There is an old song by the Divinyls called Touch Myself. The song is o.k. – not something I would want to revisit with my kids in the car, but catchy enough. Obviously, the whole song is about masturbation. The best part though, comes at the very end as the music is trailing off. She says, “I honestly do.” As if, after 3 1/2 minutes of proclaiming it to the public at large, we would doubt her integrity on the subject. I’m Catholic. I am waiting for lightning to strike me down at the mere mention of the “M” word. However, now having boys, the topic of kids, shall we say, exploring their bodies is more intriguing to me. My little men are rarely as focused on anything as they are on themselves, in the tub. And who can blame them?
1. Children younger than four, generally have no modesty. They are curious about every part of their body and are curious about other’s bodies. At these younger ages, there is no difference between being curious about a finger and being interested in a penis or a vagina. To them, it is just one more thing to discover. Little boys get erections, usually from manual stimulation and it feels good and different, but not in the way I am told it will feel good later on in life. While we are sexual beings from birth, it is not about sex at all. When she was 2, my daughter accidentally walked in on my husband in the bathroom. She promptly and calmly said, “Hey Dad, is that your tail?” At that age, to discover a human being had a tail would be no big deal. Every single experience is a new one.
2. When children get a little older, between say 4 and 6, they may start to notice the physical difference between the genders. They may become more curious about someone else’s body.
3. What do you say when they touch themselves? Here’s the tricky part and where individual parenting styles come into play. I can only give you my personal opinion. When they are very little, I ignore it. As they get bigger, while it is completely normal to explore the body they own, I would address it. There are places and times when it is inappropriate (of course, deep down, I want to say that it is always inappropriate but I am trying to suppress the repressed Catholic as I parent and as I write this.) Excessive touching can cause irritation or a urinary tract infection – primarily in girls. It will not cause blindness. There would be a whole lot more seeing-eye dogs if it did.
4. What do you say if you find them touching other people? When it comes to touching other people’s private parts, definitely not o.k. I have never been in this situation but I would try to not make my kids feel bad about it. It would be a good opportunity to teach them about their own and other’s personal space. If I came upon them in this situation, I would try very hard not to appear horrified and I hope I would not start screaming, but you never know. I have a college fund to encourage my children’s success and a therapy fund to manage my parenting failures.
5. Answering questions – The key to discussing anything with children is to answer the questions they are asking – not the questions you think they are asking or worse, the ones you want them to ask. Pay attention and read their cues. Often they are not ready for all the information and need to take it in doses. They are smarter than adults about knowing what they don’t need to know. Here’s what the real experts say.
Bottom line – Children touching themselves is normal as long as they are not hurting anyone. Only you as a parent can decide what you can tolerate. Try your best not to make them feel bad. It will only end up costing you later.