Is 14 month-old's behavior during changing normal?
Dear Stop It Now!,
In this recently divorced scenario, where the infant daughter is spending equal time with the father, whose extended family (older cousins to this infant) have been found out to be playing sexually with other children: the mother has noted that the daughter has started giggling when she wipes the genital and anal areas. Is this new giggling or "pleasure reaction" normal for this 14-month old female child?
Dear Concerned Adult,
It’s great that you’re taking note of even subtle changes in this little girl's behavior, as asking questions and following up on any and all concerns is so important to keeping children safe. I’m so glad you’ve reached out to us.
Recognizing Healthy Behaviors
First, know that children are in fact sexual beings, and even at 14 months-old there are Age-Appropriate Sexual Behaviors that you or other caregivers may recognize in young children. Yes, it is healthy and developmentally expected that a child may giggle when someone washes a part of her that may tickle, including her vulva and anus.
Becoming Aware of Warning Sign Behaviors
However I also want any caregiving adults to continue to notice new behaviors as she grows, and reach out to her pediatrician if anyone notices any marked change, fear, or anxiety reactions to typical caregiving routines (like these Warning Signs in Children of Possible Sexual Abuse). To minimize stress for this child, ensure that only the same few people perform these hygiene tasks. Though it is normal for older children to be curious about what the steps are for all the processes that come along with taking care of a baby, they do not need to be included in the more private routines (like bathing or diaper changing).
I understand that this child's giggling during wash time has also coincided with some recent knowledge of her older cousin’s sexual behaviors, and I do realize why you’re worried. Children can and do engage in sexually inappropriate and even harmful behaviors with other children, but when they do it is for very different reasons than an adult would. Parents can work to keep their children safe by becoming knowledgeable about what normal developmentally expected behaviors look like, and by laying the ground rules for what sort of body boundaries every child and adult needs to respect.
Planning for Safety
A great next step may be for the family to start discussing what sort of Safety Plan they'd like to enact within their family. Safety planning articulates the rules about privacy, respect, and consent to your daughter, and asks caregivers to model and respect these body boundaries too. This helps children know what’s okay and helps them better recognize when something is not okay no matter where they are or who they are with. Having these guidelines in place also makes it easier to address any unsafe behavior in the future (in a child or an adult) by talking about the rule that has been broken.
Some families have rules like: Adults and children always play with our clothes on, with doors open, and we keep our hands to ourselves. The places we cover with a bathing suit are private. If anyone is ever asking about your private parts, talking to you about theirs, or if anyone ever makes you feel uncomfortable or scared, it is important to speak up to a trusted adult. This child’s mother and father may both want to come together on a set of rules they can agree on, as continuity between households is useful.
Again, I'm glad that you're following up on the child's well-being by asking these questions. Please don't hesitate to contact us back with any additional concerns.
Stop It Now!
Last edited on: October 31st, 2018