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Five-Year-Old Is Sexually Curious

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: I need to know if I should get my five-year-old daughter help! She was caught at school under the table with another little girl exchanging looks at each other's private parts. I notice that she seems to have done this with every girlfriend she has. Is this normal for her age? I was molested as a child, so I am clueless. Please help, I don't want my girl to think this behavior is dirty, like I was told, but I don't want to ignore a problem if one exists, either. There is no possibility that she has ever been molested.

A: As I am sure you have read elsewhere, sexual curiosity of this nature ("I'll show you mine and you show me yours") at your daughter's age is a normal part of her development. The one possible red flag that you might wish to investigate further with a therapist is the intensity and frequency of these sexual explorations. You mention that she has "done this with every girlfriend that she has" and I am inferring that she was the one who has initiated all of these experiences. I'm wondering if the degree to which she may be preoccupied with these sexualized experiences suggests a curiosity that may be driven by something that warrants professional help. Having said that, it is also not unusual for a child to go through such a preoccupied, curious "discovery" stage.

You do not mention any other sexualized behaviors that would suggest the possibility of sexual abuse. I know that, as someone who was molested as a child, you are very concerned about your daughter's healthy sexual development. I think you would benefit from talking to a therapist who has considerable experience in treating children of your daughter's age. I think that you are worried that your daughter's continuing initiation of these sexualized acts might mean that she is abnormal in some way. It would be well worth your talking with a therapist to alleviate your concerns, to put your daughter's behavior in an appropriate perspective, and to give you the tools to deal with her in a healthy way that does not blame or shame her.

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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.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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