At Defend Innocence we talk a lot about age-appropriate behavior in children when it comes to healthy sexual development. Even the savviest parents may not understand exactly what behavior is “normal” for their child’s age. Every child develops a little bit differently, so trust your instincts when it comes to your child, but here are things that are typical for most children ages 3 to 6. If you spot some of these behaviors, it’s not necessarily cause for alarm.

Realizing Boys and Girls are Different. Taking Pride in Their Own Gender.

Children may be fascinated that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina. They may ask people which one they have. This curiosity is not sexual in nature. Mostly they just relate these body parts to urinary functions. They may also start proudly telling people which gender they are and what that means to them.

“Playing Doctor” or Other Sexual Play.

This is typical for this age as long as it’s infrequent, spontaneous, consensual, and meant to assuage curiosity. Usually, children engaging in this type of play will be easily diverted to something else. It’s important not to shame them for doing this but to openly talk to them about what they were doing and why. Answer their questions as best as you can and talk about privacy.

Exhibitionism.

At this age a lot of kids enjoy being nude and are not embarrassed about their nakedness. They may also show interest in seeing others naked, especially parents of the opposite sex.

Touching/Rubbing Genitals.

A child may touch their own private parts with no regard to where they are or who they are with. They may want to touch other people’s private parts as well. Again, this is out of curiosity and is not sexual. Encourage them to come to you as they have questions, facilitating open dialogue.

Enjoying Physical Closeness.

Children at this age may stand or sit close to people they are familiar with. They also want cuddles, physical play, and other signs of physical affection. They may also try to kiss others of their same age and might talk about having a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend

A Sense of Privacy and Modesty.

Because they are becoming more aware of the differences in bodies, children may begin to want privacy when they are in the bathroom or changing clothes. And, although they may enjoy being naked, there may be times when they are embarrassed or suddenly modest about it as well.

While not exhaustive, this list may give you a better idea about what your child is experiencing, learning, or may be curious about at this age. Encourage them to ask questions, to respect set boundaries, and to tell you if anything happens to them that they are uncomfortable with. If you feel that something is out of the ordinary, talk to your child more about it, and, if needed, ask your pediatrician if that is typical behavior for children of that age and maturity level.

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