A friend asked about a particular problem. I thought I’d write my answer here, since we’ve also encountered this difficulty.
The question is what to do about a very young child who has discovered that touching himself in a certain way is pleasurable.
Here’s how we’ve dealt with it: This is clearly not a sin issue at this point; the child is simply responding to something that feels good. However, we don’t want the child to develop a habit that will be a problem later on. We’ve done our best to redirect without drawing attention to the problem. For example, in the bathtub, I either give the child a toy, or wash the child’s hair. I’ve occasionally cut a bath short. As our child has gotten older, we’ve had to be a bit more direct. We’ve simply treated it as any other socially unacceptable habit. (Calmly saying no or Take your hands out of your pants. It then becomes an obedience issue.) Later, when there’s a little more maturity and ability to reason, we’ll address the issue itself a little more directly, but for now, that’s how we’ve been dealing with it.
As Lee and I were discussing the issue, he added a few extra thoughts. He wondered if the behavior appeared to be a response to stress or boredom. In this case, redirecting the child to an appropriate stress relief (some sort of physical activity, for example), or providing something to think about (like a puzzle, or a book) will be helpful. As the child gets older, it will be helpful to explain how keeping our minds and bodies occupied profitably can be a help spiritually (See Philippians 4:8). For now, an unsaved child without the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit will benefit from environmental manipulation and external control.