Helping a Child Manage Unsafe Sexual Behavior

Not all inappropriate sexual behavior indicates a significant problem.

Not all children who show sexually concerning behavior have an established sexual behavior problem requiring ongoing professional attention. For some kids there may have been a one-time lapse in judgment. Some young children act out or copy something they saw or heard described. If you aren’t sure whether a child has a problem you should ask a specialist for an evaluation. This way you can gather more information about what may be going on for your child and how you can best help them to change or correct harmful or worrisome behavior.

With help, most children can and do learn to manage their behaviors and stay safe.

If you have a child or teen in your care who you feel is at-risk to be sexually inappropriate with others, it is important to get assistance from a specialist who can guide you to evaluate the real risk and make your environment safer for everyone. You might think that if you ignore the behavior it will go away but the earlier children learn safe behaviors and boundaries, the easier it will be for them to stay safe.

Reduce the risk

There are many things you can do to reduce the risk of children interacting in ways that can be sexually harmful to themselves or others. Every child is different, and a child who seems to have difficulty responding to an adult’s correction or redirection may need an evaluation or ongoing counseling by a professional in order to change their behavior pattern. Specialized help is available for children and family members. In addition to professional support, supervision and the home environment can play a key role is helping a child to safely manage his/her behaviors.

Extra supervision

When in doubt, provide extra supervision. If you are worried about a child’s or teen’s behaviors with other children, never allow them to be in a situation where they can act out sexually. Continue to provide extra supervision until you are confident your child has learned safe behaviors and boundaries.

It is better to be proactive about preventing situations where sexual abuse or inappropriate sexual behaviors can happen than to deal with accusations or harm that has already happened. When in doubt, don’t leave children in situations where they could be accused of behaving in a sexually inappropriate manner.

When to get help

Seek additional help when a child is not able to follow clearly stated rules and boundaries. Some children have a harder time than others controlling their behavior. If you are working with a child who seems compulsive about their sexual behaviors or who is having a hard time following rules and understanding boundaries about sexual behaviors, seek professional help.

Know that you are not alone.

It can be very scary or embarrassing when your child is acting out sexually but many other people have gone through this. Some people are surprised to learn that other people they know have gone through a similar situation. You may be surprised by the support you receive from others if you are willing to share your situation. Stop It Now! offers a newsletter for parents called PARENTtalk.