1. School Age
  2. Development
  3. Sexual development

Childhood sexual behaviour: school age

5-8 years

Your school age child might explore her own body and the bodies of others by looking or touching, or she might start to feel private about her body. That’s normal. If you know what childhood sexual behaviour is normal, it can help you decide how to respond.

School-age sexual behaviour: what’s normal?

Sexual behaviour in your child might be a bit confronting, especially the first time you see it. It might help to know that touching, looking and talking about bodies is mostly a normal and healthy part of your child’s development.

Open and honest talk about sex and bodies from early on will help you guide your child’s behaviour now – and lay the groundwork for future talks about sexual development, respectful relationships and sexuality.

Normal school-age sexual behaviour: what it looks like

Your school age child might:

  • touch his genitals or masturbate
  • be more private about his body and bodies in general – for example, he might not like you to see him naked anymore
  • compare genitals with other same-age children – for example, penis size or shape of vaginal area
  • play doctors and games involving exploration but mixed with other play, like giving injections and medicines
  • kiss and hold hands with other children
  • copy behaviour he has seen – for example, pinching a bottom.

What this behaviour means
This is normal and typical behaviour for school-age children.

Your child might do these things because:

  • it feels good
  • she’s curious about the differences between boys’ and girls’ bodies
  • she’s working out how bodies work
  • she’s trying to understand relationships
  • she’s adjusting to a new environment and rules associated with starting primary school.

How to respond to normal sexual behaviour in school-age children

Children of this age often do this type of sexual play with lots of giggling and silliness. They can usually ‘take it or leave it’ as an activity. They’re also often embarrassed if they’re ‘caught’.

How you react is important, but your approach depends on your values. Some parents are happy with this type of behaviour, and others aren’t.

The first step is to stay calm, no matter how you plan to respond.

If you want your child to stop the sexual behaviour, calmly suggest another activity. For example, if you’re not comfortable with a game of ‘You show me yours, I’ll show you mine’, you could say, ‘Come to the kitchen both of you. You can have some fruit and a drink, and we’ll play a game’.

You could talk to your child later about what behaviour you’re happy with in your home. For example, you could explain that you prefer children to play with their clothes on.

You could also ask your child if she has any questions about bodies and relationships and help her to learn what’s appropriate. You could read books about bodies, relationships, puberty and personal safety with your child.

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Last updated or reviewed
08-12-2015

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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