What to do when two kindergartners play a “pants down” game at school?

Dear Stop It Now!,

My son is in kindergarten. The other day, a girl in his class told him she wanted to play a “pants down” game. The game was putting her hands down his pants and having him to put his hands down her pants. My son told me about it afterwards. I talked to the teacher about it but she wasn’t very concerned. I’m worried that this little girl will keep playing these “games” with my son. What should I do?

Dear Concerned Parent,

I'm glad that you are pursuing this situation to offer your son and other children the safest environment possible. While this may be normal play, it is absolutely the role of caregiving adults to monitor this type of activity and set safe boundaries and guidelines up to help keep children safe.

Working with other parents

If the teacher is not planning on speaking to the little girl’s parents, this is something you can do. This conversation can be about sharing information and planning for safety, not about blame. You have the opportunity to model cooperative communication and safety planning among adults, and this way you’ll know for sure that the parents know about the incident so that they can have a chance to talk to their child.

Engaging the school

You can also speak directly to the directors and principals of children’s programs and schools about their policies and practices to prevent child sexual abuse. Ask to see what they have in writing. Find out how teachers and staff are trained in addressing child's sexualized behaviors and in their programs policies on child sexual abuse prevention. You can even ask about their policies in reviewing backgrounds of new hires. Our Tip Sheets, Nine questions parents should ask when selecting a program for their children and Safety in Day Care and Child Care Settings will help further prepare you for a conversation with the school.

Adults' roles in helping children with healthy sexual development

Children at this age are curious about their bodies and the bodies of others, and games like playing “Doctor” are quite common ways to satisfy their sexual curiosity. Parents and other caretaking adults need to make it very clear to children who are exploring through such games that there are boundaries, even in games and that it is not okay to touch another child’s genital areas. The adults can then re-direct the kids to other activities. Typically children will move on to other games and activities. The problem occurs when a child seems more interested in sexual behaviors than in other parts of a typical 5 year old’s life.

Talking to your children about healthy sexuality

Another important way to create a safer environment is for parents to talk to their own children about healthy sexuality and body safety. Giving children permission to talk about these issues can help them later feel confident in talking with adults when they have questions or concerns. This may also be just the right time, if you haven’t done so already, to start teaching your son about his body. Additionally, when a parent is aware of age appropriate sexual behaviors, they can better identify when there is something not right.

Good luck working with your son’s program regarding this and please share with them any information from our website that you think will help them address the sexual safety of all of their children. Any parent who has a child in school wants to be confident that there is a secure environment where the children can learn, play and feel safe.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: August 24th, 2012