When parents first discover that their child has a problematic sexual behavior, the parents may have many different reactions. No initial response is “right” or “wrong.” There are no clearly defined “stages” that parents go through. Common reactions by parents include:

  • Difficulty believing that the sexual behavior really occurred;
  • Anger or blame at their child, at the other child, at themselves as parents, at the world, or at the person who abused the child (if that occurred);
  • Negative feelings toward their child or withdrawal from their own child;
  • Sadness and depression;
  • Guilt or remorse;
  • Shame;
  • A sense of feeling alone and/or isolated;
  • Disappointment, because the child could have made better choices;
  • Confusion and uncertainty, especially when the child does not have a history of being sexually abused (not knowing where the sexual behavior has come from can be quite upsetting for caregivers);
  • Distress, nightmares, and general discomfort, particularly when the parent has been sexually abused as a child. (Memories of their own past abuse can come to the surface and can affect how parents see their children and how they then react.);

When you find yourself in this situation, with the right support systems you can move from distress to a sense of hope and to a better future. It is important for you to know that you are not alone. Other parents have experienced very similar emotions and reactions to yours. With the right support systems you can move from distress to a sense of hope and to a better future.

Without support, I would have been a totally depressed person because it is very hard to deal with alone.”

—Parent of a 5-year-old girl

It can help to know that sexual behaviors in children typically lessen with the right type of treatment and when families are actively involved in services. Through such treatments, future problematic sexual behaviors can be prevented. Children with problematic sexual behaviors can learn to better respect themselves and others. They can learn to demonstrate healthy boundaries and behaviors, even when the reasons for the problematic sexual behaviors remain unclear. For information about taking care of yourself click here.  

Having a child who acts out sexually with other children can feel very isolating. The group helped me know that other kids have the same problem. I learned that people are willing to help. I am not alone.”

—Parent of an 8-year-old boy

At first, when Devon acted out on my daughter, Cleo, I couldn’t separate him from his father, my ex-husband. My anger toward my ex went to my son. I thought Devon would become a pervert or something. Now I realize he is just a boy who saw things he shouldn’t have. I know that he can grow up to be a good man. He has learned a lot and made a lot of progress, and so have I.”

—Parent of a 10-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl

Tips to Remember
1 There is no right or wrong initial response.
2 Try to stay calm.
3 Reassure your child you care about them.
4 Remember you are not alone.
5 Find social and professional support.