My partner's child is touching my breasts, what do I do?
Dear Stop It Now!,
My partner’s 10 year old is starting to experience the changes in her body associated with puberty. Recently, whenever she goes to hug me, her hands find their way to my breasts. I have mentioned it to her in a number of different ways, casually “hey, watch out for the boobs.” I’ve tried redirecting her hands to a more appropriate placement and I’ve even explicitly said to be careful as I’m not comfortable and it’s not okay for her to touch my boobs. There have been times when she does this that make it seem deliberate: approaching me from behind, running her hands down the front of my body as she moves out of a hug, etc.
I’d like to know if this seems like simple curiosity, and also some advice for how approach a conversation with her about this as the ways I’ve attempted so far don’t seem to work. She hasn’t done it in a while, but I do sometimes find her watching me or looking at my body if she doesn’t think I’m paying attention. I have spoken with her dad about this, and he’s also aware and keeping an eye on it. He’s also mentioned it a few times to her, when he’s seen the behaviour himself. I just want to be careful not to embarrass or shame her. Thanks.
Dear Concerned Adult,
You're asking such a good question, and it's really fantastic that you're looking to approach this from both a safety standpoint and one of compassion. You sound like a very important role model for her, and I'm glad you've reached out to us.
Identifying Warning Signs
Touching an adult's private parts, like your breasts, is an uncommon behavior in children at this age and stage (for more information, see our tip sheet called Age Appropriate Sexual Behavior). There could be so many things going on here, and it sounds like you've already considered that this could be part of her information gathering process during puberty - although this is not an appropriate way of getting her questions answered, it could be that this is her way of seeking out information on bodies and sexuality. I also hear that you and your partner have lightly addressed this in the moment - and that's great - and though this behavior hasn't recurred in a while, you are still concerned. I'm curious if this behavior - her crossing boundaries with you - may be a part of a larger pattern of behavioral changes? Do take a look at these pages on Warning Signs in Children of Possible Sexual Abuse and these Signs a Child is At Risk to Harm Another Child. Consider whether there were any changes in her environment, and check-in with any other people who have been caring for or interacting with your partner's daughter recently. This may help paint a better picture as to whether this is an isolated incident or a larger concern that needs to be identified and addressed.
Talking with the Child About Their Inappropriate Behavior
In terms of approaching her, take the time to speak with her privately. Ask when she has a free moment to talk together - like maybe after she's had some time to decompress from her day at school and has had a snack. Tell her how much you care about her, and also raise your concerns about what you're noticing in her behavior. Stay away from any labels but be curious, open and calm. She'll be able to read your body language too so it's okay to take some time to think about what you want to say and how it will land. You can say something like, "I love you so much, and I really value the time we spend together. I also have something I want to talk to you about that may feel awkward for us both - but I think it's really important. I remember when we had hugged a few times and you touched my breasts. I want to be clear that touching someone's private parts - an adult's or a child's - is not okay, and it actually made me uncomfortable. Private parts are breasts, penises, vaginas and vulvas, butts. But, I also want to make sure you understand that being curious at your age is totally normal. In fact, I had so very many questions at your age too. You are going through some changes right now, and both you and your friends probably have a lot of curiosity about what that means, what bodies look like, and questions about sex and sexuality - even if no one is talking about them. I'm wondering, do you have any questions I can help answer for you? I know this probably feels a little weird - and that's fine - and I don't want to put any pressure on you, but know that I'm here to talk about anything you do have questions about, and I also wanted to make sure you had some resources to look at on your own too. But from now on, remember our family's safety plan - private parts are private, and that means no one should touch your private parts but you and you shouldn't touch anyone else's private parts either."
Then, do make sure that you have some age-appropriate resources she can access. I've included some below that you may want to check out with your partner, and then pass on to her.
- Amaze: An educational resource tool for children and teens ages 10-14 about puberty. It helps parents get this important dialogue started with fun and informational videos that tweens can watch on their own time.
- It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris: Book about puberty, growing up, sex and sexual health for kids 10 and up.
- Birds + Bees + Kids book recommendations for kids ages 6-12
And keep following up. These conversations about healthy sexuality, body boundaries, safe touch, privacy and respect are all part of what we call safety planning. A Family Safety Plan is great because it can help articulate what the rules are for everyone - all adults and kids. It's a living document as your partner's daughter grows: the information and guidance she needs now should be modified and added to as she develops into a teenager. This can also help her know what to expect from other people too; when we're clear through modeling, talking about safety, and following up, it makes it more likely for this child to be able to identify if something ever feels "off" for her in any friendship, relationship or situation. There doesn't have to be any type of risk to make a safety plan, and actually the best time to create one is before there has been a concerning incident. Perhaps this is something you and your partner can work together on with his daughter.
If after you talk to your partner's daughter, she continues to cross boundaries with you (or other people) or if you or your partner notice other warning signs in her behaviors, then it would be a good idea to possibly involve her pediatrician and consider whether counseling may be helpful. One single sign or incident does not necessarily mean there is something worrisome happening, but a pattern of behavior changes or any continued issues with following rules after being given information about safe and unsafe play is a time to find out more - there are so many reasons why kids exhibit stress behaviors, and her doctor and a therapist could both help with figuring out what might be going on for her.
Stop It Now!
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Last edited on: February 1st, 2021