November 11, 2008,
C.T. asks from Portland, OR on October 23, 2008
3 And a Half Year Old Masterbating
Our 3 1/2 year old daughter has begun to masterbate. She will go into her room, take her clothes off and either lay on folded blankets, or stuffed animals and move back and forth. I know it is "normal", my concern is that she is also doing it in preschool. At home we ask her to go into her room and that it is a private thing for only her. I have told her that she needs to do it only at home and school is not the place for that. Her teacher mentioned it to me that she has been doing it at school. Any suggestions?
H.B. answers from Eugene on November 11, 2008
Wanted to respond earlier - but had server problems.
Totally normal - I did it, one of my daughters did it - at school, in front of relatives, everywhere!!!
Keep telling her it is something she should do in private. Explain that some kids might not understand & make fun of her.
It may take a while to sink in.
You are doing the right thing by not punishing her for being human!!!!
S.H. answers from Seattle on October 23, 2008
I don't know what else you can do other than what you are already -- emphsize that it's something she has to do in her bedroom alone. As for what happens at school, you and the teacher need to be on the same page and make sure whatever action is taken is consistant.
I disagree with a previous post to tell her that it is wrong to masterbate and to put an end to it. I believe it is important that girls (and boys) know their bodies and are not ashamed of their body parts, as long as they learn these matters are private. My daughter was also very active and my husband and I were concerned. Researching and talking with her pediatrition, I haven't found anywhere that masterbating at a young age leads to any specific detrimental activities later in life, just like any other forms of exploration don't -- such as tasting rocks or wanting to touch sparkly objects. It's a part of discovering. I'd much rather have my daughter know her own body and know that she can give herself pleasure if necessary. In fact, I think it would make her less suseptible to perverts and people who otherwise would tell her that they can make her feel good. I want her to know that no one can tell her what's right or wrong with her body. Not a man, not a boy, not another adult, and not even me. Telling a girl that appreciating what her body can do is something to be ashamed of I think would only make the girl see sex in one extreme or another -- either as something sinful and wrong and therefore never enjoy it when she's mature and in love, or go overboard have lots of illicit sex because it's always more fun to do what you're not supposed to do. I'm not saying encourage her to masterbate. I'm suggesting you do as you have been. Be stern about keeping private activities limited to her bedroom and only when she's alone. The only people who can touch her there are her doctor when you're also in the exam room and herself.
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M.H. answers from Seattle on October 24, 2008
My now 5 year old daughter did this after her potty around the age of 3-4 - I used it as an opprotunity to talk to her about her private area and that it was only for her to touch and for mommy, daddy or a doctor to LOOK to make sure there was nothing wrong if she had an infection that itched. It was a great stepping stone to talk about being private, how important it is to our family. I also mentioned to her that she needed to wash her hands EVERY time she touched herself. I also told her that it was okay for her to touch herself, but that she may cause herself to become itchy because there is bacteria down there from her poop and if she touches her poop area by accident and then touches her vaginia, it could cause her to become itchy. Well, it happens that she wasn't wiping properly either and she did get an infection and that soon put a stop to HER touching once the itch was gone - I never told her she couldn't touch herself except when she did have the infection and I told her that touching would make it itch worse. She is a very private person in the toilet area and wouldn't let me help her wipe after a poop - so we soon found out she was wiping the wrong way.
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T.N. answers from Portland on October 23, 2008
If she has recently had antibiotics you might also check her for a yeast infection. That could be mistaken for masturbating. High blood sugar can also cause a yeast infection and as any woman knows all you want to do is scratch the itch! We don't of course because we have been taught otherwise, but at that young age, she doesn't know any better.
T. Nelson CD
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T.P. answers from Portland on October 24, 2008
I agree that self exploration is normal (my 13m old has just discovered her belly button and her "girl parts" and touches them in the bathtub) but I would still get her checked and make sure there has not been a molestation at some point. It is a horrible thing to even contemplate, but it does happen and it is something you could probably eliminate as an issue...then take it from there. If it is just something she has discovered, then keep working on the public vs. private thing and make sure you keep the lines of communication open. I believe masturbation is a normal healthy part of life but you can never be too carefull. With the undressing and deliberate nature of her actions (stuffed animals and blankets) I doubt it's just a matter of a yeast infection or something like that.
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J.C. answers from Seattle on October 24, 2008
This is a difficult subject. While I respect everyone who responded, and I agree with a lot of the advice, esp. from Margie, I disagree with the idea of teaching kids of either gender at any age that this is appropriate to do as long as they are alone. I agree that our bodies, our sexuality, and our responses to it are normal. Consider though cleanliness, risk of infection, the association with molestation...Most of all, consider what you will teach her later--after all it's perfectly normal for teens to want to have sex with each other, but should they? I have two boys and just had a baby girl. I will teach them that all sexual relations should take place within marriage only, where a thriving, healthy sexual relationship will bring happiness and security. Not popular, not easy, but so very worth it. Let's not kid ourselves that what we teach our young children about masterbation won't have an effect on later choices. In my humble opinion, there are activities much more worthy of her alone time--like books, dolls, coloring, etc.
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M.B. answers from Seattle on October 23, 2008
Having worked in a daycare, I don't know that you can stop it. I know at the place I worked, the kids had naps after lunch, and that's when the explorations began.
Let's hear it for the curiosity of kids, even the embarrassing moments.
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C.W. answers from Seattle on October 23, 2008
Have you talked to your pediatritian about it? I know some self-exploration is normal but it can also be caused by being molested. Not that it would change your course of action but you would want to do some investigating to see if there is something else going on as well.
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W.L. answers from Seattle on October 24, 2008
Obviously everyone has different opinions about this matter to both extremes. (I think Margie's was right on personally.) I grew up with a very religious minded mother who portrayed anything sexual to be dirty and naughty and it left me very confused and scared about anything related to it throughout my childhood. I didn't feel comfortable asking questions about it and therefore, never had any guidance, which I really felt I needed at many different stages of my early life. In my teens, I sought out information from other resources and finally started to feel comfortable, though I know most kids don't think about doing that or don't know how to go about it.
I definitely think it should be taught as a NORMAL and healthy thing as long as the communication between the parent(s) and child(ren) is open, both to make sure that there isn't something more going on and so that the child understands the boundaries.
I have two boys who both discovered their pee pee's early on when changing their diapers, and they'd proudly yell out "pee pee!" while pointing at it (as they did with other parts of their bodies). That continue to discovering it further and playing during bath time. Despite comments otherwise, it's definitely normal and natural to explore your own body and what feels good, even when you're so little. As for how they learned it...how do any of us learn about it? By exploring! (Hopefully anyway.)
I think you're on the right track with how you're handling it at home and agree that you should discuss it with her teacher further to get on the same page about how to handle it.