Is there any reason for parents to be concerned about innocent sexual exploration on the part of very small children? The reason I ask is that I recently discovered my preschooler playing "doctor" with a neighborhood friend. I've always believed that this kind of thing was normal in young kids, but when I found my own child involved, I felt uncomfortable and didn't know what to say. Are such feelings justified?
This is really just a question of having the wisdom and discernment to provide age-appropriate sex education to your kids as the situation warrants it. The cultural messages kids are receiving about sex may make this more difficult, but if you're modeling healthy attitudes toward sexuality at home, there's no reason to be overly concerned about this incident.
Because sexuality is a central part of life, it's only natural for children to want to know about it. This is why it's important to take the initiative to teach your kids about sex in your own way and on your own terms – otherwise, they're probably going to learn about it somewhere else, and there's no telling if the information they pick up will be accurate or healthy. The good news is that it's never too late to begin this process. The fact that you caught your child "playing doctor" with one of the neighbor kids doesn't mean you've got a lost cause on your hands.
Curiosity, then, is normal and should be expected. Sexual touch, on the other hand, is a more serious matter. Complications can occur when the game of "doctor" involves this kind of touching, and for this reason it should not be condoned or ignored. If this kind of behavior was a part of the play you witnessed, you should alert the parents of the other child and see what can be done to prevent it from happening again. Naturally, both sets of parents need to be careful not to shame their children. Punishment certainly isn't appropriate in a case like this. Here again, the best solution is simply to stay current with good sex education in the home and enforce healthy personal boundaries.
It's also important to keep in mind, that when adequate sex education is lacking, naiveté can sometimes lead to sexual experimentation. And while some sexual experimentation is typical even in healthy children, each situation needs to be considered carefully and on an individual basis.
If you have further questions about this, feel free to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department. They'd be happy to assist you in any way they can.
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