Sexual Behaviors in Young Children: What is Appropriate?

Author: one tough job

It is normal and expected that children would be curious about their body parts and display developmentally appropriate sexual behaviors. As a parent, it’s normal to feel uncomfortable when your child starts to exhibit these behaviors. Being informed about what is normal for children 0-5 will help you to create a safe place for your children to explore their bodies and help you recognize any concerning or alarming behaviors.

Children ages 0-5 may exhibit the following behaviors:

  • Wanting to be naked
  • Touching and exploring their genitals
  • Asking questions about others’ genitals
  • Peeping others in the bathroom or while others are changing

It’s important to remain calm when you observe these behaviors and answer any questions your child may have. Always use accurate names to describe the genitals. Redirect unsafe behaviors by teaching your child body boundaries. For example, if your child is peeping others in the bathroom, let them know that everyone deserves privacy when using the bathroom.

Let your children know to tell you or another trusted adult if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable. Creating a safe space for your children to feel comfortable talking with you will help ensure their healthy growth and development. Open communication with your child will help you remain in sync so you will notice any concerning behaviors.

Behavioral changes and signs for concern:

  • Fear or excessive crying
  • Nightmares of sleep disturbances
  • Feeding or bowel issues

Uncommon and atypical sexual behaviors in children 0-5:

  • Using explicit sexual language
  • Knowledge of specific sexual acts
  • Engaging in sexual acts with other children

If you have any concerns about your child, please contact your pediatrician. If you think your child is being abused, please contact the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families or one of the resources listed here.

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