(age three) has discovered masturbation (at this point rubbing
a toy on his genitals or rubbing on the floor). Before I became a Catholic
(this year), I would have probably said something like go to your room,
honey, if you need to do that..., but now that I know it is just WRONG,
I dont want to allow him to do this any more than I would allow him
to eat whatever he wants at every meal. At the same time, I dont want
to do anything to inhibit a healthy/correct view for the future of his
body/sexuality (or make a big deal so he does it for negative attention)
I have been first trying to distract him and if that doesnt work I
then tell him (strongly) to stop. He often gets upset, even very angry, and
doesnt want to. I often force him to stop by removing him from the
room and helping him get involved in something else. This doesnt work
well if we are in the car.
How do you recommend I handle this situation? Is it OK to forcefully make
him stop? Is discipline like time-out called for? I pray for his purity and
try not to worry (but I do). Priests or friends say dont worry because
he cant really sin at this age, but I know he can certainly develop
bad habits that could become a pattern of sin later.
efore you can do anything about
your sons masturbation, its important to be clear in your own mind
about the reason why masturbation is wrong. If you are not clear about the matter,
then you cannot be clear about what to say to your son, and if you are not
clear about what you say to him, then trying to make him stop masturbating
will be like trying to take a bone away from a dog. He will growl and snarl
and you will be left feeling frustrated and angry.
The Meaning of
Masturbation is wrong for one
simple reason: it defiles the God-given reproductive purpose of our
God designed the male and female
genitals for the sacred purpose of reproduction, thus allowing a man and
a woman to conceive a child and thence to raise that child in a holy environment
so that the child can grow to love and serve God. A child, therefore, is
the parents gift to God of a holy soul who can fill up the ranks of
the fallen angels.
Consequently, to use the genitals
for mere self-gratification is a defilement of Gods
Now, for an adult who can comprehend
the concept of reproduction, the misuse of the genitals would be a grave
sin. But a child who has no understanding of reproduction cannot comprehend
why masturbation is wrong. To the child, masturbation simply feels good.
Moreover, to the child, masturbation has nothing to do with
Masturbation is Not a Sexual Pleasure
Even though most adults fail
to understand this, the psychological truth about childhood masturbation
is that it has nothing to do with sexuality. Yes, masturbation, by definition,
is self-stimulation of the genitals, and the genitals are organs of sexual
reproduction. That part is true.
But to a child masturbation is
simply a form of self-soothing. In its essence, it is no different from thumb
sucking; both behaviors derive pleasure from bodily stimulation. Masturbation
is different than thumb sucking, however, in that it utilizes private, sacred parts
of the body. A thumb is always in public view, and so a thumb is not surrounded
with feelings of secrecy. The genitals, however, are usually kept private
and hidden from view because of their sanctity, but to those who do not understand
sanctity, an element of secrecyand shamesurrounds the genitals.
Therefore, when a child discovers
masturbation as a source of soothing pleasure, the child enters into a
psychological state of exploring the unknown and the forbidden.
The Unknown and
Imagine how any child feels when
surrounded by a vast and mysterious world. In the midst of rules and traditions
that adults seem to take for granted, the child will feel ignorant and helpless
and will be driven by an urge to acquire a sense of power and efficacy to
compensate for a
sense of not knowing.
Now imagine what will happen
when a child is confronted with a Do Not Enter sign on a door, for
example. To a child driven by the urge to acquire a sense of knowledge and
power, the words Do Not Enter will reverberate with enticement. If
they dont want me going in there, it must be something special. I wonder
what it is? To a child, then, forbidden usually means
something to be desired and explored because
someone else surely must be enjoying it.
This leads us to an odd psychological
irony: to tell your child that he is doing something bad only increases
his desire for it.
So what can you do when you find
him masturbating? Telling him that masturbation is bad, just
because you know that masturbation is bad, wont help him one bit. How
can he stop doing something if he cannot comprehend why it is
Well, first lets consider
some clinical issues.
Given that masturbation is a
form of self-soothing, you should be alert for any psychological reasons
causing your son to need to soothe himself. Here are some special clinical
issues for inquiry.
Investigate the possibility
that someone could be
abusing your son.
Is your son in daycare?
If he is, then it would be helpful to determine if he masturbates in that
setting and what the teacher does about it. For example, you could be working
at cross purposes with a liberal teacher who condones, or even encourages, his
You might also try
to determine if he learned this behavior from other children, whether siblings
or neighbors, especially older children who were taught to
masturbate by sexual indoctrination programs in school.
Are there any current
underlying conflicts between you and your husband that your son could be
husband actively involved with the family? Is your
sons behavior a symbolic response to his need for attention from his
How did you feel
about your sons conception? What were the circumstances of the conception?
Was it planned? How did you feel about your son as you carried him in the
womb? Were you experiencing any emotional turmoil about other matters during
the time of your pregnancy? How did you feel about your son in the initial
months of his life? Was he
difficult or not? Any of these
issues could be an unconscious reason for anxiety that your son is trying to
alleviate with masturbation.
Therefore, even though it might
seem that masturbation is something a child just discovers,
it can really be a symptom of a deeper, emotional problem that might now
need to be addressedwith some outside professional help, if
What You Can
At this point, there are two topics
to consider. One topic concerns what can be done now to correct the behavior of
your son who has probably not been taught, right from his birth, to live in respect
for the holy. The second topic concerns the ways parents can raise their children,
right from birth, to respect the holy so as to avoid the need for any drastic
correction later in life.
Below are several interrelated
behavioral techniques that you can use to help your son stop masturbating,
whether or not there may be clinical issues as well.
Give a name to the masturbation that
your son can understand at the level of his own language skills. Calling
it that (as in Dont do
that !) only makes the whole subject seem mysterious. You might
therefore refer to his behavior as playing with the private parts of
Affirm his reality. Let him know that, in regard to his personal
experience, he is not inferior in knowledge to you. He knows that masturbating
feels good. You know it too. So just acknowledge it: Playing with the
private parts of your body feels good; I understand that.
Encourage him to identify with adult behavior. But be careful here.
If you shame him by saying, Stop that! Adults dont do that!
you will only drive his behavior into secrecy. Instead, calmly say, Adults
who love God respect the private parts of their bodies as holy and do not play
with their bodies like toys. You can love God like that too.
Teach your son that his body is the temple of
the Holy Spirit. Explain to him, constantlyand in increasingly
mature terms as he growshow he can care for his body as an instrument
of divine will. Demonstrate to him, through your own example, how all aspects
of caring for the bodyeating, grooming, playing, and restingare
ways to sanctify the body. Explain to him that the desire for divine love
is more important than any other desire. Show him how to satisfy bodily
needs by subordinating bodily
desires to the supreme desire for
Do what almost every parenteven those who call themselves devout
Catholicsfail miserably in doing: nurture your childs
desire for the holy. Realize that because of
his drive to understand the world (including his body) he already has the
desire to feel good. Now teach him that there is something more powerful
and more mysterious than feeling good with masturbation. Teach him
about the love of God. Rather than stifle his curiosity
with the shame of the forbidden, take his hands, join them together in front
of him, and say, Let me show you something really, really, special.
This is how we pray to God, who is a powerful Father to all of us and who
protects us when we feel scared and who teaches us everything we need to
know about the world. Then recite the Our Father with
If your son persists in masturbating even after you pray with him,
then, instead of getting into a battle of wills with him, simply give him
permission to play with
and then take one of several possible responses depending on the
You might say, If
you want to play with your body, you have my permission. But go over into
the corner by yourself, and, when you are finished, then we can resume [doing
whatever activity you were doing previous to the masturbation].
Or, you might say,
If you want to play with your body, you have my permission. When you
are finished, then we can [do something together that he really enjoys].
Then ignore him until he responds positively.
The point here is that your son
will have to decide to stop masturbating of his own will in order to receive
attention and participate in family activity. The key here is repetitive
So lets go on now to consider
what you could have done, or might still door what any parent can
doto raise a child to revere the holy right from birth.
Raising Children to
Revere the Holy
Teaching a child to revere the holy
should begin in the womb, with blessings, and should continue through infancy
and childhood with blessings, prayer, and teaching.
While the child is still in the womb,
give it a blessing in the morning and evening and several times a day by making
the Sign of the Cross over the womb and saying audibly, May our Lord Jesus
Christ bless you and protect you, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the
After the childs birth, whenever
you fetch the child from bed and when you put the child to bed, make the Sign of
the Cross on the childs forehead with your thumb and say audibly, May
our Lord Jesus Christ bless you and protect you, in the name of the Father and of
the Son and of the Holy Spirit. As the child gets older, you can teach the
child to say his or her own prayers on waking and going to sleep.
Whenever you feed the child, make the
Sign of the Cross on the child and say audibly, Bless us, O Lord, and this
food which [name of child] is about to receive, in the name of the Father and of
the Son and of the Holy Spirit. As the child gets older, you can teach the
child to make the Sign of the Cross himself or herself, and, ultimately, to say
along with you the standard Catholic blessing (Bless us, O Lord, and these
Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord.
While the child is an infant, hold the
child in your arms or lap while you audibly pray vocal prayers such as the Rosary
and the Liturgy of the Hours. This will teach the child to sit quietly during periods
of prayer and worship. As the child gets older, he or she can join you in the
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
let your child witness you praying and giving thanks. For example, before leaving
home, go before the crucifix and ask for protection, and give a blessing to your
home; on arriving home, do the same, giving thanks. Let your child see you constantly
engaged in prayerful interaction with God. Whenever possible, pray audibly, rather
than silently, so that the child can learn from you how to pray.
When the child is old enough to understand,
every time you bathe the child, teach him or her that the genitals are to be kept
private because of their holiness before God, and that they are not to played with
When the child asks about babies and where
they come from, explain that the genitals are used by adults in marriage to make babies.
Explain that a girl has a special, holy place inside her for a baby to grow,
but that it doesnt work until adulthood. Tell the child that just before
adolescence, when the genitals begin to work, you will explain the details.
1. Giving permission is a
temporary psychological method that utilizes paradox to bypass resistance;
its neither a declaration that masturbating is OK nor an
attempt to condone sin. The goal here is to stop a behavior without causing
long-lasting emotional scars from a shameful, guilt-producing battle of
A treasure of a resource for psychological and spiritual healing. Information
gathered from my websites (including this webpage) is now available at your fingertips
in book form.
Falling Families, Fallen Children by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. Do
our children see a mother and a father both living in contemplative love for
God with a constant awareness of His presence and engaged in an all-out battle
with the evil of the world? More often than not our children donít see living
faith. They donít see protection from evil. They donít see genuine, fruitful
devotion. They donít see genuine love for God. Instead, they see our external
acts of devotion as meaningless because they see all the other things we do that
contradict the true faith. Thus we lose credibilityóand when parents lose credibility,
children become cynical and angry and turn to the social world around them for
identity and acceptance. They are children who have more concern for social approval
than for loving God. They are fallen children. Letís bring them back.