So you are just realizing that the “How To…” manual that arrived with your kid at birth conveniently forgot to mention what you should do when your toddler begins engaging in self-touch, and now you’re frantically goggling “why is my baby masturbating” at 11PM because you are uncomfortable or think your child might be doing something weird. Have no fear! I am here to tell you that it is A-Okay and it is going to happen A LOT more… and by a lot, I mean, until they die.
But lets back up. You walk into the living room and you see your 2.5/3-year-old child with his/her/their hands down their pants and their touching their genitals. No problem! This is totally normative and something they should be doing. It’s natural. It feels good and it self soothes. No, your child is not having erotic thoughts and no, this is not necessarily an indicator of sexual trauma (something parents tend to worry about if their child touches themselves). Erotic thought does not begin until roughly 11-12 years of age, generally speaking, around the beginning of puberty. At this point it is merely because it feels nice and can help them regulate.
So what do you do when you notice it? Try to act cool. Acknowledge that it is a part of their body that is special and feels good. But suggest that they do it in a safe and private place, i.e. the bathroom or their bedroom. Creating healthy boundaries, while keeping the sex- shaming to a minimum, sets the stage for their own healthy boundary development and helps them recognize that what they are doing is NORMAL and not weird or inappropriate. If you have further concerns about your child’s behavior, consult with your pediatrician or seek out a referral to a sex therapist that specializes in childhood sexuality/development.
Oh, and you’re doing a great job! This parenting thing is not easy!