How Do I Get My 3 1/2 Year Old to Stop Touching Herself?

Updated on June 29, 2012
N.P. asks from Downey, CA
11 answers

My daughter started touching herself when she was less than a year old. I know it's because she felt the sensation when I would wipe her when changing her diaper. The same thing happened with my second daughter, but she was responsive when I would take her hand away and tell her to stop, plus, I don't wipe with as much pressure now. Anyway, my older daughter is starting to touch herself more often before and after her naps (I know because I catch her on the monitor and her face is flushed). We were told that it's normal and to try to let her know it's not appropriate in front of others. I don't think it's appropriate at all for a child to be touching herself, but when I'd be more forceful, it just backfired so I thought I'd do it more gradually. Unfortunately, she also touches herself at preschool occasionally. Her teaches just ask her to sit up and redirect her attention. What should I do?

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answers from Denver on

I agree with the others - this is normal at this age. My daughter did this as well. We simply stopped her if we were in public and reminded her that this must be done only in her room. We did send her to wash her hands! When my son started at about age 2, we did the same thing and they both learned quickly.

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answers from Gainesville on

I have to respectfully disagree with you that it's inappropriate. She is curious and discovering her body. If you turn it into something bad, dirty or inappropriate she will lose part of control over her body and that's not something as a parent I would want for my child. I want my children to feel empowered that their body is their own and they will have enough confidence in their self to understand that it's ok for them to touch their body but not ok for someone else to touch them. Also, by telling her that it's bad, inappropriate or dirty you are also setting her up for life long issues with her sexual function. Sure, it's a long way off but if she feels her body is dirty or there is something wrong with perfectly natural feelings it sets her up for all kinds of issues down the road.
I think it is extremely important to empower our children that their body is a wonderful, private thing. It's important that she understand that her body is private and she needs to be in private and no where else if she needs to touch herself or is curious.

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answers from Syracuse on

Masturbation and touching one's self is completely normal. Please do your daughter a favor and allow her to do this in private and keep letting her know that she needs to keep this activity private - in her bedroom only (or something). Maybe since she's 3.5, she's too old to be watched on a monitor? Children who are shamed about sex as young children carry this shame with them forever. It's nearly impossible to get over it and leaks into personal relationships in ways you wouldn't predict. I know this from personal experience.

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answers from Anchorage on

There is nothing wrong with this behavior, it is completely normal. She is exploring and discovering her body. If you tell her it is wrong, she will learn to be ashamed of her body and how it feels. That is a lesson that will haunt her the rest of her life. If she touches her self in public, let her know that it is for private time only since those are our private places, but please do not make her feel ashamed, it can do so much harm to a developing young girl.

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answers from Detroit on

if she is in her room and doing this privately I wouldnt say anything. masturbation is not wrong most people (probably everyone) do it ..

you do want to teach her that it is not done in public..

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answers from Minneapolis on

Wow I don't ever think you should be forceful in this situation. I'd have to say at least 90 % of kids go through this stage. Ignoring is one of the best things you could do the more you nag about it the more it can interest them. Our daughter started at about a year, She is now almost five and I hardly ever see her doing it. And we did tell her very politely that it needs to be done in the private of her own room or bathroom. Not to be done where others could see. You may feel that it is not appropriate at all and you may not want to admit it but most likely did it when you were young also. It is a part of life's exploration. There is nothing wrong with it. What it not appropriate is giving the child the fear of touching herself down there, It's her body. Yes if she is still doing it at 10 I would worry a little more but it's life. Just my thoughts.

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answers from Indianapolis on

I agree with those who say that making a big deal about it will probably have the opposite consequence. Kids are curious about their bodies. At 3.5, she has no concept of anything sexual - she just knows that something there feels different.

I'd tell her it's not appropriate to do publicly (just like picking your nose or being naked).

We all know that things/activities that are forbidden are the ones most people are drawn to. Yes, it is natural, and no one likes to talk about it. But, at this age, I don't see any harm because there is no intention behind it.

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answers from Los Angeles on

My daughter went through this phase a couple times around the same age. I just told her that she may do that in private, not in front of others. It worked, and I haven't noticed her doing it lately.

You don't want to make your child feel ashamed, and you want your child to be comfortable with their body - however some actions are just not socially acceptable under any circumstances. Good luck.


answers from Los Angeles on

Follow the teachers' example. You might also say that touching her private area is to for her private time.

You don't want her to stop altogether. It's more than appropriate for her to touch herself when she's alone. Making her feel bad about it is a way to set up some bad body images. No part of her body is bad. And touching herself feels good.

She just needs to know when it's not a good time to do it. So much good luck to you.


answers from Los Angeles on

Been there, N.. Our daughter starting grinding in her high chair around 9 months. She used to do it in the shopping cart, also, and I would have to get really stern with her. She now does it occasionally in the car seat. I've told her it's natural, but personal, and we don't do it in front of others. I don't want her to have some weird hang-up later in life so that's as far as I'll take it. Don't make her feel naughty or like she shouldn't do it. Just tell her that it's private and she shouldn't do it in public. (and btw, it's totally normal :)



answers from Philadelphia on

I am struggling with this same issue. My daughter was just kicked out of preschool over it. She's done it a few times at home, but school--specifically naptime--was the biggest problem. My pediatrician said it is more like a sleep disorder. She has become dependent on it to settle down--but it's only at school. At home, she goes right to bed at night.

When she does it at home, I tell her that it is private and to go to her room--and she ignores me. I have picked her up and she is rigid and won't move her hands away. I absolutely believe that it is a normal behavior, but I do think my daughter is excessive with public displays. I really don't know what to do to get her to be private.

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