Children under 12 who have sexual behaviour problems

Services provided to children under 12 who have sexual behaviour problems

What are sexual behaviour problems?

Sexual behaviour problems are behaviours of a sexual nature that are considered inappropriate to a child’s age and developmental stage. They may be harmful to the child themselves or to other children involved.

How can healthy sexual behaviour be differentiated from problematic behaviour?

Sexual exploration is a healthy behaviour that can help the child learn who they are, what they feel and who they like. Behaviours are healthy when they happen between children of the same age group, cause pleasurable sensations and emotions, and satisfy curiosity, exploration or pleasure-seeking.

Some indicators can help determine whether a behaviour is problematic:

  • difference in age, size or status;
  • the use of force, threats or intimidation;
  • adult sexual behaviours;
  • physical pain or unpleasant emotions;
  • high frequency of the behaviour;
  • persistence of the behaviour despite limits set by the adult;
  • secrecy.

A few examples of problematic sexual behaviours


A child who:

  • Touch his or hers sexual parts when it’s not a good time or a good place to do it
  • Bother, harm or disturb others by touching their sexual parts
  • Ask others to touch his or hers sexual parts

A child who:

  • Bother, harm or disturb others by looking at their sexual parts
  • Force others to look at his or hers sexual parts or at sexual images or videos
  • Observe others while they are naked and they don’t know they are being watched
  • Take pictures or videos of his or hers sexual parts or of others’ sexual parts

A child who:

  • Bother, harm or disturb others by saying sexual things to them
  • Do not stop asking others to do sexual things even if they say «no»
  • Kiss others like grown-ups who are in love would

Why would a child have a sexual behaviour problem?

Maybe because …

  • they feel curious about sexuality
  • they feel excited about trying something sexual that they have seen or heard of
  • they feel good when they have a sexual behaviour
  • they feel proud because others are amused by the sexual behaviour
  • they feel tense and the sexual behaviour helps them relax
  • they feel angry and the sexual behaviour helps them express themselves
  • they feel lonely and the sexual behaviour helps them get in relation with others

Why should we help children who have had or who have a sexual behaviour problem?


  • the sexual behaviour problem harms the child or others
  • the sexual behaviour problem could lead to consequences for the child like lose some friends, or not being allowed to do certain things or spend time with certain people
  • they are other ways to fulfill their needs than to have the sexual behaviour
  • if they carry on with the sexual behaviour problem once they are teenagers, they could face problems with the justice system

Child needs assessment

To make sure to meet the needs of children, the assessment aims to:

  • Identify the sexual behaviour problem trigger and maintenance factors in order to intervene
  • Draw up a profile of the child (strengths, challenges, family context, general functioning, etc.)
  • Establish a therapy plan tailored to their needs

What treatment is provided to children?

The treatment provided to children rests on a cognitive-behavioural approach focused on sexual behaviour management and parent-child communication.

The treatment helps children to:

  • identify and express their feelings;
  • understand the relationship between thoughts;
  • feelings and behaviours;
  • recognize problematic sexual behaviours and their consequences;
  • learn to manage their emotions;
  • discuss problematic sexual behaviours;
  • identify and reframe erroneous thoughts and beliefs in relation to sexuality;
  • acquire knowledge regarding sexuality education;
  • develop self-affirmation and self-protection skills;
  • and develop communication skills.

Learn more

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