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Child Exposes Himself
Q: My six year old son was brought into the principal's office today for exposing himself around his male friends during recess. Not only does an incident like this distress me, but he also had a similar incident last year. Last year he exposed himself on the soccer field after he "mooned" some of his friends. The "mooning" was such a big hit that he decided to take it further and pull his pants all the way down. Today he pulled his pants down because a child, two years older, told him to.
Should I be concerned my son has a perverse nature?
A: I do not think that your six year-old son has a perverse nature. Unfortunately, he gets a lot of attention from his peers for performing these public sexualized acts. Like the class clown who risks continuing reprimands from his teacher (and his parents) for his disruption of the class, your son has found a way to be "cool." Mooning and dropping your pants both fore and aft are common behaviors at this age and stage. The fact that he is seen by his peers as a kid who will do what they wouldn't dare to do has afforded your son some positive status among his cohorts. Heck, he even took this last dare from an eight year-old!
It's obviously difficult for him to resist the inappropriate, occasional sexualized display when he feels it will net him "points" with his peers. He needs your understanding about how you know he finds it difficult sometimes to turn away from these behaviors and dares. Let's not lose sight of the fact that we are talking about only two incidents in two years. Work with him on being able to resist these dares and exposures. He needs to feel that he does not need to misbehave in this manner in order to be accepted and liked by his peers. Rehearse some dialogue with him about how he can reply to kids the next time one of them might egg him on. Encourage other positive parts of his personality that will surely cause other kids to want to be his friend. Don't shame him or make him feel dirty or perverse for doing these things. Let him know that you believe he is a great kid who needs to work more on not being influenced by others to perform risky behaviors.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.