What sexual behavior in young children is normal? – Topics For Parents Mini-edu Session

It can be easy for parents to talk with their children about the differences between right and wrong, but it is often more difficult for parents to talk with their children about sexual development.

At a very young age, children begin to explore their bodies by touching, poking, pulling and rubbing their body parts, including their genitals. As children grow older, they will need guidance in learning about these body parts and their functions.

Based on the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) these are few tips to help you tell what normal sexual behavior is and what is NOT

WHAT IS NORMAL?

 These are normal common sexual behaviors for two years old through to age six.

  • Touching/masturbating genitals in public or private.
  • Looking at or touching a peer’s or new sibling’s genitals.
  • Showing genitals to peers.
  • Standing or sitting too close to someone.
  • Trying to see peers/adults naked.
  • Behaviors are transient, few and distractible.

When you see these behaviors, try to redirect your child’s attention to something more appropriate. Maybe say something like “grown-ups do this in private, you should do that too.” Always remind your child and encourage them to respect others. Reinforce it is NOT okay to touch anybody else’s private parts, as well as encourage them to tell you or a trusted adult if anyone has ever touched their private parts.

WHAT IS LESS COMMON NORMAL BEHAVIOR?

  • Rubbing body against others.
  • Trying to insert tongue in mouth while kissing.
  • Touching peer/adult genitals.
  • Crude mimic of movements associated with sexual acts.
  • Sexual behaviors that are occasionally, but persistently/disruptive to others.
  • Behaviors are transient and moderately responsive to distraction.

WHAT ARE UNCOMMON BEHAVIORS IN NORMAL CHILDREN?

  • Asking peer/adults to engage in specific sexual acts.
  • Inserting objects into genitals.
  • Explicit imitation of intercourse.
  • Touching animal genitals.
  • Sexual behaviors that are frequently/disruptive to others.
  • Behaviors that are persistent and resistant to parental distraction.

WHAT IS RARELY NORMAL?  

  • Any sexual behaviors involving children who are four or more years apart.
  • A variety of sexual behaviors displayed on the daily basis.
  • Sexual behavior that results in emotional distress or physical pain.
  • Sexual behaviors associated with other physically aggressive behavior.
  • Sexual behaviors that involve coercion.
  • Behaviors are persistent and child becomes angry if distracted.

RED FLAG BEHAVIORS

Parents also need to know when child’s sexual behavior appears more than harmless curiosity. Sexual behavior problems may pose a risk to the safety and well-being your child and other children and can signal physical or sexual abuse or exposure to sexual activity.

NOTE: the information provided above, was adapted from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) clinical report, evaluation of sexual behaviors in children, and should not be used in isolation to determine if a child has been sexually abused.

SEXUAL BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS IN YOUNG CHILDREN ICLUDE ANY ACT THAT:

  • Occurs frequently and cannot be redirected.
  • Causes emotional or physical pain or injury to themselves or others.
  • Is associated with physical aggression.
  • Involved coercion or force.
  • Simulates adult sexual acts.

BODY SAFETY TEACHING TIPS FOR PARENTS:

Parents should start teaching their children about body safety between the ages of 3-5.

-Use appropriate language: teach children the proper names for all their body parts, including their private parts such as penis, vagina, breasts and buttocks. ALWAYS include lips as a private part because NO ONE should kiss them on their lips, even parents need to ask before they give their child a “good night” kiss. You should know that children learn from what they see, so if you as a parent respect your child’s physical boundaries (personal bubble) they will follow your steps and start respecting other people’s boundaries.

-Making up names for their body parts may give the idea that there is something bad about the proper name. Understand why your child has a special name for their body part but teach the proper name, too. Also, teach your child which parts are private (bathing suit area).

Evaluate your family’s respect for modesty: while modesty isn’t a concept most young children can fully grasp; you can still use this age to lay a foundation for future discussions and model good behavior. If you have children of various ages, for example, it’s important to teach your younger children to give older siblings their privacy.

Usually, older siblings will teach the younger ones to get their clothes on, for example, because they might have friends over or because they are maturing and feel modest even in front of their younger brothers and sisters.

-Don’t force affection: Do not force your children to give hugs or kisses to people they do not want to. It is their right to tell even grandma or grandpa that they do not want to give them a kiss or a hug goodbye. Inappropriate touching — especially by a trusted adult — can be very confusing to a child. Constantly reinforce the idea that their body is their own, and they can protect it.

It is very important that your child knows to tell you or another trusted grown-up if they have been touched. That way, your child knows it’s also your job to protect them.

Explain what a safe/unsafe touch is: Make sure to use the proper language. Do not use the words “good/bad” because although some touches feel good, they are unsafe and uncomfortable. You can explain a “safe touch” as a way for people to show they care for each other and help each other (i.e., hugging, holding hands, changing a baby’s diaper).

An “unsafe touch” is the kind you don’t like and want it to stop right away (i.e., hitting, kicking, or touching private parts). Reassure your child that most touches are okay touches, but that they should say “NO” and need to tell you about any touches that are confusing or that scare them. Make sure to teach your child that they own their bodies, that means that if they did not feel like a hug or a kiss, they can always say no and its okay to say NO.

This information was gathered from Healthychildren.org

Help, my child accidentally saw pornography online – Topics for Parents Mini-edu Session

In a study posted by Shared Hope International, 42% of Internet users age 10-17 years old admit to viewing online pornography. Before getting too concerned, consider that 66% of these children reported that they viewed this material accidentally while attempting to access age-appropriate programs. This begs the conversation to parents and caregivers: How do we protect our children and if they do view pornography, how do we respond?

Parents sometimes wonder if their child will be traumatized from the exposure. While prolonged exposure to pornography can elicit negative emotional responses, the greater potential for harm and shame can come from a parent’s reaction. The best course of action a parent can take is to address the behavior in an age-appropriate manner, being careful not to overreact.

Educating your child on the risks of inappropriate, adult content online should include discussions on sexuality and Internet safety. So, what does the conversation around Internet pornography look like between parent and child?

1)Start early:

A conversation with your teenager about accessing online pornography is going to go a lot smoother if you’ve already established a language around sexuality with age-appropriate conversations in their elementary and middle school years.

2)Stay calm:

Being upset will make your child worried that they are in trouble. Stay calm and thank your child for being brave enough to let you know and reassure your child that you will sort it out together.

3)Just listen:

If your child has accidentally stumbled upon explicit content, ask them to tell you about how they found it. Ask them how they located it on their device. This will help you know how you can improve security measures. Find out where it happened, who (if anyone) showed it to them, how they felt when they saw it, and what they viewed. Remember, understand rather than reprimand.

4)Reassure your child that they are not in any trouble:

Avoid punishment. This will hurt your relationship. It will also reduce the likelihood your child will come to you about tricky issues in the future. Don’t take their device from them immediately or they’ll feel punished. That may come later, but for now, be calm and let them know they’re not in trouble.

Remember, your child may be upset about finding pornography, or if they were searching around curiously, even a little traumatized that it was more explicit than they could have imagined. We need to be supportive and understanding, acknowledging how upsetting it can be to see these types of things.

Once you and your children are calm, and are able to talk things through, it is time for the pornography conversation:

You don’t have to have this conversation as soon as you discover that your child viewed pornography. The first three steps, above, are for that conversation. The following ideas are the “follow-up” talk:

5)Plan your talk:

While it is tempting to have a big lecture right there on the spot, it is better to take some time out to plan your conversation about pornography and sex before you start the discussion.

If younger children have accidentally viewed online pornography, try saying something like: “I’m sorry that showed up while you were on the computer. Those videos are intended for adults, not children. Together, let’s find some better sites for you to visit that won’t show those kinds of images. Do you have any questions?” From there, follow the child’s lead in a developmentally appropriate way.

6) Talk about how they felt:

Did watching this make your child feel good, bad, safe, scared, uncomfortable, curious, or something else? All of these feelings are normal, and children should know it’s fine to feel like that. Most children will feel a mix of curiosity and revulsion.

You can also use this as a chance to teach about real intimacy. Did what they viewed seem respectful? Were the people involved both wanting to do what they were doing, or were they just acting? You may wish to teach them that a respectful relationship includes sex where both partners agree to what is happening (use the word “consent” and discuss it) and feel good about it. Ask them if what they saw resembled kind and caring intimacy or dominance, power, and disrespect.

Sometimes kids will assume that what they see online is an accurate representation of normal sexual behavior. After exposure, explain to your child that what they are seeing is not real. Sexual behavior is normal but online videos are staged and is not an example of regular sexual behavior.

7) Talk about sex:

You may wish to talk to them about what sex is and why we have sex. Discussions about love and intimacy are important. So, too, are discussions about boundaries, appropriate age and timing for intimacy, and other personal values related to sex and love.

8)Problem-solve together:

Ask them whether they think it is a good idea to look for those kinds of things on the Internet again. (It’s not.)

Encourage them to think of ways to stay safe. Answers might include:

  • Avoiding using keywords that lead to these kinds of images
  • Updating security levels on devices
  • Keeping devices in public places
  • Avoiding friends, relatives, and neighbours who are viewing pornography
  • Having regular conversations about what your child is viewing.

*For older children with more free access to the Internet, you may begin to notice a concerning pattern of behavior or perhaps a glance at their Internet history shows access to online pornography. For these children, I’d suggest starting the conversation with a statement like: “It seems that you’ve been spending a lot of time on your tablet lately and by the history, it looks like some of that time has been on sites with adult content. I want to talk with you about some of the risks associated with viewing this material.”

Extra Tip: Encourage your child to talk to you anytime about any questions they have, or anything else they see.

In a perfect world, you will have been having positive conversations about sex and intimacy with your children from an early age. A discussion about pornography may not have been in your plans, but accidental exposure to this kind of content demands a response. These tips can provide a useful springboard to further ongoing healthy conversations about intimate topics with your children.

How to talk to your children about their private parts – Topics for Parents Mini-edu Session

Topic: How to talk to your children about their private parts and teaching them the proper names for their private parts.

This information was compiled with the help of Mark, CASASC Child Therapist.

A critical tip for talking to children about private part names is that the conversation should not just happen once or twice, but becomes incorporated into the language in the home. This helps create an acceptability of the words and limits the times they are used in silly ways.

Parents should pay very close attention to the tone, volume and cadence they use when teaching the words. When the use of voice is not natural and has inflections in it, it can teach the child that their genitals are not equal to other parts of their body, which may contribute to shame.

Parents should discuss if they are both on the same page about using proper names for private part names. If you are giving nicknames to private parts, but not to the rest of the body parts, that may signal to the child there is something different about their private parts. Some experts in this field support the use of nicknames when nicknames are used for many other body parts, and the child knows the proper names.

There is a difference between having your child be sexually aware and learning about sexual intercourse. For young children they should learn to feel good about their body – both the parts that people see and the parts that are private for them to see. A children’s picture book such as Amazing You by Dr. Gail Saltz or What’s the Big Secret by Laurie Krasny Brown provide visuals and language that will help the child have a better understanding of the private parts of boys and girls and some of their functioning.

Leaving a book for the child to read on their own may feel more comfortable, but it discourages asking the questions that the child will immediately have and may show the child you are unwilling to talk about this topic.

Timing can be important in teaching the names of private parts to children. Opportunities when the child has demonstrated observations about their bodies, parts and the differences of gender should be honored by responding to what they see and are a teaching opportunity.

Parents will notice that talking to their children about their private parts will create automatic thoughts and feelings that are hard for them to control. The following thoughts will occur:

  1. Doubt in being able to say if right
  2. Failing their child in these talks which will cause harm to how they communicate with the child
  3. A parent will struggle that they are compromising their child’s innocence by giving to much information in this area.
  4. Talking to your child about their private parts will lead that child to tell their friends and lead to their parents not approving of your actions.
  5. When the parent goes to have this talk their own childhood experiences come back especially if it was lacking open and honesty in conversations.
  6. Fear that when the child realizes that their parts will change as they age may be scary and frightening.

One of the best ways to teach children, is to examine your own automatic thoughts and challenge the fears that you are having and where they might be coming from.

One good tip for teaching their children about the names of their private parts is to, at the same time, teach them about proper hygiene. Bath time can be a good opportunity to complete both tasks. They can learn the names of different parts of their body, some of their functioning depending on the age, and you can add how they can properly wash their body parts and understanding why we do so.

Another resource that parents can depend on for the same topic is this book The New Speaking of Sex: what your children need to know and when they need to know it by: Meg Hickling, who is a RN who has been a sexual health educator for more than 25 years. Her ability to convey difficult material with sensitivity, gentle humour and warmth distinguishes her  as a remarkable teacher and a role model.