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How to handle masturbation in a pre-schooler?

How to handle masturbation in a pre-schooler?

My daughter is 3 years old and masturbates. How do I get her to stop?

Elizabeth Walenz | Pediatrician

Elizabeth Walenz

Self-exploration is not uncommon in the preschool age group.  Normal 3 to 4 year old children have an innate need to explore both their parents’ and their own bodies.  During exploration is when children in this age group can discover masturbation.  Often, children will begin to masturbate because it feels good. Masturbation has no medical causes. 

Masturbation does not cause any physical injury or harm to the body.  It does not mean that your child will be oversexed, promiscuous or sexually deviant. 

It is a good idea to set forth some ground rules for your 3 year old.  I would recommend to discuss with her that you acknowledge that the masturbation behavior feels good, but it is inappropriate to do in public places.  You might suggest that she may go to her bedroom to perform behavior if need be. 

Distraction can work as well. If you notice that she is playing or sitting and begins to masturbate, you can give her an alternative activity to do or toy to play with to keep her hands busy.  By age 4-5 years of age, children can become sensitive to other people’s feelings and understand that they should masturbate only when they are alone. 

Try to increase physical contact with your child as well. Spend at least one hour of every day as special time together and increase the physical affection that your child receives in the form of hugs and snuggling.

A common mistake is to try to eliminate the behavior.  Eliminating the behavior  or labeling the behavior as bad or dirty can lead to a power struggle and resistance from the child.

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