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Curious Girls

by Crystal

My 6 year old daughter and her best friend also a six year old girl got caught in the swimming pool with one of them having her bathing suit bottoms pulled down. They tried to hide behind an item in the pool so they could continue whatever it is that was going on.

When questioned they tried to say they were playing Mommy and Baby and that the one was just changing the diaper of the other one. With a little more in depth conversation of my daughter I found out that it was all the other little girls idea to look at and touch my daughters privates, that this was not the first time she had done it. She also tried to lie and say it was all my daughters idea.

My husband was livid, he feels as though our daughter has been violated and abused and that we should no longer allow her to be friends with this little girl. I don't know what to do because yes it was wrong, but was it innocent or more and too be abused and lose the best friend at the same time is also damaging.

Please give me advice as to what you would do in this type situation.

Thank you!

Comments for Curious Girls

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Normal Exploratory Play - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Crystal,
Please try not to over-react to this event, it is totally normal, and totally innocent. Adults react - well actually usually OVER-react and it is our fears, embarrassment or even shame that does more harm than the innocent playing of two little girls.

Of course they are going to blame each other when they think they are in trouble. Kids will do anything to try to shift the disapproval, and maybe even anger off themselves and onto the other child. Even if one child was more of the initiator, this is NOT sexual abuse, your daughter has NOT been violated.

If it had been a Sixteen year old with a six year old, then alarm bells would be ringing. But these are just two little girls playing around, and yes they have likely discovered that playing with their genitals feels nice, but the notion of sex is an adult one. The fact that they related the play to changing a baby's diaper tells you they are simply associating the feelings with something they have had themselves, or have seen done with baby brothers or sisters.

Sadly we make our kids ashamed of their feelings and their bodies, and in a case like this, the girls will have no understanding about what all the fuss is. They will simply be feeling guilty, ashamed, maybe even dirty, and that certain parts of their bodies are bad, or they shouldn't have nice feelings "down there".

It is quite likely both girls developed the game together just like any other game, ideas unfolding as they springboard off each others ideas - you think about when you hear them playing, all sorts of possible scenarios are talked about and acted out as the story develops. Sure they may have had some guilty excitement at taking their bathing suits off - have you never skinny dipped? The sense of freedom and joy is nothing particularly sexual, it is just our body's natural state!

We have all sorts of rules about what is private and what is public - far more so in our Western Culture, with separate rooms and lots of privacy rules. Many indigenous cultures have a family living eating and bathing in the same room, and have different ways of keeping boundaries about what is private/public.

The last thing you want is for these little girls to feel they are bad or their bodies are yuck in any way. Unfortunately they are already associating guilt with nice feelings in their body, which is sad.

Part Two Follows . . .

Normal Exploratory Play - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

Of course we do want to find ways to teach our kids what is acceptable in our family to share with others, and what is private. That differs from family to family. Some families are very liberal and are quite comfortable with nudity, even sexuality and kids are very aware of what Mom and Dad are doing in bed. Some families have a belief that sexual activity between two people is something that only happens in a marriage. You have to decide what is right for your family, but the more restrictions and rules you have, the more a child looses innocence as they "break the rules" inadvertently. It can also be very hard not to teach a child shame and fear when you are disgusted or shocked by their play.

Your husband clearly has a lot of very strong feelings about this, and it is no wonder your little girl is blaming the other child. She will be worried she will loose his love and approval, and will be thinking she is naughty and bad. The effect of the disaproval and anger, has a far bigger negative impact on her than some innocent playing. He needs to take care that his little girl does not feel ashamed of her body, or guilty about her feelings.

You have to handle situations like this very sensitively if you are wanting to teach a child to have more boundaries. Helping them to be respectful of their body, to enjoy their body, but maybe that some things are private can be tricky.

The thing to remember is these two girls were not consciously playing sexual games. They were innocently exploring their bodies as part of their game. Now they are not so innocent, as they will have been given the message that there is something more to their game, and they are likely to be confused about what was actually so wrong. It would be sad indeed if the friendship was also terminated as a result of this play, that to me is far more damaging over all, in that it links the loss of someone close with playing games that feel good physically.

Part Three Follows . . .

Normal Exploratory Play - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

You asked me what I would do in this situation, and to be honest, I would not have made a big deal out of it in the first place. Exploratory play is normal, and I would not make a big thing out of anything unless I felt my child was unhappy. I might explain that some people would be uncomfortable with those kinds of games in the pool, or even other parents might not be comfortable about it, particularly if I knew the other parents had stricter boundaries than myself. But on the whole, I would tend to ignore any innocent games like this.

You can do a lot to distract children from activities that you are not comfortable with, simply by offering a diversion. "Time to get out of the pool" would have interrupted the game without any drama or bad feeling. Kids quickly figure out that some behavior is only acceptable in certain contexts, or that some things are kept private. It is better to teach them in a neutral situation about keeping private parts private. For example at bath time, you can casually talk about that your body is special and that we keep some parts private, and that no-one is allowed to hurt them physically etc.

It would recommend dropping the whole thing now and not make any more of an issue out of it. You can still gently and lovingly reinforce any boundaries that you feel are important, but in a way that does not make her feel bad. Helping her to love her body, and respect it and enjoy it, but within the boundaries you prefer. I think it would be sad if these little girls are not able to see each other, and to be able to continue their friendship. I am sure they play many other games together, not just this one. Although, playing families, is actually a very important part of role playing and learning about relationships. There is so much that is good about their friendship, but this one game has turned into something huge and menacing.

You may find it helpful to read one of our other questions, which generated some comments from other parents which give totally different perspectives about children exploring their bodies:

Sexual Curiosity At Aged Six - Isn't this a little soon?

Thanks for your question Crystal, topics like these are not often talked about, and yet it is a pretty normal part of children learning and growing. Our rules about privacy, fears and judgements about sexuality, and various body issues means it is not always easy for parents to know how to approach these kinds of subjects. I know many of my readers will find your question really useful.

Enjoy your lovely girl, and try not to make too big a deal out of it,
all the best,
Annie D :)

All Kids Do It!
by: Tina

My goodness, every kid I know has played "rudies" as a child! We used to play under the house, or behind the bushes. We must of known there was something sort of naughty about it, because we would make up stories to Mum when she came to check on us. We'd say we were playing Witches instead of Doctors and Nurses! But there was nothing abusive about it, or bad, it was just innocent play.

We all played in a big group with the kids around the neighbourhood, and from time to time there would be a bit of you show me yours and I'll show you mine but it was nothing more than that with the boys. I had a girlfriend that we did a bit more exploring with doctors and nurses, but we had no idea that it was sexual - we didn't even know what that was, though it did feel nice and we both always wanted to be the patient! After a few times it got boring and we simply stopped, it was just a small part of exploratory play, no big deal at all.

I think you should just chill out over it, your husband really sounds like he is over reacting saying your daughter has been violated! Goodness, he will have her thinking she has been sexually abused, and what good will that do? Turn her into a victim who has sexual problems as an adult!

They are both just normal innocent six year olds, having a bit of fun, don't make them think they are bad kids who have done something terribly wrong.

My Kids Explored Too
by: Anonymous

I just wanted to reassure the lady that wrote in, I know exactly how she feels, I found my six year old daughter with her friend in the toilet exploring where babies come from!

My first reaction when I realized they were in the toilet together was to rush in and drag them out - but I stopped and listened to what they were saying. The Mother of our daughter's friend had just had a new baby and she had obviously been told how the baby was born. It was actually quite funny listening to them, my daughter was arguing saying, no, that's where you pee, how can a baby come out there, then there were giggles and her friend tried to explain there were two holes, one for pee and one for babies! My daughter was adamant it just was not possible for a baby to fit out there, and her friend kept insisting, but was clearly wondering the same thing.

At that point I called out and said to finish up in there and come out and see me - but not in a way that they would think they were in trouble. Fortunately I did have a book for children with a story about a baby being born, so I could give them a bit more information. I had actually had the book, but had felt a bit embarrassed about reading it to my daughter and had tucked it away until I figured out how to introduce it, but this was the perfect opportunity!

So I just wanted to say to the Mom, not to worry, kids are curious and want to figure things out, and play around. I made a conscious decision not to make my daughter feel bad about her body, but it is not easy to know how to talk about those kind of things.

My mother used to smack me as a child whenever my hands "wandered" and I was confused about what I was doing that was so bad - I might just have been scratching, or adjusting my knickers and I got a whack. She used to say it was dirty or "you're a dirty little girl". My husband was surprised how shy I was when we got married, and I truly think my Mother's attitude had a big effect on me being able to have a proper sexual relationship with my husband without feeling I was bad, or dirty. I was never sexually abused as a child, but in some ways I ended up feeling a bit like I was. (my apologies to women who have been, I know it is not the same) My Mother's disgust with "down there" and her attitude to nudity had a much bigger impact I am sure, than a bit of innocent play.

Thank you for talking about it, I wish it were easier to ask other Moms about this kind of thing!

Talking To Kids About Bodies
by: Annie Desantis

Thank you to our two readers who have added such valuable comments for Crystal, and other parents who read this.

Sexuality, reproduction and "private bits" are one of the hardest topics for parents to talk about - both with their kids and with friends. Even deciding how to refer to body parts is a tricky decision. Many parents just use the sweeping "private parts" but as we see from our last parent, her little girl was confused about how could a baby come from where you pee?

Some parents make a point of using correct names for the genital parts, and that is easier with boys, but a lot more complex for girls. And it also can sound very clinical and medical.

I think you can tell kids the "correct name" but then have nick-names for various parts to make it a bit more friendly - but really the most important thing is giving your kids information, and being as honest as you can. If you talk about ALL body parts from a really young age, it is far less likely you will have to ever have the BIG talk with your kids, which is usually embarrassing for all concerned.

Our previous Mom grabbed a great opportunity to bring out the book she had, and having books on hand is a really good way to introduce anything. Even from toddler stage, have kids books about how babies are made and body parts.

Anonymous, can you give us the name of the book you used, it would be great to post some links here for other parents? I'll pop some up too.

For other parents reading this, let us know what books you have found helpful to introduce discussions about body parts, keeping our bodies private or safe, or reproduction. And please keep adding your comments, it's really great to see some discussion happening and hear other parent's experiences.

Annie D:)

Educational Information For Kids
by: Anonymous

A good book I recently found at the library was very helpful in helping me deal with some questions from my own child. The librarian assured me the book was age appropriate although I thought maybe it had some things I was not sure she needed to know just yet.

We checked out the book read it cover to cover. A few questions popped up along the way, but apparently they answered all the questions she was thinking because since reading the book there have been no more questions for the time

The book was titled Amazing You!: Getting Smart About Your Private PartsChildren's Sexuality Books

Editor's Note:
Thank you! This is exactly the book I was thinking of and was trying to remember the name.

The Author is Dr Gail Saltz, who has appeared on Oprah, and this book covers all those tricky topics, including children masturbating. She recommends using the correct terms for genitals, and does so in the book, but I think many parents would also need to add additional explanations if you are not used to using "correct" words.

Personally, I think kids know we have different words for some things, and so long as you explain the real terms, and then your family "nicknames", that is usually more comfortable for parents, rather than being "medically formal". Imagine saying to your child, "Do you need to urinate now?" - just seems very clinical when there are many very common nicknames in use. However I do think it is important to explain about the correct names, and the different parts.

If anyone else has used a different book they would recommend, please let us know.

Annie D :)

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