How Do I Approach Inappropriate
Touching Between Children?
Determine whether or not the behavior is normal sexual exploration for the child's developmental age.
Children up to age six or seven will engage in mutual games such as playing "house" or "doctor". Both same sex and opposite sex experimentation are common at all ages. However, sometimes one child is unwilling or is being forced or tricked by another child who is taking advantage of some power he or she has (i.e. older, larger, in a position of authority). Some questions you can ask yourself to determine if one child is abusing the other include:
- What is the age or size difference between the children?
If the children are not close in age, cognitive level, or size, it may be likely that the older or larger child is taking advantage of the younger or smaller one.
- Is the activity normal for the age or developmental level of the children?
Children's exploratory behavior typically involves exposing and touching each other's private parts (I'll show you mine if you show me yours!) and mimicking adult behaviors they may have observed at home or on TV such as lying on top of each other and kissing. Intercourse, attempted intercourse and oral sex are uncommon among young children.
- Does one child seem particularly upset or unhappy about the interaction?
Take care to notice if there is any pressure, force, tricking, threats, secrecy, or other forms of coercion, particularly if one child is in a position of authority, i.e. as babysitter. Ask the children, "Whose idea was this game?"
- What is the response of each child to the contact?
Feelings of anger, fear, sadness or other strong negative emotions are unusual reactions to mutual sexual exploration.
Even if the children's sexual behavior seems mutual and not "abusive", you may wish to talk with the children about the appropriateness of their behaviors as they relate to your individual or family values and the respect other's for privacy.
Think about the message you want to send to the children involved.
Try to remain calm as you stop the behavior and determine what happened. You don't want to send the message that the children are "bad" or that they should feel ashamed of their bodies or sexuality, even as you let them know that their behavior is unacceptable.
Take advantage of this opportunity to teach the children about boundaries and privacy.
Talk to each child alone. Ask them if they know what "privacy" means. Remind them that everyone has the right to privacy at certain times, such as when they are in the bathroom. Teach them that their bodies have private parts as well. Tell them they need to respect others privacy, just as they have the right to say "no" to touches. This message is one that you should reinforce and repeat if necessary. You may wish to use books or videos to help teach the children.
Determine if the children involved need professional help.
Is the behavior continuing to be a problem? Is it severe? How is it affecting the victimized child? Both children may need assistance in dealing with their feelings and behaviors.
Talk to the parents of the offending child.
The other parents need to be aware of their child's behavior and see that it does not happen again. Let them know where they can find counseling or advice. Do not allow the children to be alone together if you think one of the children could initiate the sexual activities again. If the offending child is a member of your household, seek professional help immediately. You are legally responsible for protecting the other children in your home.
The Advocacy Center is a resource if you have questions or concerns. Resources
If you have questions or concerns about a child or if you would like more information about child abuse prevention call the Advocacy Center. Our free lending library contains a variety of resources for parents and for children of all ages to help them develop an understanding of privacy, body ownership, personal safety, and self-esteem.
- Advocacy Center (Formerly the Task Force For Battered Women / Child Sexual Abuse Project)
Office: 277-3203 · M-F 9am - 5pm
Hotline: 277-5000 · 24 hours a day
Crisis intervention, support, advocacy, accompaniment, education and referrals for children, teens, parents, family members and professionals.
- Family and Children's Services - 273-7494
Offers counseling to children who have been victimized
- Tompkins County Mental Health Clinic - 274-6230
Services for children and adolescents who act out sexually