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Encouraging healthy sexual development in 5-8 year olds

EXCLUSIVE - The Freda Briggs Parenting Series

Freda Briggs - Emeritus Professor in Child Development
for | 26 March 2012

Stock Photo

"You show me yours and Iíll show you mine..."

Normal sexual play in the 5-8 age group involves "You show me yours and Iíll show you mine", the aim of which is to check out whether we are all constructed in the same way. It usually involves friends of the same age. It involves equal sharing and no threat or coercion is involved. There can be a lot of giggling, embarrassment when caught (and adults act emotionally) but they can also be easily distracted.

Children of this age may repeat swear words or talk about toileting using vulgar language to check your reaction. Boys in particular repeat sexually suggestive jokes and rhymes without necessarily understanding them. They learn from experience what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Because they have no memory of events, they like to hear stories about their birth and what happened when they were little. The fact that they generate a reaction makes this exciting.

We draw attention to gender differences by separating boysí and girlsí toilets at school. This makes some boys very curious about what goes on behind those walls and they typically chase girls in there because it is naughty and different. Children aged 5+ are aware of Ďrudeí children and know that rude behaviour or rude/dirty talk is naughty. They think that naughty means that they are bad. They think that naughty means no-one will love them...that itís their fault, they are to blame, will get into trouble and be punished. With that in mind, they think they have to keep the sexually inappropriate behaviour of others secret from parents. If someone tells them to keep it secret, they will comply unless you have already talked about this. Therapists have often wondered why victims of child sexual abuse blame themselves but self-blame is well established in early childhood.

"That is a sign that the perpetrator
has been sexually abused"

Please note that it is NOT normal for another child to demand or offer oral sex, to penetrate anotherís vagina or anus using fingers or objects. That is a sign that the perpetrator has been sexually abused or has seen so much pornography that it has caused emotional damage and the child is now repeating it. Unfortunately inappropriate sexual behaviour is happening all too frequently in schools and even early childhood centres. If it happens in your home, donít get annoyed but gently ask who showed the child how to play that game and where does he play.

Most reports involve boys behaving sexually inappropriately with other boys. Reportable behaviour is when there is a difference in age or stage of development, when the perpetrator chooses a vulnerable child (such as one with a disability or a child on his first day of school), when secrecy, threats, bribes or blackmail are used and the child is replicating adult sexual behaviour. This should be reported to the child abuse report line to be investigated because, without therapy, it is possible that the behaviour will continue into adolescence or even adulthood. Never report it to the perpetratorís parents because of the possibility that he learned the behaviour from abuse at home. Unfortunately, schools have a long history of ignoring serious sexual misbehaviour or even protecting the perpetrator, ensuring that victims are again victimised by having to transfer to another school or home schooling.

More information on healthy child sexual development can be found in "Smart Parenting for Safer Kids" by the author, available from JoJo Publishers, Melbourne, all good bookshops or the internet.

Freda Briggs
Emeritus Professor in Child Development

Smart Parenting for Safer Kids

Dr Freda Briggs AO is Emeritus Professor in Child Development at the University of South Australia and author of "Smart Parenting for Safer Kids". "Smart Parenting for Safer Kids", reviewed by here, gives tips on keeping children safe in a wide range of situations from cyber space and sexual abuse to bullying. The book is available in all good bookstores and can be ordered by phone on 03 9681 7275 or online at JoJo Publishing
You can read more of Freda Briggs's Profile here.

This article may not be reprinted, reproduced, or retransmitted in whole or in part without the express written consent of The views of the author are not necessarily representative of those of This article contains only general information, correct at the date of publication. For advice regarding your own personal circumstances, always seek individual advice from a qualified professional. Read the full Disclaimer here

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