Children's Sexual Behaviour
Updated: May 16, 2022
Let’s Not Pathologize Children’s Sexual Behaviours
Over the past 13 years, I have received hundreds of messages from parents, teachers, daycare providers and preschools regarding sexual behaviours of children in their care/home. With the exception of a few, all of the concerning behaviours were actually natural, healthy and curiosity driven.
For children up to age 5 here are some behaviours that would be considered “normal” and age appropriate:
1. Touching or rubbing their own genitals during diaper changes, when going to sleep, when tense or excited or because it feels good.
2. Touching the private parts of familiar adults and other children with their hands or body.
3. Trying to view people when they are nude.
4. Asking questions about the genitals and how babies are made.
5. Enjoying being nude.
6. Showing their genitals to other people.
7. Interested in watching people go to the bathroom.
8. Using silly words for bathroom functions.
9. Interested in feces.
10. Playing “doctor” with friends/siblings.
11. Putting objects in their own genitals out of curiosity.
Often in the moment, parents and care-providers are at a loss of what to say to our little people when they are “caught” taking part in these behaviours.
Using a calm and neutral tone, here are some responses you may want to try when these situations arise:
1. When reading a story, you see that your preschooler is touching their private parts.
Suggested response: “________, I am noticing you are touching your private parts. I know that feels good. Would you like some private time? If you would like me to finish the book, please remove your hands(s) from your private parts. You can do that when you are alone.
2. When one of your Kindergarten students keeps tapping you on your bum when they want your attention.
Suggested response: “________, I can see that you want my attention. When you need my help, please tap me on my shoulder or my arm. What can I help you with?”
3. Your child prefers to be nude and wants to go to the store without clothes on.
Suggested response: “________”, I know that you like to be naked and that is okay. You can be naked in private places like your bedroom, bathroom or ________ (depending on your household). When we go into public places, we need to cover up our private parts. In a public place, we never show our private parts. That is one of our body safety rules.
4. During a play date, you walk into your child’s room and notice that everyone has their clothes off.
Suggested response: “Hello everyone. I see that you are naked. Please get dressed. It is snack time”. While the kids are eating, it is a great time to go over your house rules about playdates…keep clothes on, one person in the bathroom at a time, pay with the door open in your room, do not ask someone to show their private parts, etc.
It is important to understand that these behaviours are common, healthy and can be easily directed if one is prepared. These behaviours are not deviant or inappropriate.
We do not want to shame kids for their natural curiosities. If we do, it may drive the behaviour to be more secretive in nature.