EXPERT Q&A

How should I speak to my young child who touched his friend’s private parts?

Young children may demonstrate bodily curiosity through a range of behaviors that are both typical and common. Learn more about which behaviors are developmentally appropriate and how to best speak to your children about their curiosity.

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Question

Recently, my 4-year-old son had a playdate with the neighbor’s 4-year-old daughter during which they played “show and tell”. Everything seemed to be both innocent and mutual curiosity, however, when asked, the neighbor had said my son touched her private areas. Is this common among children this age? And how should I speak to my son about this?

Answer

Thank you for asking such an important question.

This can feel very shocking and your concern is absolutely understandable. This body-based curiosity is age-appropriate, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Below is a chart of examples of sexual behaviors in children aged 2-6. This chart identifies common normal sexual behaviors for young children in the left column, followed by less common normal behaviors, uncommon behaviors, and rarely normal behaviors. In addition to detailing the types of behaviors common and uncommon for children, it also encourages you to assess the situation with consideration of other factors, such as a history of trauma or violence in the family. But from your description of the situation, it seems to fall in the first two columns—normal and developmentally typical behaviors for children this age. It may be important, however, to review the chart so you are aware of other typical behaviors you may see in your children as they grow.

So how do you address it in a supportive, loving, and nonjudgmental way? Here are some steps to make sure you are speaking to your child about bodily autonomy and consent in a healthy way.

  • Good touch vs. bad touch. Teach your child the difference between a “good touch” and a “bad touch”. A good touch might include a hug, holding hands, changing a diaper or help with wiping, a doctor’s exam, etc. A bad touch might consist of hitting, kicking, or touching someone’s private areas.
  • Set boundaries. Give your child a very firm rule or boundary. Explain to them it is not okay to touch anyone else’s private parts and it is not okay for someone to touch them in these places either. Reassure your child that you are there for them to keep them safe and that you will always believe them when they talk to you. This rule is for their safety.
  • Be serious. Don’t laugh when your child asks you questions about their bodies or sexuality. I know it can seem cute, but this can lead to your child feeling ashamed of asking questions, and that’s the last thing you want. Try to hold space for their questions and answer them as honestly as possible. If they ask a question that you’re not sure how to answer, say something like, “Oh! That’s such a good question. I’m going to think about it a bit for a little while, and I’d love to answer that later today.” This allows you time to gather your thoughts, and of course, be sure to answer the question later! If it’s a question you need to look up, ask the CareNectar team!
  • Teaching bodily autonomy. Read through this new CareNectar activity about teaching bodily autonomy to your child. This provides some great guidance that can help you navigate tough conversations.

This can be one of the most challenging parts of parenting, but you’ve got this! And we’re here to cheer you on! 

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Meet The Expert


Martha Tyler

Martha has her Masters in Education and is a certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator. She has worked as a sitter, nanny, tutor, or teaching artist over the past 20+ years. In addition, Martha has hosted a child care podcast, Chronicles of Nannya, for several years. She is also the co-founder of Compassionate Childcare LLC and is thrilled to be able to share her experience, knowledge, and resources with CareNectar!