Frequently Asked Questions - Children and Sexual Behaviour
Frequently Asked Questions - Children
What is normal sexual behaviour in children?
All children develop sexual behaviour and experience sexual learning in childhood
Adults who observe sexual behaviour in children should consider whether it is within the normal range
Even if the behaviour is within the normal range the child should still receive some information or correction as to appropriate behaviour, age, time and place.
Examples of normal sexual behaviour in children aged 5-7 years include:
I'll show you mine if you show me yours
Self touching- including masturbation
Playing doctors and nurses/ mummies and daddies
Toilet talk and telling dirty jokes or songs
Kissing/ holding hands.
Examples of normal sexual behaviour in children aged 8-12 years include:
Comparing genitals with peers
Kissing and flirting
Sexual talk and jokes with peers.
Should adults just ignore these behaviours in children if they are considered normal?
Although the behaviours may be within the normal range, they may not be appropriate for the setting (i.e. showing genitals in the school playground)
If it is not appropriate for the setting, it is recommended that adults view this as a teachable moment. It is an opportunity to teach children about boundaries and the difference between private and public behaviour
If you would like advice on how to respond, please feel free to contact WellStop staff.
When is sexual behaviour in children a problem?
It is a problem when:
It puts the child at risk, interferes with other developmental tasks, interferes in relationships, violates rules, is harmful to the child, or if the child believes the behaviour is a problem
Others feel uncomfortable, the behaviour occurs in the wrong time or place, the behaviour conflicts with family or community values, or the behaviour is harmful
It elicits complaints from other children
When the behaviour does not respond to correction
When the behaviour is part of a pattern of behaviour that suggests the child does not understand boundaries
Sexual behaviour is harmful if it involves other children without consent, or if two children are not equal, or if one child is pressured or coerced.
If my child has sexualised behaviour, does that mean that they have been sexually abused?
Not necessarily, although there is some correlation between children with problem sexual behaviour and having been sexually abused, it is important to note that the sexual behaviours of a child are not sufficient to make a diagnosis of sexual abuse
65 % children with sexual behaviour problems have no history of sexual abuse. There are other factors that are related to the development of sexual behaviour problems in children.
What influences children's behaviour?
There are many influences on children's sexual behaviour
Children with sexualised behaviour are more likely to have been abused themselves in some way
Not all sexual behaviour problems stem from sexual abuse
Age appropriate sexual behaviours can become disrupted in children for a number of reasons.
These can include:
Exposure to adult sexual activity
Exposure to sexually explicit material (internet, pornography, videos)
Physical abuse and emotional neglect
Witnessing violence and abuse.
Won't they just grow out of it?
If children get the right guidance and support from the adults around them they will likely stop their sexually harmful behaviour
Some children are not able to stop, and these children may benefit from attending the WellStop
We know that 50 % of children who present at age 11-12 with sexualised behaviour have engaged in sexualised behaviour before 10 years of age
We also know from experience that a significant number of adolescents who come to WellStop and are assessed as being high risk, have a history of sexualised behaviour before age 10
We believe that intervening early is the best option.
What language is best used to describe/discuss these behaviours in children?
The following language is helpful because it describes behaviour, rather than labelling the child:
Sexually harmful behaviour
Harmful sexual behaviour
Concerning sexual behaviour
Problematic sexual behaviour
Sexual behaviour problems
We suggest using the term child who was harmed rather than the term victim
We strongly advocate that adults do not label children as sexual offenders, sexual abusers or molesters, or use terms such as paedophile, pervert or predator.
These terms relate to adults and occasionally youth and we do not usually use these terms for anyone who attends our services, especially children. It is appropriate however to use language that describes the child's behaviour (as above).
How does WellStop assess children with sexual behaviour problems?
We meet with the child, his or her family, whānau and other significant parties (e.g. school if the sexualised behaviour is happening in this environment).
We establish whether the sexual behaviour meets the criteria for:
Normal child sex play
Sexually reactive behaviour. Children who have been sexually abused or exposed to highly sexualised environments may themselves behave in a sexualised manner
Mutual sexual behaviour. Some children engage in adult like sexual behaviours with other children but do not use force or threats
Sexualised behaviour that is coercive involves force or harms the child another person.
What does the WellStop service for children involve?
We offer individualised treatment plans that are developed to meet the needs of the child and their family. We believe that the earlier the child and their family can get treatment the easier it is for them to change their behaviour.
This reduces the harm caused by problems getting worse over time. Individualised treatment programmes may include a combination of the following:
Child centred therapy
Social work support
Collaboration with other agencies involved with the child (e.g. School).
Treatment with children tends to be a brief intervention and can range from:
Very brief intervention (1-4 sessions) or
3- 6 months of treatment (depending on need), with more sessions available if necessary
Regular review meetings are held every three months with everyone involved (family, young person, other agencies) to review progress and set further goals and plans if needed.
Please feel free to contact the Regional Manager in your area if you have any concerns about a child, or you can contact us on (04) 566-4745 or send an enquiry form.