By Eliana Gil PhD, Jennifer A. Shaw PsyD
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Additional resources for Working with Children with Sexual Behavior Problems
Children with problematic sexual behaviors are first and foremost children (Silovsky, Swisher, Widdifield, & Burris, 2012)—who have a natural inclination for exploration and a need to test limits in order to achieve developmental milestones. Like all children, they learn what is OK and not OK from their caregivers and from things that happen in their environment. When something is confusing in their lives, they may act it out or play it out. When something is interesting or brings pleasure, they may be more inclined to repeat the action that brought pleasure.
It becomes important to determine whether a child’s behavior can be addressed by coaching parents/other caregivers to respond with empathy and firm limits, or whether the child and family will require mental health services targeting the reduction of sexual behavior problems. Once an adequate assessment has taken place, some treatment approaches have been shown to be necessary and helpful, and these are discussed in Chapters Five and Six. Chapter Three The Climate of Childhood Sexualization M ichael, a 10-year-old boy, was referred for an assessment after a school suspension for repeatedly using inappropriate language about sexual acts, making sexualized gestures, and (in the most recent incident) soliciting a female peer to touch his penis on the playground.
In addition to the referring incident, several sexualized behaviors were reported. Gabby was the youngest of six children (there were four teenagers in the household). There was no reported history of abuse or neglect. Given her age, if such an incident was isolated and did not create distress for either child, I (J. A. ) would probably focus on brief parent coaching rather than therapy for the child and/or family. However, following the The Climate of Childhood Sexualization 27 parent intake and completion of the CSBI (Friedrich, 1997), on which Gabby obtained elevated scores as compared to same-age female peers, I recommended brief therapy for the child with periodic parent–child sessions.