Most children’s sexual behaviour is normal, natural and healthy. It’s simply an information-gathering process. Through watching, touching and playing games, children explore their bodies and gender roles, making sense of the world and what they see around them. Usually such exploration takes place between friends of a similar age and is light-hearted. Children tend to only be mildly embarrassed if caught and don’t often respond with anger, fear or shame.
Children may engage in more sexual behaviour if this is highly visible in their home environment. If they have been emotionally or physically abused, it can be a way to manage the tension and sadness, and likewise, if they have been sexually abused, through direct contact or being made to watch sexual behaviour or materials, they may seem more overtly sexual. Most children who engage in problematic sexual behaviour have not been sexually abused, but it is worth seeking help, as it might indicate other problems.
What is normal versus abnormal behaviour?
Natural and healthy sexual behaviour for children might include wanting to be rude, or show others his or her genitals. This only becomes problematic if they want to be nude in public and continue the behaviour despite a parent consistently saying ‘no’. Likewise, an early fascination in watching people’s bathroom functions is normal, but if this doesn’t abate after a few weeks or the child refuses to leave the bathroom, or forces their way in, it could be time to seek help.
As well as those hinted above, there are some other key factors to consider when deciding if a child’s sexual behaviour is problematic or not. If it occurs among friends of the same age, it is not such a problem as if it is with people of other ages who are not friends. If the behaviour involves sexual knowledge more normally attributed to adults, this could be cause for concern. If it occurs frequently, in spite of requests to stop and is intrusive to others or makes others uncomfortable, it may be time for professional intervention. Likewise, if there are feelings of fear, anxiety, guilt or anger leading to use of coercion or force, we would suggest you seek some professional help.
If you would like to speak to us further about your child’s sexual behaviour, you can contact us anytime. We can let you know what’s normal, what to do to intervene with a behaviour, and if it is time to get professional help. We also have a number of useful resources available, which we can send to you.