Sexual behaviour is developmentally normal, begins from birth and progresses into adulthood. In children (aged under 12) it will most often involve harmless curiosity and can also assist a child in exploring their body and understanding cultural and social norms. Although many parents are unsure of what is normal and what is problematic regarding sexual behaviours in children, there is help and information available and parents definitely do not need to feel alone in this area.
What are problem sexual behaviours?
Although many of children’s sexual behaviours can be considered normal, there are also behaviours that would be categorised as problematic. Problem sexualised behaviours can be classified as any behaviour that is outside of normal development for the child’s age. It is also considered problematic if it is aggressive and causes harm or disruption to the child and/or another person.
Problem sexual behaviours are considered to require intervention when:
- they are at a high frequency
- use force and/or coercion
- interrupt a child’s normal routine or everyday activities
- continue to occur despite intervention from parents/caregivers
- occur between children of very different ages or abilities
How do I respond to problem sexual behaviours in children?
Although it may be difficult to address problem sexual behaviour with a child, it is important to engage in early intervention and education. It is also essential when speaking with a child about sexual behaviours to remain calm and to use the opportunity to educate them about what is inappropriate and appropriate touch. The aim of speaking to children about sexual behaviours is not to increase guilt and shame but to educate and reduce the problem sexual behaviour. If it is difficult for parents to address these issues and the behaviours persist despite parental intervention, professional help is encouraged.
At Wellbeing Therapy Space we can work with parent/caregiver and child to assess problem sexual behaviours in addition to developing a suitable treatment plan. It can also be beneficial to seek professional help for reassurance and to educate children in protective behaviours and safe/unsafe feelings and touch as parental/caregiver involvement is helpful in treatment.
The National Child Trauma Stress Network
National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth
Family Planning Queensland