Should I Be Worried?: Typical Behavior for Children Ages 6–9
Here at Defend Innocence, we’re always advocating for parents to have discussions with their kids about healthy sexual development. One challenge in having those discussions can be knowing what’s typical behavior for your child’s age. Should you be concerned if they ask certain questions about sex? What if you find your nine-year-old is curious about people’s bodies? Knowing what’s typical and atypical can help you know what to expect and guide you in having age-appropriate conversations. As you respond to your child, trust your intuition. You know your child better than anyone. And to help guide your responses, here are some typical behaviors that generally aren’t cause for concern.
Curiosity about sex.
Sometimes parents assume that grade-school aged children aren’t particularly curious about sex. Shouldn’t that curiosity start with puberty? The reality is that children have questions about sex, and they might expect more detailed answers than they did when they were really young. For example, saying that a sperm and egg make a baby might not be enough information. Your child could ask, “But how do the sperm and egg get together?”
Interest in others’ bodies.
Children at this age are interested in others’ bodies, especially bodies of the opposite sex. They might try to sneak peaks of parents or siblings when they’re changing. This interest isn’t sexual and is rooted in curiosity. However, it’s important to teach children about the importance of privacy, especially since as they continue to mature, their own privacy will become more and more important to them.
Awareness of different sexual orientations.
Grade school aged children start to observe and understand that every adult relationship isn’t heterosexual. Often this awareness begins to develop when someone at school has “two dads” or “two moms.”
Sense of gender develops.
As children grow older, they become more aware of gender roles and observe how others navigate gender expectations. As the child’s understanding of these social dynamics deepens, their own gender identity becomes more defined.
Interactions with peers become more important.
Relationships with friends matter to kids as they grow older. In general, children place the most importance on relationships with children their own age and their own sex. Interactions often involve teasing, using “dirty” words, and making childish sexual comments.
It’s not uncommon for children this age to play games that involve showing and touching genitals. These games can involve same-sex or opposite-sex participants. Again, these games are usually motivated by curiosity. Even though this behavior is relatively common, you still need to address it. You can have a conversation with your child about why genitals are a private area of the body. Satisfy their curiosity by answering their questions. And if these types of games ever involve older kids who coerce younger kids to do things, you should be concerned. If this happens, seek the help of a therapist who specializes in sexual behavior in children.
You shouldn’t necessarily expect a child at this age to masturbate, but it’s also not uncommon. As parenting expert Debra Haffner puts it, “At this age, it is normal for children to masturbate, and it is normal for them not to.” Most children are curious about their bodies throughout their development, and genitals are an important part of their body that they explore. Sometimes self-stimulation is a part of this exploration.
As a parent, the more information you have, the more empowered you are to respond to your child. Knowing if your child’s behavior is typical can calm some of your concerns. But don’t get overwhelmed feeling like you need to have all of the answers. As a parent, you’re always learning. Your knowledge and instincts will guide you to know what’s best for your child.
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