Kids are curious. Sexuality is often a subject they are curious about, and curiosity about sexuality can come up during play. Sometimes, the play is harmless and innocent, while at other times it may indicate a need for attention. Children can learn appropriate boundaries about touching with the help of caring adults in their lives. Learn what is healthy and what may be of concern so that you can talk to your kids about appropriate sexual boundaries.
Kids vary in the kinds of sexual play they indulge in. Some kids may not explore genitals much while others may be very curious about genitals. It is relatively normal for children under 7 to be curious about -- and even touch -- the genitals of other children, according to the AskDr.Sears website. Most often, children are about the same age, they both agree to the touching, and the touching is part of a game they are playing. Sometimes, they touch in secret because they sense that adults might not approve.
When to Be Concerned
Children who engage in play that concerns you may have experienced something that needs attention. Parents should be concerned when any of the following occur: if a child tricks another child into touching genitals; if more than three years’ age difference exists between the children; if touching is not appropriate, such as oral-to-genital touching; if a child made threats, or if this has happened before with certain children, according to the AskDrSears website. Seek professional counseling for all children involved.
Talk to the kids, using the correct terms, and be open and honest with them. Thomas Haller, a psychologist and author in Michigan, states that children as young as 2 or 3 years old can begin to understand who can -- and cannot -- touch them. It is important for a child to know that her parents and her pediatrician can touch her -- if the touching is for a medical exam or for hygiene. Kids can also learn not to touch the private areas of other people. For example, a parent can share in a matter-of-fact way that it is important respect other people and not to touch their bodies without their permission. If children agree to touch each other sexually, then the parent should acknowledge the children’s curiosity without shame, and to tell the children that this kind of play is for when they become adults. Offer alternative games that keep the clothes on, such as painting, playing tag or dancing.
If your child has touched another child sexually or another child has touched your child sexually, the AskDr.Sears website suggests that you stay vigilant to make sure that few opportunities exist for children to repeat the behavior. Offer children other things to do when they play together, and to pay attention if the kids close doors or if they are secretive. The organization Darkness to Light is a campaign to end child sexual abuse. It recommends that adults respect privacy, and communicate clear boundaries, model healthy adult relationships and use teachable moments in everyday life to talk about sexuality in age-appropriate, healthy ways.
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