Sexual Behaviors: Setting Limits

Sexual behaviors are normal, even in very young children. Many children touch themselves, show their privates to others, or ask questions about sex. For children to have healthy sexual development, you should let your children know that they can ask you about their bodies. Be sure to talk to your child about sex. If they have not asked you questions by the age of 5, you need to bring it up. This helps to keep them from getting wrong information at school.

If you feel that your child's behavior is not OK (for example, touching himself in public), you need to set some limits. Many parents worry that setting limits will cause the child to be ashamed or to have hangups about sex. However, like other things, children need rules about touching and sexual behaviors. Use a calm and gentle tone. Never yell at children or punish them for sexually inappropriate behaviors.

Here are 4 simple rules you can teach your child to help him understand the limits.

  1. You may touch your own private parts when you're by yourself. This is a normal behavior in children. If your child is touching himself a lot and in public places, tell your child that it is OK to touch himself, but he should do it in a private place such as his bedroom or a bathroom.
  2. You may not touch other people's private parts. If your child tries to touch other people's genitals, it's important to let him know that genitals are people's private places.
  3. You may not show your private parts to other people. If your child pulls down her pants or exposes her genitals, tell her it's not OK to show her private parts to other people.
  4. You may not let other people touch your private parts. Tell your child that he should not allow others to touch his or her private parts.

All of the above behaviors can be normal in a child's development. However, be consistent in setting limits for your child. If your child continues these behaviors, even after being reminded of these rules, talk to your child's healthcare provider.

Reference: Bonner & Walker, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

Written by Lawrence R. Ricci, MD, and Joyce Wientzen, LCSW.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-01-09
Last reviewed: 2009-01-05
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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