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Ask the Experts

Question:

Two weeks ago, my wife and I caught my daughter, 8, masturbating. We first have since found out that she has been doing this every day for the past month.

We interrogated her to try to find out where she learned how to do that, but she will not give us any answers. Should we not have interrogated her? What should we do?

Answered by: Anne Marie Albano

Masturbation, or stimulating any body part that feels pleasurable, is not uncommon in children, even very young children. What is not known is whether this behavior is pleasurable, or if your daughter was trying to relieve irritation from a urinary tract infection or some other medical issue.

The main thing to do is not be overly vigilant and not to bring a lot of attention to this in such a way that your daughter feels ashamed or guilty. Inquiring about the behavior is fine, so keep a matter of fact tone and show concern for your daughter.

I suggest that you talk with her pediatrician about this and let the doctor evaluate if there is a medical or other concern that should be followed up. The pediatrican may also counsel you on child development and how to handle these types of concerns, or s/he may refer you to a child psychologist who can give you advice on parenting around these issues. Evaluation of the cause of the behavior is warranted (is this typical development or a medical issue) as is getting some assistance for you in how to manage this if it persists.