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Dealing with Sexually Abusive Behaviour

There is a widespread reluctance in parents and children to talk about sex and related concerns. Thus, it is very important for parents to break their silence and talk to their children, especially boys. It is very essential for parents, teachers and community members to develop a dialogue on the issue. Our children are learning about sexuality and violence through different mediums. As a parent our task is to prepare them for those lessons, as best we can. Pick up a conversation with your child every time you hear them use a sexist language, cracking sexist jokes. Start a discussion with him when you overhear a boy teasing a girl, comments on figure or clothes of a girl, having misogynist attitude on television or in real life. Try to explain to them why sexist language or behaviour is unacceptable.

Problems related to sexual behaviour in children

Parents and caregivers need to distinguish between children exhibiting problem sexual behaviour and children engaging in sexually abusive behaviour. To begin with, we must accept that children are sexual beings. At different ages and stages children engage in a healthy expression of sexuality consistent with their stage of sexual development. However, some children and young people display problem sexual behaviour or sexually abusive behaviour towards others. The two terms commonly used to describe this type of behaviour are Problem Sexualized Behaviour (PSB) and Sexually Abusive Behaviour (SAB).

Problem Sexualized Behaviour is defined as the range of sexual behaviours outside developmental norms which may be self-directed or directed towards others, which are likely to have an impact on the child’s functioning or the functioning of others, but which are not coercive.

Sexually Abusive Behaviour is defined as any sexual activity or sexual behaviour of one child that is abusive or coercive towards another child.

Tips for parents in handling children with PSB

These tips have been adapted from the Sexual Assault Support Service’s excellent fact sheets for parents, carers and professionals around Problem Sexualized Behaviour (PSB) and Sexually Abusive Behaviour (SAB).

Stay calm and always remember to tell the child that “it is the behaviour that is not okay, not the child”.

  • Clearly and calmly ask the child to stop the behaviour and explain why it is not okay
  • Be supportive: check with the child and spend time with them talking about their feelings, and discuss privacy and personal boundaries with them
  • Decrease the opportunity for problem behaviour to happen again, by:
    • Identifying as to what triggers the behaviour and limiting the child’s exposure to such triggers.
    • Collaborating with your family, school and counsellor to support the child.
    • Explaining calmly to the child that their activities will be supervised by an informed adult, and that this is for everyone’s safety.
    • Involving your family by making sure everyone follows some simple house rules about privacy and nudity.
    • Providing the child with the knowledge they need for positive behaviour change, for example, by teaching them about appropriate ways to express themselves and role modelling appropriate communication and behaviour.

While your role as the child’s care-giver is vital in supporting a child displaying these behaviours, it is not something you can handle alone. Approach your local sexual assault centre, social worker or a psychologist to get support.

Source : Raising Happy children and providing safe childhoods - A Reader by Ministry of Women and Child Development



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