What’s normal?

Children pass through different stages of development as they grow and their awareness and curiosity about sexual matters change as they pass through infancy into childhood and on to adolescence.

Whilst each child is an individual and will develop in his or her own way, there is a range of acceptable behaviours linked to a child’s age and developmental stage. Sometimes these will involve some exploration with other children of a similar age.

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

We can help you

If you’re worried about a child’s sexual behaviour, either in the real world or online, then call our free and confidential helpline on 0808 1000 900 for advice, support and information from an experienced advisor.

If you’re not ready to speak to someone yet, you can use our 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.

We can help you if:

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