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34 years
My son is 5 years old and he usually puts his hands on his penis when watching tv or sitting. Why? and how shall I react or what shall I do?
Aug 31, 2014

Dr. Zakia Dimassi Pediatrics
Masturbation in a child of this age is a normal behavior as long as it does not cause distress, there are no other sexual behaviors, and the child is otherwise well and developing normally. Children will learn about their own and others sexuality both verbally and physically. Studies of young children’s sexual behavior showed a spectrum of normative verbal and non-verbal behaviors at different ages, from usually subtle and harmless (i.e. stands too close to people), to potentially disturbing (such as touching the private parts of other children). Children exhibit the most sexual behaviors around the age of < 4 years, after which a constant withdrawal of such behaviors is seen starting around 5 years of age. This applies to both sexes. This may be due to children learning that these are private behaviors and thus parents are less likely to see and report the behaviors.
There are different causes of sexual behavior problems in children. Since sexual behavior is learned, in most cases it is the result of what children have seen or experienced. In families where there is a lot of conflict or stress, children may begin to act in sexual ways. Other factors may contribute to sexual behavior problems, including trouble controlling impulses, difficulty getting along with others, or not being watched closely enough by parents or caregivers.
Some parents worry that discussing sexuality will encourage sexual behaviors. On the contrary, teaching children about sexuality is important, as long as it’s done properly. You can address your son by starting to explain the concept of personal boundaries, and clarifying that although the act of rubbing his penis makes him feel good, he should be doing only in his room or in the bathroom, never in the living room or around other people. You should also try to teach him proper names for male and female genitals.
In the event he asks questions about genitals, or their function, you should give straightforward simple clear answers. You may use the following rules (for now and for future reference):
 Offer simple, accurate information for the question being asked. Depending on the child’s age and knowledge, offer simple basic information about bodily functions including urination, defecation, puberty, sexual reproduction, pregnancy and childbirth.
 Make sure the child is supervised around other children until the problem has been addressed.
 Find out as much as possible about the behavior: exactly what is the behavior, how often does it happen and in what situations, how has it been handled.
 Have the child re-ask the question or explain their question so you can make sure you are answering the correct question.
 Establish and reinforce personal boundary rules: private parts should be covered, one does not touch other people’s private parts, touching private parts should occur only in private
 Provide accurate names for male and female body parts from the onset
 Masturbation is a normal behavior at any age, but it should be done in private
 Provide sexual safety information such as your body belongs to you. The child can say NO at any time if someone’s touch makes them feel uncomfortable. Teach ways to avoid risky situations such as stranger safety.
 Make sure the child knows exactly what behavior is allowed and what is not. Praise positive behavior. Have clear and consistent consequences for misbehavior. Give children the skills to handle emotions or temptations.
 Even if parents are uncomfortable that they may say something wrong, they are communicating with the child and trying to answer their questions. It’s acceptable to say, “I don’t know” and then find an answer. A child is more likely to continue to talk about sexuality and other topics with the parent if all communication at home is open.
 Create a family environment that does not expose children to sexual behaviors, conversations or materials (videos, TV, video games).

Reasons to be concerned if any sexual behaviors include anything that:
 Is clearly beyond the child’s developmental age
 Involves children of widely different ages
 Causes strong emotions in the child
 Involves aggression, threats or force