Help! My 6-Year-Old Can't Stop Playing With Herself.

Advice on manners and morals.
Feb. 4 2013 2:54 PM

Touchy Feely

In a live chat, Prudie offers advice on a 6-year-old daughter who can't stop playing with herself.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at prudence@slate.com.)

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, I look forward to your questions. And yay Ravens!

Q. Can't Ask Mom About This: My 6-year-old daughter has started ... um ... "playing with herself" rather frequently. She's our only child, and we often commend her for amusing herself, but this isn't what we had in mind. It started maybe a year ago, and at first we told her that that's not something you do in the living room or in front of other people. So she started doing it when she thought we wouldn't see her, but she's not very discreet. Recently it seems have gotten more frequent, almost daily. Any suggestions for how to handle this? She's a really happy kid with boundless enthusiasm for life and for learning, and in general we're very conscious of not breaking her spirit by discouraging her, but this just seems age-inappropriate. Thanks for any suggestions.

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A: If you'd just discovered that you could rip off oh, 20 orgasms in a row, you'd probably find that more entertaining than Play-Doh. This revelation has got to come under the category of "boundless enthusiasm for life and learning." What's she's doing is perfectly age-appropriate, and your response so far has also been appropriate, so keep it that way. You tell her what she's doing is fine, but it's really important to know this is something people do in private. You could say that it's okay for her to do it in the house, but only when just the three of you are there. You explain that even if she thinks other people can't tell, they can. (The panting and sweating in the absence of physical exertion is a good give-away.) If she slips (her hand in her panties) and does it at inappropriate times, you give her a look and a shake of the head. She likely won't outgrow this desire, but in a few years she will take it to her room and out of your sight. In the meantime, you and your husband can laugh about what a honeymoon night your daughter will have.

Dear Prudence: Marijuana Mentor

Q. Trust Issue: I was in a 10-month relationship with a man I love very much. Never in my life have I ever felt loved by someone. I always imagined sharing my life with him. Being with him felt so right. However, I was getting frustrated about our situation—he is still married with kids but he and his wife are separated. I came from a conservative family where everyone expected that I would get married properly with someone who is single and stable. I love this man with all my heart and I know I would commit myself to him for a lifetime. But I started getting anxious and I wanted to know if I am missing out on having that cookie cutter relationship. So about a month ago, I registered in a dating website and responded back to a man's invitation to chat. I didn't feel anything for the guy the way that I felt for my boyfriend. All the text message I sent were all platonic, and four days ago I stopped texting him. The problem was my boyfriend found the text messages and was so angry—he thinks that everything is a lie from the beginning. He thinks I have been talking to other guys. He told me that he was committed to me 100 percent but I didn't stay true to him. He also said that I made him a means to an end. And that I lied to him. I love him so much and I begged for him to take me back and forgive me. What do you think I should do?

A: Go back to the website and see if there's anyone else there who sounds interesting to you. It's interesting that your boyfriend said he was your means to an end. That sounds like classic projection, since you sure sound like his means to have some fun while he's figuring what to do about his marriage. But your relationship with him sounds so uncertain that without talking to him about seeing other people, you just decided to try it. What you've got with this supposed love of your life is a mess. Stop begging to be taken back and be glad you devoted less than a year to what's sure to be an endless drama.

Q. Skinned: My wife isn't speaking to me because I'm not outraged over the Calvin Klein Super Bowl ad. Apparently I was supposed to mimic her (scathingly sincere) anger over the use of women in ads (the DirecTV genie has actually incited the demise of one of our TVs) when one featuring mostly naked guys appeared. But I just don't care (about CK torsos or the genie, to be honest). Oh, and apparently I was supposed to be appalled by the Beyoncé halftime show, even though we didn't watch it (I encouraged a "time-out" if for no other reason than to save our remaining set). Should I lie and say that I think all of this objectification is AWFUL! APPALLING! DISGRACEFUL! Or do I try and figure out another way to chill her out?

A: Excuse me, but where was your wife during the Go Daddy ad? That was an insult to men, women, and all carbon-based life forms. My reaction to the Calvin Klein ad was to turn to my husband and say, "You didn't give them permission to use your body!" My 17 year-old daughter's reaction was—well, a quick slap to the face revived her. If your wife thought the Beyoncé show was appalling then she's beyond accepting popular culture and maybe should live somewhere where it doesn't intrude. You say your wife has actually broken a television in response to the broadcast of sexism. She sounds violent enough to be considered for a defensive position with the NFL. The problem here is not the outside world, but that your wife has a rage problem. Joining her in denouncing her triggers is not a way to deal with this. It sounds as if you need to insist she get some help or the lights on your marriage are going to permanently go out at halftime.

Q. Re: Daughter Behaving Inappropriately: Instead of orgasm and honeymoon jokes, maybe you should have suggested the mother consider mentioning this behavior to her daughter's pediatrician. Pronounced sexual behavior in children is often a sign that a child is being molested. It's an awful thing to think, but it happens far too frequently, and it shouldn't be laughed off. As a survivor of sexual abuse as a child, I just cringed when I read your flippant answer.

A: Of course parents should be aware of signs of sexual abuse. But child masturbation in and of itself is simply not a clear sign of assault. I've dealt with this issue before and heard from a few girls who have memories of humping the furniture and being told by their parents not to do it when grandma was over. I think this is something to mention to a pediatrician, who will have dealt with this before. But a happy, thriving child who has found a way to make life more fun should not be assumed to be a victim.

Q. Friend Dating My Former Fiancé: I'm really struggling to be happy for my good friend Ellie, who is dating my former fiancé Joey. Joey and I were broken up for four years before he started dating Ellie, and I've moved on and am in a much better relationship. It still hurts to listen to Ellie talk about how great Joey is—our engagement ended because he cheated on me and tried to make me feel crazy when I confronted him. I love Ellie and want the best for her. Why does it hurt me, then, because her happy relationship is with my former fiance? What can I do to get over these feelings?

A: You can count your blessings every day that you didn't marry lying, cheating, manipulative Joey. Let's hope Joey truly has seen the error of his ways and will be a great husband to Ellie. He never would have been one to you. So hug your great boyfriend tight tonight. And on the wedding day smile as you toast the happy couple.

Q. Re: But I Didn't Stay True to Him: You provided him with a very convenient excuse to dump you and go on to some other sucker who thinks that a married man is "100 percent committed to him."

A: Exactly!

Q. Red Flag?: I am a zaftig woman of 40 yrs. I recently met a man who asked me out on a date. We went to dinner and had a nice time, but during dinner he said that he was attracted to me because of my weight (he likes big girls) he asked me what size I wore and how much I weighed. I was put off by that and told him so, he blew it off like it was nothing. Now I think he has a big girl fetish and is not really interested in me. We have not been out since ... I am skittish. Is this my issue? Is it any different if a man says he likes big breasts and only goes out with women with big breasts? Or am I wise to move on?

A: I understand that people have types, or even fixations, but I agree it's creepy to be reduced to a single attribute on someone's arousal list. In any case, if he wasn't a creep he'd have been turned on by your body but want to get to know you better to see if you were compatible as people. All he wanted was some statistics to file away for his erotic purposes. Yech!

Q. Takeout Tipping: I frequently get takeout and eat in at a local Chinese restaurant. Recently the waitresses began adding a 20 percent tip to my bill whenever I dine in. I always tip at least 15 percent when I dine in and reserve 20-30 percent tips for outstanding service, which the waitresses at this restaurant rarely provide. One day, one of the waitresses told me that they added the 20 percent tip to my bill because I don't tip when I get takeout. I was mortified—my parents and most close friends don't tip when they got takeout, and I usually only tip on takeout if the waiters and I have a good conversation. What's the socially acceptable take on takeout tipping? I probably won't return to this restaurant—their egg rolls are so good! —but I would love to know for the future.

A: Even if you never tipped, the waitress is not allowed to add 20 percent of her own volition. But in previous tipping questions readers have let me know that 15 percent is no longer standard, it's cheapskate, and I agree that 20 percent is the new 15. I normally add $5 to an average carryout order to cover the packing materials. But I'd be happy to hear what other people do. As for this restaurant, if you truly love the eggrolls just start adding 20 percent to the bill and roll with it.

Q. Marriage (Married the Perfect Guy, but Maybe the Wrong Guy for Me): I am married to a kind, generous, attractive, wonderful man. The problem? I am not attracted to him. Actually, I am sometimes turned-off by him. I have battled these feelings since before we even got married. I think I married him because he is such a wonderful person, and I thought I would be blowing it if I passed on the opportunity to spend my life with someone who treats me so well. He knows that I have issues with attraction to him. Right now, I consider us great roommates and friends, but not lovers. The turn-offs? First, in the time that I have known him, he has become increasingly involved with transcendental meditation, spending hours a day on it, and traveling all over the country for extended conferences. He's so sensitive that he won't even kill a bug that's indoors—he picks it up and puts it outside. How can I even think about leaving someone who is so good to me? Who does that? Help—I have a 90 percent perfect marriage, but that 10 percent that's missing is killing me. Wanting 10 percent more.

A: You've got your percentages reversed. A marriage in which one partner is not attracted to the other and is actually contemptuous of the other's deeply held views sounds unsalvageable. Of course he treats you wonderfully—he treats cockroaches like precious jewels. But you're treating him like an ego boost not a husband. I think you should let him find another gentle soul who after meditating with him and shooing out the bugs, wants to get him into bed for hours of tantric sex.

Q. Re: Takeout Tipping: Why didn't you advise the LW to let a manager know? I would think this is against company policy and considered STEALING. A waitress cannot dictate what she receives in tips. I would never go to this establishment again unless she were fired. How rude!

A: I agree that a discussion with the manager would be appropriate, although given how the restaurant is run this likely will have little effect. (Although as another letter writer suggests, it could get the waitress spitting into your lo mein.) This sounds like an inexpensive joint, the letter writer loves the food, and a 20 percent tip is only going to be a few dollars.

Q: Back and Forth Boyfriend: I have a very nice guy who has been in and out of my life for a variety of reasons. He's getting himself together, and we're thinking about starting a romantic relationship again. The problem is my friends. They are all very intellectual and put a high premium on reading and knowing the current events of the day, as do I. He barely passed high school and has tried college several times. He's so intimidated by my friends that he starts explaining the simplest concepts of whatever we're talking about at the time, and he babbles on and on. I've tried tapping him on the shoulder or nudging him to let him know it's time to let someone else speak or simply to distract him, but he doesn't take the hint and consistently sticks his foot in his mouth and insults my friends by explaining common knowledge concepts to them. I believe he thinks it makes him sound intelligent. He thinks he is keeping up in the conversations, but I've had several people approach me asking why I'm with him and why I bring him around if he's going to talk down to everyone. I'm not sure about where we are going romantically, but he is a very old friend and I want to include him in my life. What can I do to help him?

A: From your own description I understand your friends' bafflement. Maybe they are snobs, but when your friend is around them he acts like an insecure jerk. Your description of him doesn't list any of his fine qualities, just that he is a nice guy with plenty of struggles and you've known him for a long time. If you like the idea of rescuing someone, there is a difference between being supportive and taking on a project. As depicted by you, he doesn't sound like promising romantic material. But if he's an old friend, then you should be able to tell him that you understand your other friends are intimidating, but when you're all together you'd love to see him just relax and be himself and not feel as if he has something to prove. Say he has lots of interesting things to say and it would be good for everyone to steer the conversation away from current events. Then you should bring up some topics that will allow your friend to truly contribute. 

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Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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