What are sexualised behaviours?
Some challenging behaviour may take the form of inappropriate sexualised behaviour. Knowing how to identify and respond to a child’s sexual behaviours will help you to support them in developing a healthy sexuality. It can also help you to protect them, and other children, from harm or abuse.
It is normal and natural for children to express their sexuality through their behaviour. This kind of behaviour is not just about sex, but includes any talk, touch, questions, conversations and interests which relate to sexuality and relationships. However, if you witness a child displaying sexualised behaviour which increases their own vulnerability to abuse, or causes harm to another child or adult, you have a responsibility to provide them with information, support and protection. Children who have been abused, neglected, experienced family violence or other significant negative disruptions to their development or socialisation may be at increased risk of exposure to, or of developing, unsafe or harmful sexual behaviours.
The two terms commonly used to describe this type of behaviour are problem sexualised behaviour (PSB) and sexually abusive behaviour (SAB).
Problem sexualised behaviour is defined as the range of sexual behaviours outside developmental norms which may be self-directed or directed towards others, which are likely to have an impact on the child’s functioning or the functioning of others, but which are not coercive.
Sexually abusive behaviour is defined as any sexual activity or sexual behaviour of one child that is abusive or coercive towards another child.
Whilst these behaviours are a cause for concern, it is important to understand that children and adolescents who sexually abuse are different from adults who sexually offend, and that treatment outcomes for young people with these behaviours are generally very positive.
How do I know if a child’s behaviour is healthy?
Tips for Supporting Children with Problem Sexual Behaviour
These tips have been adapted from the Sexual Assault Support Service’s excellent fact sheets for parents, carers and professionals around Problem Sexualised Behaviour (PSB) and Sexually Abusive Behaviour (SAB), which can be viewed and downloaded from: http://www.sass.org.au/factsheets/
- Stay calm and always remember and tell the child that it is the behaviour that is not okay, not the child
- Clearly and calmly ask the child to stop the behaviour and explain why it is not okay
- Be supportive: check in with the child and spend time with them talking about their feelings, and discuss privacy and personal boundaries with them
- Decrease the opportunity for problem behaviour to happen again, by:
- Identifying if anything might trigger the behaviour and limiting the child’s exposure to triggers
- Collaborating with your family, school and counsellor to support the child
- Explaining calmly to the child that their activities will be supervised by an informed adult, and that this is for everyone’s safety
- Involving your family by making sure everyone follows some simple house rules about privacy and nudity
- Providing the child with the knowledge they need for positive behaviour change, for example, by teaching them about appropriate ways to express themselves and role modelling appropriate communication and behaviour
While your role as the child’s carer is vital in supporting a child displaying these behaviours, it is not something you can handle alone. Speak to your local sexual assault centre and your Departmental worker to get support.
You might also find these more detailed fact sheets helpful: