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She’s Only 5 & Enjoys Touching Her Private Parts!

07 October, 2018
Q Salam. I am writing on behalf of my sister who is the mother of the child. I have a troubling question regarding my niece who is turning 5 years old in two months. She seems too smart for her age, and I must stress on the fact that she is a very stubborn child. Sometimes, we have to repeat something 3 or 4 for her to actually do what we ask of her. She interacts with her surrounding sometimes more like an adult than a child. Sometimes, she is normal and seems to interact with her peers as kids are supposed to, but when it comes to interacting with adults, she seems very mature. She is the first born and has a little sister. The problem we have encountered with my niece is that we have caught her doing something embarrassing. It happened more than once that she was caught touching herself. The first few times her mum talked to her and told her how immoral and bad it was, but it has never stopped, and recently my sister reacted by scolding her and even biting her.

But it still hasn’t stopped, so she [my sister] tried to deny her what she loved the most so that she could see what she has done is wrong. Just recently, I was at home and I went to the bathroom where she jumped up guiltily, and I saw that her hand was very close to her genital area. I didn't want to jump to conclusion, but when I helped her to wash it, she cried and said it hurt. I then asked her to tell me the truth if she had touched herself, and she affirmed that she did. When I asked her why she does this bad thing, she said it feels nice. I asked her when she touched herself, and she said it was the day before when she was taking an afternoon nap. I immediately called her mum and explained the situation just as it happened..

She said she was going to have to find some way to help her girl to stop because they have tried so many things and nothing works. In the meantime, I am asking her to help on her behalf. What should we do to stop this immoral behavior before she grows into it? Someone suggested that in the ancient times, people circumcised girls for this reason, because if they are not circumcised, they get excited at a very young age and become very loose and immoral. We don't believe that because in Islam there is no proof that says it's OK to circumcise girls. I am embarrassed to also add that when we were young, all of my sisters were circumcised with what they call "Sunnah". I am asking you, the Islamic counseling group, to help us find a way to stop what my niece does before it gets worse and she thinks that it is OK to do what she does. Please help! Jazak Allahu Khayrun.


 In this counseling answer:

“In general, helping your niece to make the right choices means loving her unconditionally, because no matter what she may experience later in life, she will have the memory of you, and what you tried to teach her, and therefore she will have the means to find her way back. However, if your niece is loved conditionally, she will learn only one thing, that her worth is according to your measure and the measure of others.”

As-Salamu ‘Alaykum dear sister, 

I am not sure what you meant by mature for her age unless it is in relation to the problem of masturbation that you describe further on. If a child spends more time with adults than with other children, and those adults interact with her as a respected individual, then this is bound to occur.

It is not abnormal for a child to relate to find they are more comfortable relating to those senior to them more than their own peers. However, childhood is something not to be missed out on as there are many developmental issues emotionally and cognitively speaking that form a firm foundation to the next developmental stage.

Each child has emotional, cognitive, speech, physical, social, and physiological elements to their development. A general standard is applied, but which element develops ahead of the others differs from child to child. Pertaining to social and related development, in general, a five-year-old will:

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*The family is still the center of their world

*want to play with their peers, but their family still represents their emotional world

*If at school, they come into contact with other influences that may conflict with home, which can be confusing for them

*Share and feel sympathy, but not so much with younger siblings

*Become gender aware

*Develop understanding of what it means to follow rules

*Can be reasoned with, but likes to be taken seriously

*Proud of their physical accomplishments

*Good command of native language, but have difficulty explaining ideas and events

As you may have noticed, being 5 years old is the age whereby they become gender aware, and part of that awareness might be “playing with oneself” as part of the process of self-discovery. However, the extent to which your niece seems to be harming herself is something for concern.

This also raises the question as to how it all began. Did masturbation begin as a process of self-discovery, or did it begin as a result of being stimulated? Stimulation can occur from what your niece has observed from T.V., (or other forms of media including pictures), or from adults. Then the question is, was it observation or something that was done to her? Please do not panic, because how you and your sister react to the problem is very, very important.

Your niece has told you that she enjoys what she does and probably cannot comprehend what is wrong with what she does. By telling her that something is immoral, she probably has no comprehension as to whchild-abuse-resizedat “immoral” means. She also has no idea what is so bad about something that is making her feel good, because there is no explanation given, especially an explanation that is aimed at making her feel bad.

For her to be told that she is bad (even though that is not what is intended) by those she loves will only make her question your relationship with her. The long and short of it is, your niece has only learnt to masturbate in private, and she has yet to connect what she does to herself with the part of her body that hurts.

Two ways that therapists employ in order to find out what goes on in a child’s mind without imputing information that can end up replacing what really happened are through play and art. In terms of play, make belief with dolls is a common play activity whereby the child’s understanding of their world and their experiences is enacted through the dolls.

The same can happen through art. In this way, you are helping your niece to objectify the experience by observing and not interacting, but occasionally asking for explanation: “What does that mean?”, “Who is that?”, “What are they doing?” etc. In other words, short-open ended questions that allow your niece to explain her world.

Prophet Muhammad said: “He who does not respect our elder, or is not merciful to the young…”(Abu Dawud, #4921,  At-Tirmidhi, #1925)

In general, helping your niece to make the right choices means loving her unconditionally, because no matter what she may experience later in life, she will have the memory of you, and what you tried to teach her, and therefore she will have the means to find her way back. However, if your niece is loved conditionally, she will learn only one thing, that her worth is according to your measure and the measure of others.

In this way, one grows up in this manner and learns not to be too honest, and learns to be manipulative in order to get what one wants. Expert in Islamic child development and tarbia, Ibrahim Amini makes the following comment on discipline:

“Avoid beating the child. The child doesn’t know anything other than its immediate needs. It only trusts an Unknown Power and it cries seeking the help of that Power. Don’t take out your ire on the child by beating it.

The punishment should not be such that the child starts thinking that the parents are his enemies and they don’t love him.

If the child has committed something wrong unintentionally, he should not be punished. Despite this, if the child is punished, it might have negative impact on his feelings and his mind.

Punishments should not become an everyday affair if the parents wish them to be effective. If punishments are repeated too often, the child might turn into a compulsive offender. Then the punishments will not have any effect on him.”

Begin to:

Minimize how much time your niece spends on her own.

Make sure she gets enough physical activity before her afternoon nap, so that she will sleep more deeply.

Only have the T.V. on in her presence if there is something educational to watch.

Help your niece to develop new skills, so that she can have more to occupy her.

It is time for her to learn to start helping in the house with small chores. In this way, she will feel useful and wanted.

Acknowledge her strengths and the good things that she does so that she can feel worthy.

Make sure that your niece knows that she is loved and that is best done with a child through giving them the attention that they need. Maybe, her adult ways is a result of getting the attention that she seeks in order to feel that she belongs.

Make sure any discussions about intimacy, marital relations, and possible arguments do not take place in her presence or within her hearing range.

Make sure that your niece wears comfortable underclothing, preferably pure cotton (allows the body to breathe) so that attention to her body is minimized.

It might be more appropriate for her to wear trousers or dungarees when playing.

Explain the connection between what she does and the pain that she feels, so that she can begin to realize that she is harming herself.

If you have any doubts about the above, or even doubts about whether you and your sister can facilitate the above, then it might be worth arranging for your niece to see a qualified and reputable child therapist (not a psychologist), who can help her through this process. You are entitled to ask the therapist, who you are potentially seeking, many questions in order to ascertain whether she (because of your niece, the therapist should be female) is suitable for your niece and does not contradict or undermine Islam.

Regarding female circumcision, as opposed to cutting of the whole clitoris, it is true that the tip once was clipped and in some cases still is clipped, in order to reduce the possibility of getting excited.

Narrated Umm Atiyyah al-Ansariyyah:  A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said to her: Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband. (Abu Dawud 41: 5251)

I pray that the above helps you, your sister and your niece in some way, in sha ‘Allah.


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