There is a range of sexualized behavior in preschool children from age-typical and developmentally appropriate behavior, to behavior that is of concern or “flag” behavior, and dangerous behaviors that affect other children.
- Teachers will educate children about safe touches and setting boundaries around touch with others.
- Activities around safe touches, boundaries, and children’s bodies belonging to themselves will be integrated into the curriculum. Especially, but not limited to, the first 2 months of school. Examples include—–Talk about Touch (TAT) – it is recommended that teachers not wait or confine their teaching to TAT. On-going lessons can be integrated into songs, lessons at circle, and teachable moments
- Classroom rules will include instruction related to safe touch. For example, safe touch can include non aggression as well as asking permission before you touch another person’s body. Teacher will utilize circle time and other teachable moments to teach this to children.
- The classroom and outside environments should be set up to maximize safety around sexualized behaviors/inappropriate touch. More than one child should not be allowed in a covered/hidden space unless there is direct adult supervision.
- Teachers should label, identify, and tell children to stop sexualized behavior in the classroom. Language should be direct, educational, and non-shaming. They should then monitor to see if the behavior ceases or if additional follow-up is required. Please see Scenarios for RTM Discussion of Sexualized Behavior in the Classroom for examples and more information about language to use. Teachers should teach children to set boundaries for themselves, but should ultimately take responsibility for addressing sexualized and intrusive behaviors in the classroom.
- Teachers can access their mental health specialist/consultant anytime they have a question related to sexualized behavior.
- DST should communicate with parents regarding all instances of sexualized behaviors, including age-typical behaviors. Age-typical sexualized behaviors are discussed as a part of discussing developmental information with parents. Additionally, it is important that RMs and parents are informed of all sexualized behaviors, so they are aware of the history should the behavior escalate to a level considered unsafe for the classroom.
- DST can decide if the teacher or family advocate is the best person to communicate with the family should an incident occur. This communication should include information gathering about any observations or concerns parents might have. Once information has been gathered, DST can discuss with parents whether children’s behavior is thought to be age-typical or a possible concern. See Sexualized Behavior Flags for more information on distinguishing between age-typical behavior and something more concerning.
- DST will communicate with their RM about the behaviors and their conversations with families. RMs will also assess the situation in terms of level of concern for the child and possible effects on other children. DSTs and RMs will consult with their mental health specialist/consultant when needed.
- Teachers will track any concerning or reoccurring behaviors in a narrative form, giving as many details about what occurred as possible. They will include information about other children’s reactions. Information should be tracked in the child’s Webcaf file under the Abuse domain. This information will be shared with the RM and the mental health consultant/specialist.
- RMs will ask teachers if there are any sexualized behaviors in the classrooms during monthly check-ins.
- RMs will support/mentor staff who do not feel comfortable discussing these issues with parents, so that they can increase their comfort level. The Mental Health Consultant and/or Specialist can assist as well.
- The need for counseling, a safety plan, mental health consultation, or DHS reporting should be assessed by the DST and RM.
- RMs and DSTs can access their mental health specialist/consultant anytime they have a question or feel the consultant should know about the situation.
- In general, sexualized behavior should be considered dangerous when
- Despite teacher prompts to stop the behavior, it is occurring repeatedly without any “warning” signs or predictable triggers.
- The behavior is affecting other children, usually because they are being directly touched or violated in some way.
- Following up on Dangerous Sexualized Behavior
- DST should immediately inform the Regional Manager and parents of dangerous sexualized behaviors.
- A safety plan should be formulated, if there is not one already in place. Considerations will include the classroom environment, outside environment, possible aides, and a staffing matrix.
- Program consultants and/or Mental Health Providers should be informed.
- A staffing including DST, RM, mental health and education consultants or specialists, and parents, should take place addressing safety issues/protecting other children.
- If the staffing team does not feel an aide would help ensure classroom safety, or if it is not possible to provide an aide, the RM should inform the Assistant Director (or Director) and discuss exclusion.
Understanding and Responding To the Sexual Behavior of Children
The Range of Sexual Behavior of Children Under Age 12
- Genital or Reproduction conversations with peer or similar age siblings
- Show me yours/I’ll show you mine with peers
- Playing ‘doctor”
- Occasional masturbation without penetration
- Imitating seduction (i.e., kissing, flirting)
- Dirty words or jokes within cultural or peer group norm
- Preoccupation with sexual themes (especially sexually aggressive)
- Attempting to expose others genitals (i.e., pulling other’s skirt up or pants down)
- Sexually explicit conversation with peers
- Sexual graffiti (esp. chronic or impacting individuals)
- Sexual innuendo/teasing/embarrassment of others
- Precocious sexual knowledge
- Single occurrences of peeping/exposing/obscenities/pornographic interest/frottage
- Preoccupation with masturbation
- Mutual masturbation/group masturbation [fn1]
- Simulating foreplay with dolls or peers with clothing on (i.e., petting, French kissing)
- Sexually explicit conversations with significant age difference • Touching genitals of others
- Degradation/humiliation of self or others with sexual themes
- Inducing fear/threats of force
- Sexually explicit proposals/threats including written notes
- Repeated chronic peeping/exposing/obscenities/pornographic interests/frottage
- Compulsive masturbation/task interruption to masturbate
- Masturbation which includes vaginal or anal penetration
- Simulating intercourse with dolls, peers, animals with clothing on (i.e., humping)
- Oral, vaginal, anal penetration of dolls, children, animals
- Forced exposure of other’s genitals
- Simulating intercourse with peers with clothing off
- Any genital injury or bleeding not explained by accidental cause
Although mutual or group masturbation is not uncommon among children, the interaction must be evaluated. We need to be concerned about behavior with dolls which may be rehearsals for behavior with peers. Although restraining an individual in order to pull down pants or expose breasts may occur in the context of hazing among peers, it is clearly abusive.
Information provided by Missouri Division of Family Services.
Policy Council approved September 13, 2011
© 2011. Head Start of Lane County. All rights reserved