now I'm very out-going. This email attests to this fact...ha.

8 moms found this helpful

http://www.birdsandbeesandkids.com/

Check out the above website. The woman who runs this is local to Seattle and does free lectures many Mondays. She only deals with kids and sexuality and when I've heard her speak, she's very practical and realistic about it. She's not over the top (in my opinion), but she definately might have some good ideas!

5 moms found this helpful

You've received some excellent advice and support, M., and I appreciate your willingness to bring this issue to the forum.

If you're fairly certain that your daughter is stressed by situations containing lots of people, I hope you will avoid putting her into such situations as much as possible. She sounds like a sensitive child, with behaviors that suggest sensory issues. She'll probably benefit from extra care and tenderness.

I was a quiet, retiring child. My mom believed that was undesirable, so she orchestrated a life for me filled with people and activity that I did not want. I was often miserable, sometimes frantic to get away from all that noise, motion and "static." I had/have sensory issues, but that wasn't even in the pediatric vocabulary when I was young. Now that I'm an adult and can invite people into my life when I have the interest and energy, I do much better in every way, including my general health.

You sound like a caring mom. I'm sure you'll work this out.

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M.,
I don't know a way to say this gently - but I am seeing RED FLAGS on this! I was a victim of molestation at the hand of my own father and have seen others like me growing up. The self-soothing is way over the top with the frequency you are describing and a severly red bottom scares the bejeezus out of me. Please be careful to evaluate the situation closely and do what it takes to protect your daughters. My mother did not protect me or my sisters.

D.

4 moms found this helpful

Maybe it would be easier on her and you if you simply helped her replace that behavior with another one. Like if you notice her doing it in public or whatever you take one of her hands and dance with her. This will effectly force her to stop w/o causing emotional damage and teach her that dancing is fun. Or you could pick her up and swing her around in the air after making her forget about what she was doing as well as squeal in delight that she is now an airplane.
The most significant advice I'd give you however is to make sure what ever you do to help replace that behavior make sure its random or she will learn that her self-touching is the trigger. Maybing dancing once, Swinging, eating tasty food, running fast, playing dress up---whatever it takes.

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Well, I am sure you know by now that self-stimulation during that age is perfectly normal. I would agree to get her evaluated, for both physical issues and developmental/sensory issues since she does seem to do it a lot, but chances are there is nothing wrong with her.

From what you write this isn't really so much about self-stimulation, but helping your daughter cope with stressful situations.
I think at this point you have a pretty good grasp on triggers and I would suggest that you try to work on her how to cope with stressful situations. If large playgroups stress her out - then maybe stick with smaller groups or invite just one or two children to playdates at home.
For situations that you can't necessarily control or you don't want to give up (having company over) try to talk to her about what is about to happen beforehand, who is coming, why are they coming, what is the plan for the evening (first we talk, then we have dinner....) and give her a way to retreat if she feels overwhelmed.
Also make sure to vocalize her feelings (fear, upset, excited, nervous...), prepare her for how she might feel and offer more appropriate ways of handling her stress. Don't tell her she shouldn't self-stimulate, just offer an alternative for example:"When you feel really nervous, I will hold you and help you calm down..."
If you can, tone down your activities with her to a level that she can handle easily and them build up from there.

Good Luck.

4 moms found this helpful

Hi M., My daughter started doing this at about the same age, however just at night. This was hard for me because she frequently slept with me and it made me uncomfortable. The thing is, that I used to teach preschool, and used to (in my own head) reproach parents that would tell me to stop their kids if they self-stimulated during nap time. I mean, what kind of message does that send about loving our bodies and developing a healthy sexuality?
About 6 months ago I was given a pamphlet by my daughter's pediatrician at her 3 year wellness check on how to talk to a 3 year old about sexuality. Nothing graphic, just being aware that she will start asking questions, and to answer them simply and honestly...no need to go overboard. I was surprised that that would come up at such a young age. But it has. Anyway, I digress, what helped me was to take her hand gently away when she was self-stimulating, and say, "that is ok to do in private, but only in private" (make sure they know what private means). It took awhile to get the message across, but I was gently, firm, and never shameful. I haven't seen her do it in a few months now. (Hopefully she still will on her own discretion ;) I agree that seeing the doctor is a must. Anytime a child has an issue with her genital area it should be checked out promptly. Also, make sure that she knows the proper word for her vagina. We use the nick-name "Hoo-Hoo" but she knows the real word. When talking to doctors, or God forbid if something has happened to her, knowing the real word is essential!

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Check to see if she has pinworms. they can cause itching and irritation. it sounds gross and it is, but they're VERY common. when she's asleep at night (wait for a couple of hours), you can check her rectom with a flashlight. if she has them, you'll see tiny little worms. they come out at night. the fix is easy--just a pill. my kids had these more than once. I was appalled, but everyone assured me they are common. especially in preschools, etc. good luck!

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