My Child Touches Their Genitals: How Should I React?
Even in the 21st century, sexuality is a topic that many people are uncomfortable talking about. Some parents even avoid broaching the subject with their young children because they argue that it doesn’t make sense to talk about sex until adolescence. But it must be stressed that sexuality is much more than an act, and that it begins to develop from birth. During infancy, children begin to explore their bodies, recognize the sensations that touching produces, and discover their tastes and their needs. This leads many adults to the dilemma of not knowing how to react when their child touches their genitals.
This subject isn’t usually talked about openly and clearly because it’s surrounded by ignorance and various myths that make us uncomfortable. For this reason, adults don’t always react in a healthy and appropriate way. However, with information, we can react constructively and have the resources to differentiate a normal behavior from one that isn’t.
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Why your child touches their genitals
Masturbation, even in infancy, is nothing more than the stimulation of the areas of our body that give us pleasure, or erogenous zones. As children grow up, they begin to discover and explore their own bodies and may develop a predilection for touching those parts they find most pleasurable, such as the genitals.
This type of behavior begins in the first months of life but is accentuated at the time of diaper removal, as the genital organs become more accessible. Self-stimulation at this age is totally normal and we shouldn’t forget that children don’t have any awareness of what they’re doing nor do they assign it the same meaning as an adult does. Therefore, the child isn’t able to judge when their behavior is appropriate and when it’s not. They’ll learn this progressively as they get older.
Hopefully, by the age of 6, children will be able to understand that they shouldn’t stimulate themselves in public. But in order for that to happen, their parents should have guided them beforehand.
Some children will continue to stimulate themselves in private and others will stop doing so for different reasons. These exploratory behaviors are crucial to the normal development of infants, even if they don’t think about it. The way in which this learning is acquired will influence the child’s self-esteem and sexual health in adulthood.
How should we react to this behavior?
Some parents believe that these exploratory behaviors of children are bad, dirty, or unhealthy, but the reality is that they’re not. On the contrary, they’re a benefit for the health and well-being of children, who in the future will be adults.
In this sense, sex education plays a key role and we must be clear about how to react to these behaviors that are part of the development and learning of all people. Here are some recommendations.
We mustn’t forget that self-exploration is a normal behavior of the child and a learning process. Therefore, we must react naturally and calmly, because it’s not a bad thing or a danger for them.
This way, we’ll prevent them from viewing sex as a negative issue, and also, our actions will reinforce their confidence so that they can turn to us when they need it.
Don’t pay too much attention to it
We all know that children like to be laughed at and have our undivided attention. That’s why they can sometimes use this action as a way to upset us or to get the attention of adults.
If your child notices that every time he does it, someone pays attention to them or scolds them, they may do it more often.
Don’t scold or punish your child
Punishment is never the most effective way to change behavior. Other alternatives are much more effective, such as distracting them with another activity or explaining to them that, although their behavior isn’t bad, they should not replicate it in certain places or situations.
If we scold the child, we’ll make them associate their sexuality and their body with negative emotions, such as guilt or shame. In the long run, this can lead to enormous emotional damage.
Talk naturally about sex with your child
However, always gradually and with a language adapted to their level of understanding and age, giving them the information they ask for or clarifying any doubts that may arise (from what they hear or see at school).
Don’t refer to sex as dirty
If we have to explain to the child why their behavior isn’t appropriate at that time or place, it’s important that we don’t refer to their genitals as something dirty. If we do, we’ll make them feel guilty or ashamed of what they’re doing and this wouldn’t be positive for their development.
Be in communication with teachers, family members, and other caretakers
If children engage in these exploratory behaviors in public or in situations where we’re not present, it’s important to talk to the teacher or family members about how we’re addressing the issue. What we need to make sure is that they react in a natural and healthy way, without embarrassing or ridiculing the child.
As parents, it’s normal for us to want to keep up with everything our children are doing. However, as they get older, they need their space and privacy. It’s good to share moments together and communicate openly, but we shouldn’t try to “catch them” because they’ll notice it and this will affect them.
About how to react if your child touches their genitals, we can say that…
Now you know how to react when your child touches his genitals. Don’t forget that sexuality begins from the first months of life and is part of the normal development of the child.
Therefore, it’s important to have a good sex education that doesn’t demonize sex and that allows us to be who we are. Of course, without losing sight of the age and level of understanding of children.
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Arnal, R. B., & Llario, M. D. G. (2006). La sexualidad en niños de 9 a 14 años. Psicothema, 18(1), 25-30. En internet: https://www.redalyc.org/pdf/727/72718104.pdf
- Vargas, S. C. (2006). Educación de la expresión de la sexualidad y la inteligencia emocional en niñas, niños y adolescentes con derechos. Revista Electrónica” Actualidades Investigativas en Educación”, 6(3), 0. En internet: https://www.redalyc.org/pdf/447/44760313.pdf
- Smith Brett, I. M., & Alonzo, S. (1996). Conocimientos sobre sexualidad de los niños de 7 a 10 años de edad. Bol. méd. postgrado, 63-9. En internet: https://pesquisa.bvsalud.org/portal/resource/pt/lil-212661
- Serra ME. (2020) Educación sexual integral. El rol del pediatra. Arch Argent Pediatr ;118(2):84-86. Disponible en: https://www.sap.org.ar/docs/publicaciones/archivosarg/2020/v118n2a02.pdf