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Sexual Behavior in Preschoolers

November 19, 2019

Some parents have difficulty determining what sexual behavior in preschoolers is normal or not.

Keep in mind that at least by age two kids are increasingly aware of body parts under the clothing.

We talk to them about their belly button and they lift their shirt to show it and then they want to see ours. We go to the bathroom and they may be there in the room. They see us when we undress and dress. We comment on their parts during a diaper change or bathing and we touch them all over to provide for their bath. We certainly and intentionally draw attention to their genitals and anus for toilet training, causing them to take greater control of bodily functions.

So they seek to understand, explore, play and enjoy as they would any other object. Such play and exploration between age mates is normal.

Kids may also tell stories of their experiences of being touched as in the bath just as they would about playing with their toys.

The job of the parent/caregiver is to redirect when necessary and to have some degree of awareness of activities their child engages in and with whom and to realize there is much behavior, awareness and experience that is not sinister.

An age difference greater than 3 to 4 years is likely problematic.

What is less normal is sexual behavior that would be seen more exclusively and privately between adults.

If such behavior is witnessed or heard about by the parent, the challenge for the parent is to remain calm as their reaction may be more frightening or off-putting than the child’s experience of the actual event.

Caution is required when parents seek to question children regarding these matters.

A parent may calmly and almost more incidentally ask the child what transpired being cautious not to use leading questions.

Some kids and at certain ages will more reflexively answer either yes or no to the majority of questions asked of them so these answers do not reflect their knowledge nor actual experience.

Some kids fearing they may anger a parent may seek to observe the parents expression to provide an answer that appeases the parent.

If child sexual abuse is truly suspected, do call a child protection agency (CAS).

This is both a legal obligation and can facilitate a professional meeting with the child trained in techniques to explore the event minimizing the risk of this causing trauma or obtaining inaccurate information gained by leading questions or a child seeking to appease the parent doing the questioning.

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I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out all my services and then call me if you need help with a personal issue, mental health concern, child behavior or relationship, divorce or separation issue or even help growing your practice. I am available in person and by video conferencing.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW for counseling and support – to build your successful practice


Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, former parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America. He consults to mental health professionals as well as to mediators and collaborative law professionals about good practice as well as building their practice.

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