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