This post was inspired by a reader’s question.  It’s funny, just when I feel like this ministry is not worth the effort, someone pops along reminding me of why I do this.

The reader writes:

What should parents do when they find their young daughters masturbating?
Should parents stop their children?  Redirect them?  What should they do
when their daughter is only two years old?  What should they do if a friend
introduces it to them?

It’s a stellar question and one I identify with because, much like the reader, I must have discovered masturbation as a young young young girl.  I have known how to masturbate for as long as I can remember.  Not that that’s something I am proud of; it’s just the truth.  How I wish I could look back and know the point when it all started and be able to pinpoint what could have been done to prevent it.  My life would have been spared a lot of grief.  Sadly, I can’t do that.  What I can do, is offer thoughts for those who are raising the next generation of princesses.

First off, you need to have an awareness of the natural.  All children go through a stage of self-discovery.  Babies discover their toes, their hands, their voices and like to investigate these new attributes of themselves.  Feet are flung up in the air and grabbed and squeezed and tickled.  Hands reach out for toys, bend to grasp a Cheerio and, of course, get shoved in the mouth resulting in the discovery of our gag reflex.  Trying out our voice results in screams for no good reason and syllabic babble.  Self-discovery is part of who we are, and, like it or not, at some point that discovery will involved the more intimate areas of our body. 

I have worked in the nursery with little boys who grab at their boy parts and it results in one of two reactions from the nursery workers.  One borders on anger, “No! Don’t do that! Yucky!” and a slap on the hand.  Another just ignores this exploration and works around the wayward hands until all parts are safely covered in cotton.  Now, is that little boy masturbating?  Of course not!  He is trying to learn about this part of his body that he has just recently discovered.  Girls are the same way, though their discovery may be delayed just because of the anatomical structure of their bodies. 

Still, most experts address this problem of ‘masturbation’ occurring often even in preschool children.  It’s obvious, though, that these children are not masturbating the way we view masturbation.  They are simply understanding that it feels good to touch their bodies.  As one expert says, some children suck their thumb, others twirl their hair. 

So, how do we, as Christians, raise our children to be comfortable with their bodies without being a slave to their bodies?

1) Don’t use negative words. 

Parents are so bad about this sometimes.  “No, Johnny!  No! Don’t touch yourself there.  That’s bad.”  It shouldn’t be too hard for us to see the kind of confusion that this can cause later in life.  If Johnny is raised to believe that his male additions (I am not using anatomically correct terms here because I don’t want every sicko in the world to find this blog post) are bad, how on earth are you supposed to reconcile intercourse with Johnny later.  What?  When he gets married, all of the sudden it will be good?  How does that work?  What happens if, later in life, a friend introduces him to masturbation, and hey! it feels good.  Now what?

2. Don’t encourage private places

One expert, a secular one, encourages a response that affirms that it feels good to touch ones genitals but that it should only be done in a private place, like a bedroom.  What a fantastically bad idea.  You are encouraging your child to live a private life outside of your control.  You are setting up boundaries at a young age that if something is done in the bedroom, behind closed doors, it’s fine.  Will you treat pornography the same way?  No?  Then where is the line.

3.  See the deeper need

Psychologically, experts say that the reason kids toy with themselves is simply because they are in need of attention.  Think about it, if your little girl begins rubbing her eyes and twirling her hair, what do you do?  My response is to scoop her up in my arms and rest her against my shoulder until she sleeps.  Likewise, touching boy or girl parts could simply be your child’s current indication that he or she is tired or bored.  So, what do you do?  Well, you offer interpersonal interaction.  You cuddle and treat the same as if she were sucking her thumb. 

4.  Don’t let them linger

This kind of ties in with the previous one.  If you teach your child that the most fulfilling interaction is found when he or she comes to you, they will eventually lose interest in ‘masturbation.’  If, however, you fail to ‘redirect’ their emotion, then you run the risk of them truly discovering themselves and having to deal with the real deal.  If you notice it is a problem as they enter kindergarten age (or at least are old enough to understand boundaries of some sort) you do need to speak up.  Your job is not to shelter themselves from their own bodies, but you are trying to protect them from pain.  Feel free to use hygeiene as a reason, and it is a great one (and true!).

In short, you don’t want to wrap police tape around your child’s pelvis and say, “Do Not Touch!”  They will explore, much like they will explore there public parts.  Allow that time.  Allow them to be comfortable with their own bodies, but also help them establish a healthy level of comfort.  You cannot shelter them from sexuality… they will figure it out.  It does not take a rocket scientist.  Instead, you can help meet the emotional needs of their lives in order to steer them away from fulfilling those needs sexually before it is time.