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|Quick reference medical handouts used
by Pediatric offices
When Young Children Handle their Genitals
Babies are curious little beings. The older they get, the more they
explore everything around them. During the seventh or eighth month of
life, a baby starts to explore parts of her body. She discovers her ears
and can't resist poking her fingers in them. She may in turn reach
for someone else's ears. The same applies to her nose, eyes, and
mouth. As she discovers each of these body parts, she compares her own to
those of siblings or parents by touching, pulling, and carefully
examining. These body parts are always exposed, and thus she has
easy access to them.
At bat time or diapering time, parts of Baby's body that are generally
covered become exposed. This is a natural time for him or her to touch and
explore genitals. It is best to consider exploration of the genitals in
same category as pulling at hair or playing with toes. Mom and Dad should
treat the behavior casually.
Parents sometimes fear that if they permit touching of the genitals,
their baby will develop a bad habit of doing so frequently. While it is
that the genitals have a greater sensitivity than other parts of the body,
young child rarely becomes preoccupied with this activity. Even if a baby
seems to reach for his genitals often, it is much more effective to divert
his attention cheerfully than to say "no, no" or "naughty" or to slap his
hand. These reactions may very well intensify the behavior rather than
Brothers and sisters can be a big hindrance when parents want to respond
casually to exploration of the genitals. They might giggle, squeal, and
"Look what she's doing."
A good response would be: "She's just finding
out about her different body parts. Please don't laugh and yell at her, or
she will think it's funny and do it to get attention. Why don't you shake
this rattle for her while I finish putting her diaper on?"
There is a difference between exploration of the genitals and prolonged
stimulation. A young child who is constantly fondling himself is
in an attempt to fulfill some need.
Children who are left alone in their cribs for long periods of time
without any stimulation may seek ways of entertaining themselves. Perhaps
there is intense trauma in the baby's life such as a divorce or death of a
loved one. Tension and anxiety can also be caused by frequent quarreling
between parents. Anxious conditions cause a baby to find comfort within
himself that may take the form of masturbation.
If there are no obvious causes for trauma in
Baby's life that would explain such behavior,
parents should do some investigating. Fondling of
the genitals is one sign of sexual abuse by a
baby-sitter or other close person.
Fondling of the genitals in public is often embarrassing to parents,
grandparents, or anyone caring for a child. When a youngster reaches the
of two or three, an adult may be tempted to threaten the child in order to
get him or her to stop. If adults ignore children when they touch their
genitals in public, it rarely becomes a problem habit.
Looking at and fondling of the genitals is a normal part of growing up.
Parents should treat such behavior as casually as the child does. Children
who are reared by loving parents in a pleasant and stimulating environment
rarely find it necessary to meet their needs from excessive handling of
genitals. Baby's touching of these body parts becomes a problem only if
people around him consider it one and make it one.
Merle B. INarnes, Ed D and posted on kidsgrowth.com 09-22-06
As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as
medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your childs pediatrician.
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