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Jennifer, School Psychologist
Category: Parenting
Satisfied Customers: 397
Experience:  Collaborative parent consultation on everything from modifying behavior to child development.
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I recently caught my 5 yr old son with his 4 yr old friend

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I recently caught my 5 yr old son with his 4 yr old friend (approx. 18months younger). The younger boy was bent over with his underpants down and my son had his hand on his bottom. I heard my son telling the younger boy not to tell his mummy and daddy. I am clearly worried about this and not sure what to do next. I have spoken to my son and he has told me that no-one has done this to him and I feel he is telling me the truth but how can I be sure? My son is a happy child and plays normal kids games (football etc.) and shows no signs of any sexual abuse. My main concern is that he told this young boy not to tell so he knew he was doing something wrong. I have had a long chat with him to explain this behaviour is very wrong and dangerous and that he must never do it again. I will not allow him to be alone with another child in his room now as I need to keep a careful eye on him. Is his behaviour "normal" sexual exploration or is it more?
Submitted: 7 years ago.
Category: Parenting
Expert:  Jennifer replied 7 years ago.
Hello and thanks for using!

If this is the only incident of this nature, then I'd assume it's simply a developmentally normal case of curiosity. Children this age often go through a phase of noticing that other bodies are the same or different than their own and don't yet have the social judgment to realize what is and isn't acceptable behavior. You've done the right thing by talking to him about the do's and don'ts -- Sometimes it helps to talk about private parts as those that are covered by a swimsuit. Use a simple phrase, such as "private parts are off limits." Dolls can be helpful for this discussion as well.

He likely knows this is unacceptable behavior, but is unaware to what degree. A child this age is just as likely to say, "Don't tell Mummy & Daddy" while taking a cookie from the cookie jar and I doubt he understands the serious nature of this behavior in comparison. You're doing the right thing by monitoring his play with other children and tracking any behavioral changes you see -- include bedwetting, unusually behavior (cranky, pouty, cries easily, withdraws, etc.), and who he's in contact with (adults and children). See if you notice any patterns.

If you're suspicious of another incident or a possible exposure / abuse situation that may have sparked this behavior, it's worth looking into with a counselor. Play therapy is an excellent tool for working with children who may have experienced trauma of this kind. At that point I'd also suggest you speak with your son's pediatrician about having a physical examination competed. Don't panic, though -- This is likely not anything to be overly concerned about and those would just be next steps if this behavior continues to be a problem. I wish you the best of luck!
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