Posted: Apr 10, 2013 12:00 PM
There's little to gain in making masturbation a taboo topic between you and your child. If you haven't already, have a frank (if not somewhat mortifying) conversation about masturbation with your teen or child. As awkward as it might be, you could be saving your teen from negative body image and shame related to her body.

As kids mature and develop, they discover their bodies. Kids don't develop at the same pace. Some may discover masturbation earlier than others. As you offer your child guidance when it comes to normal biological functions and development, get ready to talk about masturbation. We've talked to leading experts to find out how to talk to your kid, even if you're uncomfortable.

Remind yourself that this is normal behavior

"Masturbation is more than normal, virtually all children masturbate at some time in childhood even if they don't realize that is what they are actually doing," says Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, bestselling author and television commentator. "Genitals have sensitivity in childhood and it is really quite expectable that when a child figures out they can feel pleasurable feelings they will do so." Dr. Saltz's book, Changing You!: A Guide to Body Changes and Sexuality, helps parents open a healthy dialogue, removing mystery and negativity from the body.

Don't deter or shame your child

If parent's 'catch' their children masturbating, the absolute worst thing they can do is reprimand them or shame them.

Psychotherapist Juliana Neiman stresses the importance of positivity with talking to kids about masturbation. "Parents should be able to explain to children that it is normal to touch themselves as it feels good," says Neiman. "And they also need to teach them that they should do that in private, not because it is taboo or bad, just because there are things we do in private and not in public. If parents catch their children masturbating, the absolute worst thing they can do is reprimand them or shame them. Quite the contrary, they must tell them that what they are doing is natural and feels good, again, in private."

Focus on your child's emotional well being

While masturbation is normal, even at a young age, frequency may be a sign of stress. "Masturbating is stress relieving for all humans, and if a child is doing it frequently then you should question whether your child is having too much stress of anxiety and help them with that issue," says Dr. Saltz. If your child or teen seems unusually ashamed or concerned about body talk, this may be a sign of unhealthy body image or anxiety related to the body and sex. Parents can become a foundation for healthy body image. "They absolutely need to sit down with their children and talk to them about the meaning of self esteem, self care, body esteem, and explain to them that everybody is lovable and deserving of love," says Neiman.

So when do you bring it up?

Let your child's questions guide how much detail you go into.

While some parents may feel inclined to wait until a child asks about bodies and sex, it's important to recognize that kids may also be scared to bring sex-related questions up. "Let's assume that as a general rule, beginning to talk to children about sexuality is good at about 8 years old," says Neiman. Let your child's questions guide how much detail you go into. "Overall you hope to let your child know their bodies are a source of strength and pleasure and there is nothing wrong or shameful in that," says Dr. Saltz.

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