Q&A: How do I deal with a sexually-curious preschooler?
When my son was two he began masturbating a lot. I tried to ignore it and tell him to do it in private, and then the daycare owner and her workers brought it to my attention. They said that he was doing it regularly and would become angry if they tried to stop him. I just told them to try to redirect his attention to something else.
After our first discussion, the daycare owner began to tell me that he was "getting into it too much" and kept acting like it was a big problem, although there were other little boys his age masturbating. Later that same week, I went to pick up my son and was told that he had stuck his hand down a little girl's pants. I never took him back.
After that incident I took my son to my friend's babysitter and alerted her to his "exploring stage," but she, too, found it too offensive and suggested it was "weird." I quit my job and I now stay home with my son.
My son is now four and still masturbates regularly, and I can't help but feel worried that there may be a problem. Are there certain things to watch for that aren't normal? Is there something else I should be doing for him to stop?
Please help. I'm embarassed, worried, and feel frustrated about this situation.
Young children are explorers and are naturally curious about their own bodies as well as others’. Masturbation in toddlerhood isn’t a ‘sexual’ experience, it’s merely a pleasurable one.
The same applies in the preschool years, though some children tend to masturbate more than others. Stress can increase self-stimulatory and self-soothing behaviors, though you should be seeing other signs of stress as well–anxiety, unusually strong fears and phobias, and difficulty sleeping, to name a few examples.
Assuming that your child is otherwise thriving and developing normally, the habit of masturbation isn’t any kind of a sign of later sexual orientation or tendencies. Your responses two years ago to the daycare providers were the right ones.
However, your son will soon be entering the wider world of school and needs to adapt to the customs of our culture, one of which is frowning upon public masturbation. Forbidding it isn’t advisable, as it is ‘normal’, but you can begin to teach your son that certain activities are best done in private. Two years ago he was too young to understand this, but he should now. Choose a place that gives him privacy, but one that doesn’t feel like a punishment, then establish the rule that this is where this activity is ok.