I have one question...who's supposed to be watching them when this happens? This is not an accusatory question or in any way meant to point a finger, however, it is the standard question I have when ANY child of ANY age does something inappropriate. The fact is, as a rule of thumb, it only takes anyone 2 minutes to get into trouble...even adults. This leads me to a few other questions you might want to think about;
- How is it being initiated? What is happening before & after the behavior? (notice I didn't say "who" is initiating it, laying blame will help no one)
- Why do they think this is okay? This is actually a good question to ask them. They seem to be looking for answers and if they don't feel they can ask, they're resorting to trial and error on their own.
- Where have they seen this? "Monkey see, Monkey do" still applies at this age. Take a minute to think on this one. Here is something we as adults forget when we are watching television, visiting or inadvertently exposing our little people to things. They process things on a whole different level than we do. What we see as harmless or funny, they have no filter for. Everything to a child is literal, real, fact.
- What reaction has/is the behavior getting from the adults in their lives? This is a big one. Is there shock and upset or are they getting a calm, cool, collected reaction? This is important as well.
It is natural for children, even this age, to be sexually curious. It is one of our most basic human functions, traits and needs. However, there is a time, place and appropriateness.
I recall working in a daycare center with children ages 6 to 12. It was very interesting to see how sexually charged/aware some were compared to others. Here is what I noted; it has nothing to do with age. I also noted that the children who were regularly exposed to uncensored television, people, places and things tended to be more sexually aware than those who had everything censored. However, there was also no one guiding these children as to appropriateness of the content they were seeing.
It's always interested me how we think that the littler they are, the less they understand, because that isn't the case. You might think you're off watching a show while they're in a different room or activity, but trust me, they're paying attention. You are their universe, their world, they are in tune to everything we do. They can't help it, it's how we learn.
I remember being 5 and my cousin, who was 6, exposing himself to me and asking me to "touch it". My parents censored everything, I had no idea what was happening. This was not the case with my cousin, he seemed to know way more than I did. Fortunately, this was just childhood curiosity and nothing happened. But I remember it clearly.
A few things need to happen here;
- Family Conversation. It concerns me that your partner would not have come directly to you and just assumed the child would tell you what happened, that in my mind is not a good sign. It is not a child's job to inform.
- Educate: Each child needs to be educated on how we don't touch other without permission or adult supervision. It goes both ways. Be understanding. Be kind. Explain that you get they are curious, ask if they have any questions, answer the questions. BE HONEST, children can smell a lie a mile away. But make it very clear that it's not safe to allow this kind of touching or give this kind of touching to anyone. So many parents just ignore these key conversations like there is a special age they need to get to first. I started teaching my children about this as soon as I could, as soon as they could understand. Why? Because I was sexually abused and when it was happening I didn't know what to say or do. How did I do this? Doctors visits...ya, it's the perfect opening for these conversations. I would talk to them about how we have places that no one should touch, not even our doctors. These are personal places only for us to touch or see. That if anyone ever does touch them there or ask to, the appropriate response is "no" unless mommy or daddy is there to make sure they are safe. I also taught them that if someone ever tries to do this after they say no, to scream and run, no matter who it is. I'm guessing that one of the children just doesn't know what to do. I've been there. It's a feeling of knowing something feels wrong, but not knowing what to do. It's our job as parents to teach them what to do.
- Stop leaving them unsupervised...please. I have yet to understand this. Just because they're older doesn't mean they know better. My teens still know that no matter what they're doing, mom could walk in at any minute. Keep one or both of them within sight for a while. Don't make a big deal out of it, just do it.
- Move forward and don't place blame. This is how feelings get hurt and walls are built. Simply address the issue and move on. Shaming and blaming will only cause fear and confusion. Don't point fingers or judge parenting styles...just resolve the issue at hand. Be present.
Show your children how to handle this by handling it well yourselves. If you must have an argument, don't do it in front of them. I've also always found it helpful to talk with my partner before having a family conversation so that we have some control of what is going to happen and know what to expect from one another. Run some scenarios with one another. Let this parenting lesson bring you closer, not push you apart. This is a great opportunity to open up lines of communication in your home and show your children that they can safely talk to you openly, anytime about any thing.
Best of luck, move forward with love and understanding and you can't go wrong.