Many parents wonder how to handle their young child’s sexual behavior, such as genital touching, pulling or exploration. It can be an uncomfortable topic, but it’s important for you, as their primary caregiver, to be knowledgeable about healthy sexual development in order to know what’s normal and what might be a red flag.
You might think that sexual development starts in the preschool years, but even infants and toddlers touch genitals, just as they touch ears and toes. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers great information about sexual development, red flags and safety tips in young children, ages 2-6.
If you are looking for guidance on sexual development in older children The National Sexual Violence Resource Center provides an Overview of Healthy Sexual Development from ages 0-12. This helpful tool covers not only common behaviors, but also ways you can encourage healthy development.
As for safety, Feather Berkower, an educator and author focused on the prevention of child sexual assault, says it’s never too early to talk with children about their body safety as long as it’s age-appropriate.
Even with infants and toddlers, you can begin by practicing use of anatomically correct names for their genitals as you talk to them during diapering and bathing. In her blog, “Your Top 10 Questions about Body Safety,” Feather provides guidance and conversation starters on body safety to build your child’s confidence and awareness.
And remember, “You are the boss of your body!”