Yes. There is a range of help for children whose sexual behaviors are concerning. The most important thing is to act, and act quickly. There are a lot of reasons why a child may be acting out sexually, and a therapist who specializes in children’s sexual behaviors will address all aspects of a child’s behavior, including their sexual behavior. They will work with you to develop a specialized treatment plan to address your child’s behavior.
If you learn that your child has been sexually inappropriate, you may worry that your child will grow up to be someone who sexually abuses children. The good news is that children with sexual behavior problems who receive help appear to be very responsive to treatment and are at very low risk to commit future sexually abusive behaviors. The key is getting them the help they need as soon as you recognize the problem.
Therapy for children with sexual behavior problems is not the same as the kinds of treatment offered to adults who sexually abuse children. Treatment providers look at your child’s development and tailor treatment so it is age-appropriate and use methods that are specifically for children and youth. They will also work closely with you and other adults in your child’s life, especially around safety planning.
Treatment will address all aspects of your child’s behavior including their sexual behavior. When looking at your child’s sexual behaviors, a specialist will consider their social development, their thinking skills, family history, what the behavior means to them, what they[ital] think about the behavior, even how they have been influenced by the media. Some children are developmentally advanced or are mimicking sexual behaviors they have seen and need to learn about healthy sexual expression and appropriate sexual boundaries. Sometimes children’s sexual behaviors are part of a series of already-existing concerning non-sexual behaviors such as aggressive, impulsive or anti-social activity. Some children are acting out their distress in sexual ways. The first step in treatment is assessing your child’s behavior (with the help of you and other adults in your child’s life) and determining the appropriate course of treatment or therapy.
A big part of treatment is safety planning. Your child will do best if you and other adults in their lives are active participants in their treatment plan. Children and older youth need help to make sure their behaviors don’t continue or escalate. As children get older, the consequences for acting out sexually can get more severe, up to and including criminal charges. While it can be tempting to think “it won’t happen again“ or “now he knows it’s wrong,” children need responsible and aware adults who hold children accountable, model healthy behaviors and boundaries, provide informed supervision, and address any vulnerabilities that may lead to harmful sexual behaviors.
Treatment can help you understand your child’s sexual behaviors. There are many different reasons why a child “acts out” sexually, and finding some answers can be a huge relief to everyone involved – especially the child. Some children behave this way out of curiosity; some are imitating things they’ve seen or things that have been done to them. Some discover that sexual things feel good and the physical sensation can reinforce their sexual behaviors. Some are seeking affection in sexual ways and some use sexual behaviors to act out anger or to retaliate. That is why it is so important for you to seek specialized help for your individual child.