31 answers

3 Year Old Touching Herself

Late last night, my daughter came out of her room to wash her hands. When I asked her why, she said it was because her finger smelled funny because she has put it inside her parts. I don't know if this was a one time thing, was she just exploring? Is this something that all little girls try just to see what will happen? I've struggled with overcomming masturbation my whole life, and I don't want her to have the same problem. We are LDS and believe it is wrong, so please don't try to convince me that it is ok, I am more looking for ways to address it with her, without drawing her attention to it in a way that will only make her more curious.

What can I do next?

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It is very normal. It is just a stage, but I feel that the more attention they get the longer the stage lasts. Children, especially, like to do the forbidden. I just tell my young son, "I don't want to see it."

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I just want to mention that a 3-year-old is not a sexual being, they are a sensual being. The touch she is doing is about sensation, not sexuality. The quotes from the church are about a child that has reached puberty and has moved into being a sexual being. She is exploring her world and that includes here own body. She is exploring sensation only, not sexual arousal.

Also, a 3-year-old, is not developmentally capable of understanding abstract ideas. The ideas of sacredness and spouses and even sex are abstract. She is concrete.
The church even clearly teaches that a child does not have a clear understanding of good and evil until the age of eight. Which corresponds to psychological development of beginning to understand abstract ideas.

I have experienced myself and work with women every day that were separated from ownership of their own bodies. In so many overt and covert ways, women have been shamed about their amazing, natural, beautiful bodies. Please be careful of another precious little girl and the messages you are sending her about her body.

4 moms found this helpful

It is a normal thing to do...she is discovering herself. I think it is so sad that a religion surpresses a total natural and normal thing to do and you don't even know why! Gives me one more reason to NEVER be a part of that religion, I am soooo grateful for my beliefs and open mind. I feel sorry for you!!

3 moms found this helpful

I am LDS and I don't believe masturbation is wrong. I think one of the greatest gifts I can give myself is to know my body very well. one of the greatest gifts I can give my spouse is to be a confident exciting sexual partner. one of the greatest gifts I can give my children is the freedom to explore their own bodies. my heavenly father gave me this body with all its purposeful mysteries and joys. my children were created from having sex. children are naturally very inquisitive sexual beings. how could they not be?

there is a time and place for sexual exploration. the time is their own time, and the place is their own private area of our home.

be happy she is so open with you. keep that communication door open! teach her good touch/bad touch, stranger danger, all that, as well as dressing and speaking modestly. most of all when she begins to ask questions regarding bodies and sex, make sure she knows (and you remember) that the only safe sex is no sex, and the level down from that is sex with oneself. (people do very harmful things to their own bodies during sexual exploration, ask any ER doc!) teens that are sexually permissive with themselves tend not to venture to others for exploration.

remember that heavenly father made our bodies with full knowledge of what it is capable of, and still gave them to us anyway.

2 moms found this helpful

I would not make a big deal out of it. Regardless of your religious beleifs, she is only three and is discovering her body. She will not understand if you try to address your beleifs with her and it will only increase her curiosity. I would just leave it alone and not draw attention to it.

2 moms found this helpful

I have a now almost 7 year old daughter. She did the same thing about that age but during bath time. We had many talks about how our bodies are sacred. We talked about how there are many wonderful feelings we can experience through our bodies but they are sacred. I shared the whole...baby, mommy responsibility. I think it's important to explain the why...within how much she can understand. We are LDS as well. She knows that to "tickle" and touch herself is wrong. Those are powerful feelings and will be good at the right time. It opens up other sexual issues in later years. The Lord teaches mastering our physical bodies..letting our spirits rule, not the other way around. She still likes to push limits...being naked and silly, normal young girl kind of things. It's a constant lesson we teach...we just keep on it and stay consistent. Anything additional you can add to the spirit of your home is always helpful. Bodies are so fascinating and fun! :) Not easy to keep it all in the right perspective...best wishes!

1 mom found this helpful

In my experience simply telling a child "it's wrong, don't do it" will not produce desirable results. Ending in making the behavior more attractive, possibly turning the situation into a power struggle.
I suggest, if you're spiritual path dictates that masturbation is wrong, make the connection for her. Teach her why it's considered taboo. Does masturbation take the focus away from the intimacy of marriage? does it waste valuable life energy that should only be used for procreation? Children don't learn these things unless they are taught, and you might consider waiting until she asks you about it or wait until another opportunity presents itself to talk. I also suggest addressing your "struggle overcoming" masturbation such that when you speak with her you will be more at ease.
Lastly, it IS normal for children to be curious about their bodies. This too shall pass.
Good job mommin' A.!

1 mom found this helpful

If you make your child think that they, their bodies, their private parts are gross or that there is something wrong with them they will grow up to have a complex about it.
That is a fact.
My mother-in-law is a Christian psychologist and knows A LOT about the long term results of parents saying things that at the time may seem harmless, or "fix" a problem, but down the road will really screw that child-turned-adult up.
If your religion does not agree with masturbation, then that is your religion.
Your daughter is 3, she is growing and learning.
Let her be a kid, let her learn and explore and develop.
Let her be curious, let her be a child.
Then when she is a little older and can understand things for herself and not just because that is what mommy and daddy say, but it is because it is what SHE believes,
then she can decided for herself that masturbation,
and whatever else you and your religion think is wrong,
is wrong, for herself.

1 mom found this helpful

First of all, it is a normal behavior for a 3-year-old to be curious about different body parts, so I wouldn't freak out. She may even have been scratching an itch (I know, as adults we think "eeww" but she doesn't know that it's different than anywhere else).
Second, just because it's normal and natural for her to be touching doesn't mean that you have to condone it. I have 3 kids and they all went through this stage. I just talked about the "private parts" of our bodies, usually defined for kids as anything covered by swim trunks or 2-piece swimsuit. I reminded them that those parts of our body were private, and that Heavenly Father wants us to not play with them. It's important to keep them clean just like everywhere else, but we shouldn't do a lot of other touching. And that it's not okay for anyone else to ask to touch their body (or ask a child to touch their own body there). So this actually is a teaching moment for you to introduce that concept, because sadly there are those out there who will try to tell kids it's ok.
It will take regular reminders, any time you see her putting her hand in her pants. Just gently remove it and tell her we don't play with those parts of our bodies (I still have to occasionally remind my 5-year-old son). Be very calm. Don't call those parts 'dirty' or 'icky' - she already seems to understand to wash her hands after touching. The point here is not to not her ashamed of her body. Just to help her understand to not touch or play with it.

Good luck and patience!

A.,

You have some wonderful ideas about how to approach this! I haven't had too much of an issue with my now 5 year old touching himself. He is an "itcher" and I have told him that scratching in public is inappropriate, it is something to do in private. Also we have gone over how it is very important to not show his privates to anyone or let anyone touch him there. I really never thought of explaining about it being against what God wants! But like I said, he's not a toucher, so now I have some great ideas if this happens. We are Christian, and I believe that is very important to instill morals in him.
I commend you for keeping true to your religious beliefs. I am just commenting to say shame on those that felt the need to belittle you and what you believe. Also, was it necessary to say THIS is why you refuse all religions and would never raise your child in one? I find it amazing that people can be so rude. God bless you and your family, A..

V.

Very normal for toddler boys and girls!

I have a daughter that would lay on her tummy with her hands on her privates and stimulate herself. It started about age three and didn't really stop until age six (with constant kind and vigilent teaching from mom and dad). Also LDS, I told her that our bodies are wonderful and special, but to "play" with our private parts is not right. Figuring things out is just fine, but "tickling" ourselves or playing games is not something that we should do with these special parts of our body, and WE SHOULD NEVER LET ANYONE ELSE EITHER!!

When she got older we talked about how the rule changes later in life with intimacy in marriage, and then it is the right "time" and right "way" to share those private parts of our bodies.

my daughter is 3 and when she started to explore we got out a science book I have and went to the biology part and looked at a sketch drawing that is in there and I talked to her about what the parts are, what they are for even the clitoris. thats the part that really feels good. and explained God made it so it would feel good and we can share that with our spouse when we are married and he asks us to wait until then so that it can be really special between us when we are married. I'm very up front with her because my mom was not. I learned some stuff at 19 from a roommate and a movie--(I still shake my head at that...but when the part came on I was so curious about how the mechanics work I watched then asked my roommate to not laugh please but explain it to me.) I don't want my daughter to be that naive. I don't want her to feel ashamed of her body but to celebrate the uniqueness of it, the beauty of it, and God forbid anyone were to ever touch her inappropriately I want her to be able to say exactly what they did and how they touched her and where. when she is curious we get the book out and talk about it. I let her questions cue my answers to see what she is wanting to know. and it does help because sometimes she does come and say I gotta itch my vulva and I need to wash my hands after. I know what is going on--it makes it something that isn't foreign but part of who she is and hopefully she will grow up respecting the beauty of her body and how special it is.

It may feel good to her but its not a sexual thing for her at this point and is quite normal. I would however have a conversation about appropriateness with her and tell her that its okay to touch there to wash and wipe and check it out (they do need to figure out their bodies) but that its not okay for her to do it in front of anyone else, or to have anyone else touch her there. Don't make her feel ashamed of herself or her body, our bodies are our temples and they are sacred, she needs to love her body and therefore needs to know it. She has done her exploring and it may be over now. I bet this is just a phase and will pass. I am very impressed that she went and washed her hands! Good for her, and for you for teaching her.

I haven't read anyones responses so sorry if I repeat what the other momma's have said.

Your little girl isn't really masturbating, she is most likely exploring her body, which as woman we should do. Not for sexual reasons, but so that we can acknowledge any changes in our anatomy. Maybe try looking at it a different way.

While it is ok, it doesn't mean that you should encourage it. I would simply tell her that she needs to keep her hands off her privates, and explain about germs and how thier little hands aren't always clean.

Don't make it a bad thing, keep it along the same lines as to why we don't let them eat dirt or lick off the floor. I hope this is making sense!

but good luck, you can teach hands off with out making it a bog deal.

First of all, I wouldn't freak out because she surely is just doing some innocent exploring out of curiosity. I think being matter-of-fact about it is the best course. She was open with you about it, so watch, and if it happens again you can explain that our bodies are special from Heavenly Father, especially our private parts, and we treat them reverently and just touch them to get clean or to use the bathroom for now (don't you think you could expand on healthy marriage relationships when she's older than three?) My son is three, and he just went through a little phase where he was putting money in his bottom (nice, huh?) Kids are just curious, and it's true you don't want to shame them just for being curious. They don't have a clue.

That being said, I'm in awe of some of your responses as well. Stay strong. You know what is right. Masturbation is wrong because it encourages the fulfilling of every desire of your body rather than having mastery over your body. Now that doesn't mean it isn't common, and a huge temptation for a normal person with normal feelings.

It's also wrong because it is using our God-given sexuality ALONE, apart from our spouse, which is not the way Heavenly Father intended it. It is addictive, producing chemicals in the brain that are powerful. Sometimes it is connected to pornography, which is just the most poisonous and destructive thing ever, to say the least. Sometimes it becomes a substitute for a couple's healthy relationship. And it always fosters selfishness.

Now, do most kids try it a few times? I'm sure yes. Does that mean they should give into it? Embrace it? Just because it's common or challenging not to doesn't mean it's right. Pray for strength and pray for guidance with your daughter. The Lord will know what to say.

Bless you and good luck!

I'm LDS also, and our bishop before he passed away told us to tell our daughter who was 5 back then. That it was not ok to do that, but if she had to, to do it in her own room with her door closed. But for us, just telling her that it wasnt ok to do that, and it was very sick, and gross, she stopped doing it. But it is very normal for them to go through this, my 3 yearold is doing it now also. You could also talk to your daughter's doctor or even your bishop, he might have some ways of how to get her to stop. As our bishop had girls and he was very helpful. I wish you alot of luck.

I'm just wondering...it's controversial issues like this that make me think that the women that are LDS might be better served by starting a site of their own. there's just such conflicting ideas..too bad that it has to be about religion & the church. I wish there could be more middle ground. One thing I disagree with is stifling childrens curiosity! It's one of the most beautiful things about children! And as we grow older, we suppress it. WHY??????? I LOVE my curiosity & teach my son it's how we learn more about ourselves & others. I respect your beliefs, I just don't understand them.

There are several good touch/bad touch books. Find one at her age level, explain all of the parts & leave it at that. Keep the book on the shelf, but not openly out. If she needs to check something out in there, have her bring the book to you so you can look together. I like the idea of lableing the parts, as one mom suggested. That puts it in scientific terms & not sexual ones-there's nothing hot or sexy about a science book!
Obviously keeping with your religion is important to you. Ask your pastor/minister if there's something on her age level that you can read & then discuss together. Or something not on her level, but that will give you an idea of how to word & approach it, then write it out (that's key so you don't forget what you're going to say) on her level.

This is completely normal for little children of both genders. It is a stage they go through when exploring their world. The more attention drawn to it, the more your child will do it. Good luck!

Make it a GREAT day!

S.

our daughter does this occassionally as well, with the same "smell my fingers bit".... we have just talked about how privates need to be kept clean and healthy. I remind her that she may have germs on her hands and she doesn't want to put them in her body. Sometimes she has irritated privates (red and itchy) that is mostly due to not wiping well, so we tie it in to that...trying to keep them clean and healthy. She is just very curious. She wanted to look with a mirror, so I went in the bathroom with her to do that and we talked more about keeping it clean, and when she is a grown up and married that's where the baby will come out. all this seems to have answered her curiosity and made her feel more comfortable about her privates. I agree that just saying "no, don't do that" makes kids want to do it more....they need to understand. (but a 3yo is really too young to talk about masturbation...really. I think parents that do are actually teaching their kids to masturbate, not just helping them with the natural curiosity of their bodies).

I understand your perspective. I would chalk this up to exploring and let it go. At age three, she is not accountable and she is just discovering things about herself. There is a fine balance between teaching self-mastery and not inducing shame in normal body responses and parts. If you're concerned, you can have a Family Home Evening discussion about various body parts and how our bodies are temples. There are some excellent layered puzzles that are anatomically correct that would be age-appropriate to use with her; I do not think respectful conversations about the body in an informative and scientific way are at all immodest or inappropriate, and might cut down on some of the mystery as she grows. I think I saw those puzzles at www.rosiehippo.com or maybe www.oompa.com; I believe they were Selecta brand. There's also a book by Brad Wilcox about intimacy that is written for young children from an LDS perspective.
Best wishes!

A. - I too am LDS and feel very much the same way you do. I see that you have a lot of people telling you that it isn't wrong to masturbate. As for those who have said that they are LDS and don't think it is a problem or that you shouldn't be pushing your religion on a 3 year old, the following is straight out of the "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet which is given to us by a prophet of God. (In my opinion, you can't get much more authority than that!)

"Before marriage, do not do anything to arouse the powerful emotions that must be expressed only in marriage. Do not participate in passionate kissing, lie on top of another person, or touch the private, sacred parts of another person’s body, with or without clothing. Do not allow anyone to do that with you. DO NOT AROUSE THOSE EMOTIONS IN YOUR OWN BODY...DO NOT PARTICIPATE IN TALK OR ACTIVITIES THAT AROUSE SEXUAL FEELINGS."

Notice the part in caps!

As well as this from the church's "A Parent's Guide" chapter 5:

One example: masturbation is considered by many in the world to be the harmless expression of an instinctive sex drive. Teach your children that the prophets have condemned it as a sin throughout the ages and that they can choose not to do it. Throughout childhood, boys and girls have touched their own genitals frequently to wash and to dress. This is a behavior that usually has the same meaning as keeping one’s feet warm in the winter, enjoying a swim on a hot day, or scratching an itch. We ought to be friendly to our bodies and appreciate the body’s marvelous range of senses. This innocent touching is not the kind of behavior warned against by prophets through the ages. The sin of masturbation occurs when a person stimulates his or her own sex organs for the purpose of sexual arousal. It is a perversion of the body’s passions. When we pervert these passions and intentionally use them for selfish, immoral purposes, we become carnal.

Masturbation is not physically necessary. There is already a way by which the male system relieves excessive spermatic fluid quite regularly through the nocturnal emission or wet dream. Monthly menstrual flow expels the female’s egg and cleanses the womb. For both sexes, physical or emotional tensions can be released by vigorous activity. Thus, in a biological sense, masturbation for either gender is not necessary. In a gospel sense, it is a sin: “Masturbation, a rather common indiscretion, is not approved of the Lord nor of His Church regardless of what may have been said by others whose ‘norms’ are lower. Latter-day Saints are urged to avoid this practice” (Spencer W. Kimball, Love Versus Lust, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [Provo, 5 Jan. 1965], p. 22).

You have a lot of good advice about not making her feel ashamed, but also letting her know about appropriate behavior with her body. Take the advice of those women as they most likely share your same values! :) Best of luck!

Hi A., I would like to make a gentle suggestion that masturbation is totally normal. If your religion says that it is wrong, you might want to consult someone within the church. Saying it is "sick and gross" is one sure way to lead a child to feel badly about themselves.

It is not correct for her to masturbate, but you don't want to have her think it will never be right for her to have enjoy her husband touch her there.

Shame last a long time, and I do not believe it is a good tool in this instance.

Let her know it is not something that is appropriate now, but that after she is married, it is something she can share with her husband.

"And they were not ashamed" is a good book that has a section for parents to talk to their children about that subject with out having the child think of their body as bad. It was writing from the LDS prospective and I have found the information contained in it to be helpful.

S.
Mother to Kai
www.HomeWithKai.com

You should be proud of her for washing her hands!

A.,
first I recommend ignoring all the mothers who did exactly what you told them not to--tell you that masturbation is okay. some of their comments are rude and insensitive, shame on them for bashing your beliefs. being interested in your body, and as a young child wanting to explore it are natural desires, but we still have to teach our children self control. As a therapist, I would recommend to a parent who asked me about this and had your beliefs (which by the way I too share) that you should be willing to sit down with your daughter and explain her body parts to her. I would hope you might also be comfortable with sitting down with her with a mirror and showing her each of her parts and explaining what they're called. You may not be interested in doing that, but I too struggled with masturbation and I think I wish my mother had taken a mirror with me, explained it, and taught me what was right and wrong. My struggles with masturbation came because I experimented and didn't understand what I was doing, and then I had trouble stopping. obviously we need to be careful about not shaming her, just explaining where each hole is, what they are for (being developmentally appropriate, since she probably isn't ready for the sex talk) telling her she should touch herself down there to clean, and if she wants to look at her parts she can, but that no one else should touch her down there till she's married. she may have just stuck her finger in their since it's a hole and kids just HAVE to stick their fingers in holes :) but unless you think she's pleasuring herself, you might not have to have that conversation till later. I hope this helps. Good luck!

It is very normal. It is just a stage, but I feel that the more attention they get the longer the stage lasts. Children, especially, like to do the forbidden. I just tell my young son, "I don't want to see it."

I am sorry that there are those few people out there who in spite of what you said still feel that they have to put you down because you do not believe children should be masturbating. I personally feel that it is part of the pornography problem we have in this country. Masturbation is NOT normal, NOT ok, and dont listen to those people who want to convince you that thier choices are the only right way.

That being said, I want to say that I, too, am LDS, and I have struggled with this type of problem with my daughter as well. I think at your daughter's age it is appropriate to tell her that her Heavenly Father created her a beautiful body, but that she needs to keep her hands out of her private parts. Maybe the experience of her fingers smelling funny is enough to deter her from doing it again. As she gets older you can explain why, but for now I would just let her know that it isnt appropriate if you see her doing it again. Good luck, and thanks for standing up for what you believe! I know it gets hard sometimes!

I suggest ignoring it. It is a natural thing which goes away on its own UNLESS she's exposed to any pictures or conversation about masturbation, in which case those ideas could easily encourage her interest. (Even instructions NOT to do it will encourage her interest.)

I had one child who did this briefly at that age.

It is normal for a child to touch ANY part of her body. She is a little human being who's exploring her world. There is no built-in part of the brain which tells her "you can touch anything except your vagina." So please don't worry.

My heart is sinking just reading some of your responses! I guess if you don't know why we believe it is important to teach our kids morality (which INCLUDES masturbation) then you'd think it's "normal". I agree with another lady that believes it is linked to pornography. I'm grateful for your desire to make sure your daughter doesn't go down that difficult road that you've been down and have had to face. What a great mother she has! Why people feel like they have to put you or your religion down is beyond me. It is a hard subject because you don't want them to think their private parts are "bad" when they are older and married. And you don't want to make them more curious. I have 2 little girls 4 & 1 and have had a few discussions with my 4 year old as well. I try to keep them as open and positive as possible so she knows her body is a gift from our Father in Heaven and so she will feel free to ask me questions. I don't think anyone has all the answers, I guess that is why we have prayer : ) I have no doubt that you will figure out exactly how to handle it and be prayerful about it. Good Luck!

I have a 3 year old boy and I am also LDS. It definitely is the age and is completely normal. I agree with the other posts that advise you not to bring attention to it. The only thing I've ever told my son is that we don't touch ourselves in public (one time when he was trying in public). He asked why and I told him it is a private part of our body. Beyond that - we talk matter of factly about his body parts and help him understand what everything is. The more we explain, the less he seems to feel the need to be touching himself all the time. It seems as if the phase is diminishing - at least for now. I agree that it's best to not use words like "bad" or "gross" with this stuff. It is normal for them to be curious and as LDS parents, we just need to help them understand, to the best of their age of understanding, that their bodies - and all of their functions - are beautiful gifts from a loving Heavenly Father that he wants us to use in ways that will make us happiest - and that includes limits just as all our behavior needs limits to maximize our happiness. At the age of 3, I think that just entails understanding on your part that their behavior comes just from curiosity, nothing more, and to help them understand the names of the parts of their 3 year old bodies and to know where & when it is appropriate to be naked or to touch themselves in private places (just not in public) - it usually doesn't require anything more than that. Her curiosity is a phase that will work itself out if nothing else is done or said to draw out that curiosity or to intensify it.

I watch the show the Doctors. Their advice was not to make your child feel like they are doing something wrong, b/c that can lead to problems in the future if you make them feel shameful about it. Many of my friends have had similar issues with this and all have just told their kids that they need restrict this behavior to the privacy of their room.

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