Child Caring

Young boy's interest in girls is normal, not naughty

My six year [old] son is very interested in girls. Some times, I observe him ... talking about removing clothes to his friend who is a girl, and he [repeats] dialogues of a movie. When I listen to the words, I scold him and explain him not to [say] that, it is very bad. I don't know how to explain him. I observed him like this, I think, three times. Please help me in this matter.

From: Rose, Patiala, India

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Dear Rose,

His interest is typical to his age, this is not sexual in nature the way we adults think of sex. But it does sound like he is imitating behaviors he has seen, probably on a screen. What he is watching? Young children should not be watching anything on any screen that has content intended for adults, so you may need to monitor and screen more carefully what he views. If he's not seeing this content at your house, or when you are home, find out where it's happening and who's in charge when it happens. Make that adult aware of your wishes: he can only watch content intended for young children. In the US, that would be G videos, meaning it's OK for a General audience. The other possibility is that he's been exposed to real-life adult sexual behavior, and that's what he's imitating. If you think that's a possibility, he may be in danger.

More likely, this is just about your son trying to make sense of information he doesn't understand. Children typically do this by using the material in their play, which is likely is happening when he repeats dialogue. (It also means he's been exposed to it frequently enough to memorize it.) Children repeat and repeat words and behaviors as a way to make sense of them.

Think of this not as "naughty" behavior, but as confused behavior. He has learned enough about the human body to know that boys' and girls' bodies are different. His play is about trying to understand differences: "I'm a boy, you're a girl. What does that mean?"

When parents are quiet on this subject, either because of cultural values or we are embarrassed, our kids only have their own resources to turn to. My advice is to explain the differences to him in a matter-of-fact way ("You've probably noticed that boys and girls are different. Men sometimes have beards, women don't; women have bumps on their chests called breasts, men don't." Etc. Use the anatomically correct words: "A boy has a penis. A girl has a vagina." This boy, "Where Did I Come From?" by Peter Mayle may be helpful.

Meanwhile, before his next playdate, whether it's with a boy or a girl, tell him what the rules are for playing. For instance, no shouting, no hitting, no taking off clothes, etc. Then, if you observe inappropriate play, instead of scolding him, remind him: "Remember the rules for play? No taking off clothes." In the US, we also teach children about the private parts of their body: "The parts of the body that a bathing suit covers are private. That means only mom or dad or a doctor or nurse see them."