Yaya, it is normal for your 16-month old son to touch his genitals. Babies explore their world with their senses—touching, smelling, tasting, seeing and hearing—and they begin by exploring their own bodies. Just as it's common for a 3-month-old to enjoy clasping her hands together, a 4-month-old to grab his feet and a 6-month-old to put her hands in her mouth, it's common for infants and toddlers to touch their genitals.
The most common time that babies touch their genitals is during diapering and bath time, when their bodies are exposed. The feeling of air or water on the genitals is stimulating and can cause baby boys to get an erection. The stimulation draws babies' attention to their genitals and makes them want to touch themselves. And as they touch themselves, they experience pleasurable and comforting feelings. Don't be alarmed by how hard your son pulls on or hits his genitals. He is unlikely to hurt himself.
Many parents are shocked or embarrassed when they observe their babies touching their genitals. Our reactions may be affected by our own parents' attitudes toward masturbation. But think carefully about the messages you want to give your son about his body, his feelings and his sexuality.
Our current understanding of child development shows that it's normal and healthy for children, beginning at birth, to learn about their bodies and experience pleasurable feelings. You can help your child develop a healthy identity and sexuality by trying to maintain a calm and accepting attitude when he touches himself, and avoiding any reaction that makes him feel ashamed. Over time, you can help your child understand our society's rules about touching his genitals—it's natural and private, something he can do in his bedroom or bathroom.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.