Question Hi, I have a son who just turned six years old in May and for the past year or two we have had repeated issues with him playing doctor and showing/touching private parts with other kids. It has mainly happened with the neighbor boy but has also happened at the babysitters with a girl. Today I found out that it happened at the sitters again. I understand that being curious at this age is TOTALLY NORMAL but my concern is that we have talked to him about it repeatedly and he still keeps doing it. I feel like I am at a total loss. I obviously don't want to punish him but I want him to know that it's not okay. I remain very calm when talking to him about it and I have asked him if he has any questions. It's not like it's happening daily but every several months we find out that he has done it again. When I ask him who's idea it was he can't usually give me a straight answer. My son is typically very honest and a well behaved boy. He is also very smart. I would appreciate any advice or insight you can give me. Thanks.
Answer Frequently, youngsters who obsess about sexual matters at this age and are engaging in inappropriate sexual acts have been or are being sexually overstimulated. The most ominous potential cause is sexual molestation, either by another child or by an adult. Having been advised by a parent such activity is unacceptable, children often hide these occurrences from their parents. They may be convinced they are themselves guilty of wrongdoing or they may be fearful of retaliation by the perpetrator. Simply asking them if such abuse has or is occurring rarely evokes an honest or accurate response. Abuse may have taken place years earlier or may be ongoing.
Though it is possible for sexual obsessions in young children to occur as a result of what parents might think are trivial events, like exposure to sexually explicit movies, photographs or glimpsed adult interactions, such events, though less frequent triggers, can also provoke sexual acting out.
The safest course of action in situations like you describe is to have the child work with a child therapist, most appropriately one with experience in child sexual abuse. These professionals are able to elicit the cause of a child's sexual acting out, sometimes with enough descriptive detail to identify a perpetrator. Child psychotherapy offers treatment for whatever trauma may have triggered the behavior. Suspicion by any observer of recent or ongoing sexual abuse requires the filing of a report to DCF for formal investigation.
As a Johns Hopkins trained Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician with 40 years experience, I have focused on distinguishing underlying willful, poor choice-making (like Oppositional-Defiant Disorder)from innate "conditions" masquerading as willful misbehavior (like ADHD, Autistic Spectrum Disorders, Bipolar Disorders, Cerebral Palsy, Developmental Delay, Epilepsy and "Behavioral" Seizures).
Though I cannot act as a formal medical or psychiatric consultant, I will answer queries with generic information and suggestions for discussion readers may direct to their own professional advisers, including physicians, psychologists and educators.
I trained at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Pediatrics, Child Psychiatry and Behavioral-Developmental Pediatrics. Thereafter, I've continuously practiced Behavioral-Developmental Pediatrics and have taught the principles mentioned above to parents, colleagues and professional groups.
Organizations American Academy of Pediatrics
SW Florida Sportsman's Association
Florida Writers Association
Publications First Travel Meds - 1987;
Managing Misbehavior in Kids: The Mis/Kidding Process;
Bullying: Rarely Travels Alone;
Discipline Your Child (without going to jail);
AD(H)D: What Every Parent Needs to Know
Education/Credentials Undergraduate - NY University WSC Arts & Science, NYC 1959-63 - B.A.
Medical Degree- State University of NY, Upstate Med Ctr, Syracuse 1963-67 - M.D.
Internship/Residency - Johns Hopkins Hosp/University - Baltimore, MD 1967-70
Major, US Army Medical Corps, Chief Pediatric Section, Savannah, GA - 1970-72
Sp. Fellow, Dept Child Psychiatry - Johns Hopkins Hospital/University - 1972-73
Practicing Behavioral-Developmental Pediatrician, lecturer, author - to date
Currently practicing Child Psychiatry - SalusCareFlorida, Fort Myers, FL.