Children are naturally curious about their bodies and discover their genitals in the same way that they discovered their fingers and toes. Toddlers often reach down into the genital region during diaper changes and when they are undressed for a bath. While touching their genitals, children often feel pleasure and may continue to touch themselves for pleasure or self-comfort (masturbate).
Occasional masturbation is very common and part of normal sexual development. Self-stimulation does not mean that a child has been sexually abused or that a child will become promiscuous in later life. Many toddlers masturbate when they are bored or tired. If your toddler touches his genitals at bedtime or naptimes when he is tired, consider simply ignoring the behavior. If he does it at other times out of boredom, try distracting him with other activities.
It's important to realize that children don't have a sense of modesty until about 3 or 4 years of age, so it's not embarrassing for them to touch themselves in public. However, since masturbation in public may be embarrassing for parents or other caregivers, it is appropriate to set limits for this behavior. If your child masturbates in public, gently remind her that touching herself is OK in private (for example, in her bedroom or the bathroom), but it should not be done in front of other people. This idea must be consistently shared with your child by all of her caretakers.
If your child's masturbating seems compulsive or is interfering with his regular activities, you should discuss this with your child's pediatrician. Otherwise, approach the situation casually self-exploration is a normal part of development.
Last updated May 29, 2011