It’s not always easy to tell the difference between natural sexual curiosity and potentially abusive behaviors in a child or teen. It’s helpful to learn the warning signs that indicate that there may be a problem. As a parent or guardian, if you’re not sure about what you’re seeing in a child, or you continue to have a gut feeling that something’s not right, it’s best to take the child to get evaluated by a professional. Therapists who are trained in working with children or teens who have sexual behavior problems can identify if a child has a problem and, if so, work with you and your child.. These professionals are sometimes referred to as sex-specific therapists.
The earlier the better. The good news is that positive, supportive help for the child or young person and his family can make a real difference. Evidence shows that the earlier children get appropriate treatment, the more able they are to learn the skills they need to control and change behaviors. Once behaviors have a chance to be repeated and become established patterns, changing those patterns becomes more challenging.
Children act harmfully for different reasons than adults do. Children don’t always understand that some behaviors can be hurtful to another child. Sometimes factors like having an older sibling or being exposed to adult sexual information, may make them aware of behaviors that are not typical for their age group. Some children – although by no means all – act sexually in response to physical or sexual abuse they have experienced or witnessed. Sometimes children engage sexually with other kids to meet more complex emotional needs in themselves. Professionals can help figure out the nature of the problem and work with the child accordingly.
Getting your child appropriate treatment isn’t the only way you can help. Make sure you let them know that you are in their corner and that they can be honest with you about their thoughts and feelings without being shamed or punished by you. Learn how to help them manage their behaviors so they can stay safe. When early interventions (like sex-specific therapy) are offered with the support of trusted and protective adults, the likelihood of positive outcomes are greatly increased.