What’s normal?

Children pass through different stages of development as they grow and their awareness and curiosity about sexual matters change as they get older.

Each child will develop in their own way, but there is a range of acceptable behaviours linked to a child’s age and stage of development. Sometimes these will involve some exploration with other children of a similar age.

It can be difficult for us to tell the difference between age-appropriate sexual exploration and the warning signs of harmful behaviour. If you have worries, it is best to seek advice and to take appropriate action before behaviour becomes more worrying.

We can help you

If you’re worried about a child’s sexual behaviour, offline or online, then speak to the experienced advisors on our confidential helpline. You don’t have to give identifying information and can stay anonymous.

Call 0808 1000 900 for advice, support and information. If you’re not ready to speak to someone yet, you can use our live chat or secure messaging service or look at the links below.

What is harmful sexual behaviour?

Sexually harmful behaviour by children and young people ranges from experimentation that unintentionally goes too far, through to serious sexual assault.

Most children who sexually harm others are adolescents but even very young children may display sexually worrying behaviours. When this is the case it is important to find out what might be happening in the child’s life for him/her to behaving in this way.

Our Parents Protect website has more information about how to identity the warning signs of harmful sexual behaviour. This site also goes into detail about what is age-appropriate sexual behaviour.

Why do some children act in a harmful way?

Usually, but not always, the child or young person causing the harm is older than the victim. Often victims are uncomfortable or confused about what is happening and may feel they are willingly involved, but they do not understand the behaviour is harmful.

Similarly, children and young people who behave in a harmful sexual manner may be uncomfortable or confused about their behaviour and will rarely understand why they are behaving in such a way.

Some children have a history of abuse or feeling insecure which contributes to their need to behave in a sexually harmful manner.

Whatever the cause of a child or young person’s sexually harmful behaviour, it is important to stop it before it goes any further.

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