Smart Parenting During and After Divorce: What to Do When Your Child Is Acting Out Sexually During or After a Visit
Many parents' biggest nightmare is that their child might be sexually abused. In a high proportion of sexual molestations cases, the perpetrator is close to the family. What should you do if your child does something that appears very sexual, and you believe that the child might have been exposed to sexual activity at the co-parent's house?
Children can learn sexual behavior by being the recipient of it, by observing and imitating it, or by exploring their own bodies and experiencing the pleasurable sensations that occur while doing so. The last circumstance is normal, natural, and not harmful. The first two circumstances are harmful to children to varying degrees, depending on what they have been exposed to.
Educating Your Child
Every parent, from the time a child is about three years of age or so, can and should start to educate their child about sexual behavior by explaining the names of the private areas of the body and by explaining the difference between good touches—like hugs and back scratches given by people you know very well—and bad touches, which are any touches that make you feel uncomfortable or creepy, and particularly any touches in the private areas.
It is often helpful to give children age five and above very specific advice about how people can touch or kiss them. This includes teaching children to give and receive kisses on the cheek and to tell an adult when someone tries to kiss them on the mouth. Giving a child a kiss on the lips is acceptable in some cultures, but I would rather have a child offend some of my Old World family members and be certain the child knows the difference between an appropriate versus an inappropriate form of affection. Besides, it is not the most sanitary way of interacting with a child, and for this reason alone you should teach your child to avoid it.
Children can learn a lot of age-inappropriate sexual behavior by watching television. A rash of parents have come through my office whose children have seen people kissing with their tongues on television and who then imitate the behavior. Of course, this can become the catalyst for horrible fights and accusations between co-parents. It is always wise to monitor and restrict television for children. Children can watch television, but television should not watch children.
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