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Sexual touching between brother and toddler

Question: 

Dear Stop It Now!,

My six year old was outside jumping on the trampoline with my toddler. My toddler had no shorts or diaper on, which he normally rips off when the water is on, but the water wasn’t on. I noticed my older son trying to stick his finger up the baby's butt. He tried two times before I was able to get the door open and run out. He lied and said he was trying to tickle him. I don't know what to do! My toddler is fine, but my other son won't talk to me and keeps lying. I just want to know how many times this has happened before, and if someone has done this to him.

Response: 
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Dear Concerned Parent,

I can understand your concern, and I’m glad that you wrote to us for guidance. While I imagine this has been a frightening experience as a parent, the good news is that you were able to intervene and that you’re reaching out now for help.

Age-Appropriate and Inappropriate Behavior
While some sexual behaviors between children are Age-Appropriate Sexual Behavior, these behaviors are lighthearted and spontaneous. They wouldn’t include adult-like sexual behavior, like the kind your 7 year old was attempting, and children don’t usually lie or get upset when “caught.” So, it does sound like your son was showing some inappropriate behavior, especially with his reaction.

A Warning Sign of Abuse?
Acting out adult sexual behavior could mean that your son has seen this behavior somewhere – from an adult, another child, or his environment. I’m wondering if you’ve noticed any other changes in your son’s mood or behavior? Please take a look at these Warning Signs of Possible Sexual Abuse In A Child’s Behaviors. Keep in mind that any one warning sign on its own could be a sign of other stress. Instead, look for a cluster or pattern of behaviors – which would include your son’s sexual behavior. You don’t mention whether you have a parenting partner or other adults involved in your son’s life, but you may also want to ask them if they have noticed any of these changes in his behavior as well.

If you do notice other warning signs, you may also want to look at our Behaviors To Watch For When Adults Are With Children and Signs An Adult Is At-Risk To Harm A Child. See if any of these signs remind you of anyone in particular in your son’s life. When considering your sons’ safety, it’s also important to consider whether you feel the adults around them are safe.    

Other Influences
It also could be possible that this is something your son heard or saw from another child. At this age, it’s normal and age-appropriate for same-age or similar-age children to explore or experiment with each other. But sometimes peers may have experienced adult sexual behavior or have a sexual behavior problem themselves - and may bring that to their play. Take a look at these Signs A Child Is At-Risk To Harm A Child to see if this sounds like anyone your son spends time with at school, home, or in the neighborhood.

Talking to your Child
Right now, it sounds like your 7 year old is upset, and may even be afraid of what may happen if he’s honest about his behavior. It’s important to let him know that he isn’t in trouble, and that you aren’t mad at him for what happened. Though it may be difficult, it’s important to stay calm when you talk to your 7 year old about whether this has happened before, or to him. Our advice column, How should I talk to my child if I suspect he is being abused?, can offer guidance on how to have this conversation.

Safety Planning
This is also an opportunity to Create a Family Safety Plan with your boys, and with any other adults or children in your home. A safety plan is a set of rules and guidelines for everyone in the home that help prevent abuse. These rules might include keeping clothes on while playing, not touching anyone in their genital areas or allowing others to touch their genitals (except in medical or toileting situations), and not playing with doors closed or without supervision.

You can let your sons know that this is not a punishment, but about keeping everyone safe, and that the rules apply to everyone. You can also emphasize that they can always tell you if someone’s broken a rule, whether it’s a child or an adult. You can read more about safety planning in our tip sheets.

Getting Help
It’s good to hear that your 2 year old is doing fine, and isn’t showing any signs of distress. If this changes, or if your 7 year old continues to have a hard time with what happened or has inappropriate behaviors even after you set boundaries, you may want to consider professional support.

I hope this information is helpful, and please don't hesitate to contact us back with further concerns or questions as you move forward in addressing this with your sons.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: March 20th, 2017