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Sexual Acting Out and Behavior

Question:

Recently my 7 ½ year old son had a friend for a sleep-over. While I was downstairs they were lying in the same bed. They kept acting up so bad that finally I separated and made them sleep in separate beds. The friend was very hyper so I lay down with him and talked with him until he calmed down and went to sleep.

Some days later we got a concerned call from his father. It seems that our son had talked him into kissing each other on the penis (my wife says my son got the suggestion from another kid.) The friend was uncomfortable about it and told his father, who now wants the children to be separated for a while.

I feel very conflicting emotions - angry at my child, angry at the other father. My son also frequently tries to pull down his 11 year old sister's pants, and is delighted when she gets very upset. Other than these incidents he has not been bothering other children to my knowledge, although a year ago or more he did do something of the sort with 2 girls, each one on a different occasion.

I've read your advice on the matter and I don't feel it quite hits on the problem because I don't think it's just curiosity. I think he does it partly out of a desire to be naughty and also in his sister's case, to see that reaction.

I can think of only one mistake I've made in this regard specifically. When he was 5 or 6 I told him about intercourse (I was speaking to his sister also) and he wasn't ready. It upset him a bit but he has not referred to that for a long time and I don't know if that would have anything to do with it.

I'd appreciate any suggestions you may have.

Answer:

I understand your confusion and embarrassment over your son's behavior with his friend. Sexual acting out and behavior is almost always tough for parents to deal with, even when they understand that, at least to some degree, it's "normal."

As a therapist who works with children, I have a couple of questions. Without being alarmed, is it possible that your son has been exposed to sexual behavior or touch before? Children who demonstrate an unusual interest in sexual matters often have been introduced to it by other adults, children, or by viewing sexual material. Children rarely express their questions about these matters openly; they "know" that sexual stuff is taboo and sometimes makes adults uncomfortable. It's also possible that having intercourse explained to him when he was young has created some confusion for your son that he is "acting out" in his behavior. My own son was inadvertently shown a sexually explicit cartoon when he was four, and we went through several months of heightened sexual interest and questions--which gradually disappeared when he realized that he wasn't shocking me and that I would calmly answer any of his questions. Do some thinking about what you want your son to believe about sex and intimacy, then find ways to calmly teach and share those concepts with him.

Your son needs teaching about appropriate boundaries and behavior, not punishment. By showing gentle curiosity and asking "what" and "how" questions, you can open the door to talking about sex, rather than having him act it out. You may want to get one of the many excellent books explaining sexuality for young children and read it together, openly reminding him that this subject has come up before and you're wondering if he has questions. The phrase, "I've noticed that. . ." is often a good beginning. You can let him know, without anger, that touching other people (including his sister) is not acceptable (just as it's not okay for everyone to touch his private parts), but it is okay to have questions and be curious, and that he can ask you anything. Your own attitude (kind and firm) will let him know that you mean what you say. If you are calm, open, and approachable, he may be able to relax enough to explore the subject with you.

If your son continues to be intensely interested in sexual matters or to touch others in inappropriate ways, you might want to find a therapist who is skilled in working with children to help you and your son work through these issues.

Cheryl Erwin, MA, MFT, Certified Positive Discipline Associate

 

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