January 8, 2011 in Features

Child’s behavior elicits responses

Kathy Mitchell/Marcy Sugar
 

Dear Annie: This is for “Concerned Teacher,” whose 9-year-old pupil rubs herself against her seat all day long. I am a school psychologist. If sexual abuse has been ruled out, she should simply treat it like any other publicly unacceptable behavior, the same way you would treat a child picking his nose in class.

However, kids often engage in self-pleasure when anxious. So the first step should be to track the behavior and see if it happens when certain subjects are taught. The teacher and parents should talk to the child about a signal to let her know when she is doing it because she may not be aware of it at the time. Another point is to make sure she doesn’t have a learning or cognitive disability. Students with mild cognitive disabilities sometimes do not understand the social inappropriateness of this behavior. – A School Psych

Dear School Psych: Thank you for your expertise. We are grateful for the many readers who weighed in on this, most mentioning that the problem may not be masturbation at all. Read on:

From California: I spent much of second grade doing the same thing. The cause was a chronic low-grade yeast infection that made me constantly itchy. The rubbing made it feel better but caused inflammation, and it was a long time until I was treated properly and the behavior went away.

Texas: We had the same situation with a pupil at our school. The girl’s third grade teacher came up with a solution. She met with the student and her mother, and found a simple gesture the teacher could use to signal the student when the behavior was happening. In this case, the teacher tapped her own chin with her finger. It was so subtle, no one else was even aware of it, but the student knew to stop the behavior. When the child entered my fourth grade class, this information was passed on to me, and I only had to signal her once.


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