I just walked in my ten year old daughter's room finding her letting the dog lick her privates. Is this normal?
Dear “Concerned Mom”,
It is common for children to engage in sexual play. Younger children, between 5 and 6 years old engage in sex play, such as playing “house” or “doctor” each of which includes close personal contact of a sexual nature. (1) This is why it is recommended to supervise play dates at this age. Children who are a little older, 7 through 9 year olds, become more sophisticated in sexual play. They develop an interest in sex related objects such as clothes and perfume, and may show interest in “peeking” at the bodies of the opposite sex. (1) As children become older, from fourth grade to junior high school, they tend to develop interest in explicit magazines, movies and drawings. Around 11 years old masturbation and stimulation of the genitals often occurs and usually represents normal expressions of sexuality. (1)
As a parent, I would not necessarily worry if you found your child exploring with sexual behavior, especially if it is an isolated incident. What’s more important is how a parent responds to a child's sexual exploration. It is very easy to become excited, confused or angry about this type of behavior, but as adults we should remember children engage in sexual play out of curiosity and because they are discovering how their body works. At a young age, children do not have the mental ability or moral development to completely understand the physical, social, psychological, emotional and medical consequences of sexual activity.
It is also important for parents to be very present and provide guidance and education about sexual maturation and sexual activity. Parents should explain about sex to their child as well as the responsibilities and consequences that go along with it. Because of their developmental age, children may not understand explicit details or long term consequences. Using concepts and terminology that is simple and understandable for a young child is important. Every child is different and each child is ready to learn about their body, sexual development and sexual activity at different ages. Generally, when a child starts to ask questions or seems interested in sexual activity, it is a good time to start. It seems like this is a good time for you to talk to your daughter.
Talking about sexual maturation and sexual activity is a difficult subject for many parents because of the social and religious mores associated with the subject. It may help if the discussion occurs over a period of time as opposed to all at one session. It is important that a parent discusses this information with their child, because it is normal and natural for a child to be interested in the subject. Chances are they they will seek out the infomation from others so it is a good idea to first approach the subject at home. Parents who keep the lines of communication open with their children give them the message that they are approachable and their children can come to them with questions. A very important component in Sexually Transmitted Infection (Sexually Transmitted Disease) prevention is teaching appropriate skills for refusal of unwanted sex, negotiation of safer sex and correct use of condoms. (2) Therefore education may help prevent your child from getting a Sexually Transmitted Disease.
Children tend to be embarrassed so it is important to approach the subject gently with the goal of providing guidance not punishment. For a 10 year old it would be appropriate to start with explaining the proper care of a female’s body, including the subjects of grooming, cleanliness, respect, self discipline and appropriate posture and interactions. Talking about modesty and covering certain parts of their body teaches them how important it is to take care of and respect their body. It may be easier to talk about the subject with the help of printed material. Many of the parent's of the girls that I cared for reported satisfaction with the book, “The Caring and Keeping of You.” It’s a book in the American Girl Series and can be purchased at your local book store or borrowed from the library.
In regards to your daughter’s particular situation with the dog, many times children learn about sex from animals. Your daughter may have allowed the dog to do this to her because she doesn’t fully understand the meaning of her activity. Once you explain to her the functioning and purpose of sexual organs and the transmission of germs she will better understand her actions and shouldn’t be interested in this type of behavior in the future. If you introduce books with illustrations this should satisfy her curiosity and take away her interest in the dog. I can tell you that your are not alone and I have had experience with other girls her age that showed interest in the family dog. An isolated incident does not necessarily mean that there is a problem. If this type of activity became recurrent, then you should be concerned.
At this point it probably would be best to keep the dog out of her bedroom at night and have her wear underwear to bed. If you find that she continues to engage in and is interested in sexual activity it would be important to bring her to the Pediatrician’s office for an evaluation. Sometimes excessive interest in sexual activity at a young age is triggered by exposure to sex in the form of magazines, movies, the internet or conversation. In other cases, excessive interest in sexual activity in a young child may be a sign of another problem.
Children with ADD tend to have trouble with impulsive behavior and because of this they are at a higher risk of having sex earlier than other adolescents. Therefore excess interest in sex in a child with ADD may be a sign that their disorder needs to be addressed and managed differently. (3) Research has shown that adolescent girls who experimented with sex were almost four times as likely to have symptoms of depression.(4) Therefore it would be a good idea to have a child who shows excessive interest in sexual behavior screened for depression by a health care professional. It is important to know that indicators of child sexual abuse include increased interest in sexual behavior in young children and promiscuity, prostitution, drug and alcohol abuse and runnning away in adolescents. (1) Therefore if a young child repeatedly shows interest or engages in sexual activity she should be evaluated by her Physician and sexual abuse should be ruled out.
(1)Betz C, Hunsberger M, Wright S. Family-Centered Nursing Care of Children. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA:W.B.Saunders Company. 1994:296-297,1020-1021.
(2)Fortenberry JD. Sexually Transmitted Infections. Pediatric Annals. 2005(34)10:803-810.
(3)Rosenthal M. Evaluate for coexisting morbidities when treating children with ADD. Infectious Diseases in Children. 2006. May:38-39
(4)Waller MW, Halifors DD, Halpern CT. Gender Differences in associations between depressive symptoms and patterns of substance use and risky sexual behavior among a Nationally representative sample of U.S. adolescents. Arch women’s Mental Health. 2006(9):139-150,200.
Lisa-ann Kelly R.N., P.N.P.,C.
Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Pediatric Advice Updated Daily