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Help needed to stop daughter's cycle of sexual behavior problems

Question: 

Dear Stop It Now!,

My daughter was caught having a toddler touch her inappropriately. When we asked her about it, she admitted what happened. When we asked why, she told us about her confusion at being approached by a neighborhood girl who claimed she was a lesbian and was aggressively acting out with her sexually. I need help stopping this cycle. We are all very upset and don't know what to do next so that we can help guide her. She is so upset and neither my husband or I know how to help her.

Response: 
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Dear Concerned Parent,

I’m so sorry that your family is having this experience. It sounds like your daughter is feeling confused about boundaries and sexuality right now, and needs some extra guidance and support. It’s great that you recognize that this is about a cycle of behavior and are reaching out for help.

Safety Planning
One of the most immediate steps you can take to help break this cycle is to create a safety plan with your daughter.  A safety plan is a set of rules and guidelines for behavior for your entire family that can help your daughter avoid harmful behaviors and identify those behaviors in others. Right now, those rules should include all clothes staying on while playing, and all play being supervised by an adult. Respecting other's boundaries should also be part of this safety plan, especially since it sounds like another youth may not have respected your daughter’s. She may need modeling of safe behaviors after being exposed to, and engaging in, behaviors that were harmful.

It’s important to share with your daughter that this safety plan is not a punishment. It applies to everyone, not just herself, and it gives her a clearer expectation of what is and isn’t okay. You can let her know that if anyone violates the safety plan, she can come to you or another trusted adult immediately for help. Our tip sheet, Talking to Children and Teens, may be helpful to you in talking about this with your daughter.

Addressing Others’ Sexual Behavior Problems
Your daughter sounds like she’s having a very hard time with what happened with the older neighborhood girl. While some Age-Appropriate Sexual Behavior between peers is normal, you are describe something aggressive, not mutual, that does sound like sexually harmful behavior. Please take a look at our guidebook, Do Children Sexually Abuse Other Children?

Has anyone spoken with the parents of the neighborhood girl? Are there any other adults in the neighborhood who have noticed this girl’s Signs That a Child May Be At-Risk To Harm Another Child who could partner with you in voicing your concerns? Although it may seem awkward or even frightening, it’s important that someone is made aware of this child’s behavior so that she can also get help. This should be a planned, private conversation, and doesn’t have to be confrontational. Her parents may not be aware of her behaviors, or they may be aware but need extra support in addressing them. Please see our tip sheet, How To Talk To Parents About Their Child’s Behaviors, for help in having this conversation.

Finding Help
Youth’s sexual behaviors are very different from adults’, but can still be harmful. It’s possible that your daughter is not only feeling confused, but also like her own boundaries were violated. Your daughter can benefit from professional support through counseling. A professional counselor can help her talk about her feelings about her own experience, and avoid engaging in sexually harmful behaviors herself. Our resource guide on Finding and Choosing Professional Treatment can provide you with more information, as well as resources to help you find support for your daughter and your family.  

Reporting
You don’t mention whether anyone has yet reported these incidents to Child Protective Services (CPS), but it may be an option that you want to pursue together as a preventative measure with the other parents involved. You can tell CPS what happened and how you’re dealing with the situation (safety planning, counseling, etc.). CPS may be able to assist with locating help and resources for everyone involved. If this is an option you would like to pursue, please call Childhelp (1.800.4ACHILD) for connection to your local reporting hotline. It may also help you to review our information on Reporting.

Talking With the Parents
It’s also important to keep communication open with the parents of the two-year-old, so that they know you’re being proactive about addressing your daughter's behavior. It may help to include them in the safety planning by asking what would make them feel that the situation is being addressed, or by going ahead and sharing your own safety plan with their family. Including them in the process can demonstrate the steps that you’re taking in this situation, and that you’re all working together keep your children safe. It also sets a consistent standard for behavior for your daughter if she continues to have contact with this family.

This is no doubt a very difficult time for your families, and I hope these resources can help you support your daughter to get the help she needs while working together to keep everyone safe.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: March 20th, 2017