Preschooler sexual behaviour: what’s normal?

Sexual behaviour in your preschooler might be a bit confronting, especially the first time you see it. It might help to know that touching, looking and talking about bodies is mostly a normal and healthy part of your child’s development.

Open and honest talk about sex and bodies from early on will help you guide your child’s behaviour now – and lay the groundwork for future talks about sexual development, respectful relationships and sexuality.

Normal preschool sexual behaviour: what it looks like

Your preschooler might:

  • touch his genitals, or masturbate
  • kiss and hold hands with other children
  • show his genitals to other same-age children and look at theirs – ‘Show me yours and I’ll show you mine’
  • play mummies and daddies, or doctors and nurses
  • copy behaviour he has seen – for example, pinching a bottom
  • use slang language for toileting and sexual activities.

What this behaviour means
This is normal and typical behaviour for preschoolers.

Your child might do these things because:

  • it feels good
  • she’s learning about touch and social rules
  • she’s curious about the differences between boys’ and girls’ bodies
  • she’s working out how bodies work
  • she’s trying to understand families and relationships
  • she’s testing limits to see what words are OK to use.

How to respond to normal sexual behaviour in preschoolers

How you react is important, but your response depends on your values. Some parents are happy with this type of behaviour, and others aren’t.

The first step is to stay calm, no matter how you plan to respond.

If you want your child to stop the sexual behaviour, calmly distract your child or find another activity. For example, if you’re not comfortable with a game of ‘You show me yours, I’ll show you mine’, you could say, ‘Put your clothes on and come to the kitchen for a snack’.

You could talk to your child later about what behaviour you’re happy with in your home. For example, you could explain that you prefer children to play with their clothes on.

You can also use these moments as an opportunity to help your preschooler learn. Talk with your child and answer his questions openly and honestly, but also at a level he can understand.

For example, you could talk about public and private body parts, how girls and boys are different or ways of talking about bodies. You could say, ‘I noticed that you’re curious about boys’ bodies and girls’ bodies. Maybe we can find a book about bodies that we can read together’.

When talking with your child, it’s a good idea to use the proper words for body parts – vagina, vulva, breasts, penis, testicles and so on. This helps your child learn about her body and tell you clearly about any questions or concerns she has.