Question: Is it unusual, abnormal or immoral for my child to be fondling his genital organs? I’ve caught him at it several times at home, and once it even happened in public. What should I do? 


There is no reason to be especially concerned about a young child who fondles his or her genital organs from time to time. As a matter of fact, this behaviour is a completely normal expression of early sexuality. So don’t "make a big deal" of it or overreact when you see it happening. If you respond calmly and in an age-appropriate manner, the habit will pass as soon as maturity and social pressure from other children begin to take effect. 

Honest, straightforward talk

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should simply ignore the behaviour. If it becomes obsessive or happens too often in public, you’ll probably want to take steps to discourage it. This requires understanding and some honest, straightforward talk. 

To begin with, you need to know that, in small children, genital fondling does not produce a sexual "charge." Little kids aren’t developmentally equipped for that kind of stimulation. Instead, they engage in this kind of behaviour because they find it self-soothing. Very often it’s a way of dealing with boredom, anxiety or nervousness. If you want to put a stop to it, you should start by narrating the child’s actions for him. Say something like, "I’ve noticed you touching your penis (or vagina) a lot lately." When you do this, be sure to use correct names for body parts. Be frank and open and ask questions – for example, "Why have you been doing this? Does it make you feel good?" 

Help your child understand

At this point you can help the child understand that different body parts produce different feelings when they’re touched. You should also try to delve down beneath the behaviour and pinpoint the emotions that are driving it. Once you’ve identified these deeper issues, try to redirect the behaviour by enabling your child to focus on something else. Point out that there are other ways he can get to sleep or soothe himself or help himself feel more secure. Offer alternatives, like a teddy bear or a pillow or a special blanket. 

If you’re dealing with an older child, some intentional instruction in the area of sex education may be in order. Kids need to explore and discover their own bodies. Sometimes they also need help sorting out their own sensations and understanding what they mean. 

Private vs. public

Depending on the age of your child, you may also want to explain that there are some things we simply don’t do in front of other people (it might be helpful to use the analogy of going to the toilet). These things aren’t evil, just private. If we do them in public, they’re likely to bring ridicule from others. Your purpose in speaking this way is simply to sensitize the child to the social implications of the behaviour. Throughout this conversation, your tone should be firm and confident, not shocked or embarrassed. 

In the final analysis, it’s important to remember that children are not asexual. Your child’s behaviour is merely demonstrating that he’s properly wired. In most cases, the problem eventually resolves itself. So relax and give your child – and yourself – a break.

If you feel a need to discuss this issue at greater length with a member of our staff, please don’t hesitate to contact our counselling department. Our counsellors are available to take your call Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time, at 1.800.661.9800. They’ll be happy to assist you in any way they can.

© 2010 Focus on the Family. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 

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