Moms and dads are usually prepared to deal with masturbation during the teen years, so seeing your toddler touch his or her genitals can come as a shock to first-time parents. But the truth is that children as young as 18 months old masturbate, and it is a natural behavior for both boys and girls.

For children between 0-4 years, it’s normal and appropriate for children to be curious about their private parts, to ask questions and want to talk about them, and to show, touch, or rub their own genitals. It is common and frequent in young children, particularly as they become preschool age. The frequency of this behavior tends to decline as children enter elementary school, and then increases again during puberty. A parent should be concerned if a child is exhibiting any of this type of behavior:

  • Has sexual knowledge beyond what would be expected at their age/stage of development.
  • Exhibits sexual behaviors that are accompanied by force, aggression or coercion.
  • Exhibits behaviors that affect other areas of the child’s life, for example their achievement or attendance at school.
  • Touching one’s genitals becomes a compulsive behavior (something the child can’t stop doing). 

It’s important that parents never make their children feel ashamed or that they’re doing something “wrong” or “bad” when this behavior happens. Toddlers don’t understand the concept of privacy, but once a child is between 4 and 6 years old, you can start to explain that while there is nothing wrong with touching yourself “down there,” it is something that should be done in private. You can say something like, “Honey, that is something we do in the privacy of our bedrooms,” or, “Mommy doesn’t touch herself in the living room, either.” It will take a while for the child to fully understand this, so expect for it to be an ongoing conversation.

Takeaways

  • Children as young as 18 months old masturbate, and it is a natural behavior for both boys and girls.
  • For children between 0 to 4 years, it’s normal and appropriate for children to be curious about their private parts, to ask questions and want to talk about them, and to show, touch or rub their own genitals.
  • It’s important that parents never make their child feel ashamed or that they’re doing something “wrong” or “bad” when this behavior happens.

References

  1. Psych Central. Is It Normal for a Toddler to Touch Themselves?
  2. Mayo Clinic. Talking to toddlers and preschoolers about sex.

Comments

  1. I appreciate that you are posting this article because this topic is something that seems a bit taboo these days. I remember the look of terror on my husbands face the first time my daughters fingers starting roaming when she was diaper-less. I jumped in saying that she was just exploring. I like the recommendation of stating that this is something to be done in private. I think that if we approach this topic as something that is natural but private it will stop our children from having negative connotations of exploring their bodies.

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  2. Interesting- I’m glad advice was given on what to do when it DOES happen. I would have had no idea what to say if I encountered it! Saying, “that is something we do in the privacy of our bedrooms” is WAY better than saying OMG DONT DO THAT EVER!!!

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  3. I notice that my four year old likes to touch herself while she is in the bath tub and I know it is because she is curious. I can tell she is shy about it because she usually only does it when I walk out to grab something really quickly and when I walk back in she stops. I get a little shy myself and know it is only natural but I can’t help it sometimes.

    Reply

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