7 year old touching family members' privates

My 7 year old son has started touching his siblings' privates as well as mine and my husband's privates when he gets upset about something. I suspect he feels powerless in those moments, and this the way he can feel some control (?), but I really don't know. Since the kids were very young, I have told them "privates are private" when it made sense in a discussion like at bath time, etc., and that isn't enough lately. There are times when he comes to me and I think he just wants a hug, and instead he will touch my behind or somewhere else. I asked him if someone touched him, but he says no, which I hope is true. I want to respond calmly and not be angry because it seems that there is something he needs to communicate and this is how he is doing so, but it is upsetting, and I am increasingly frustrated and dumbfounded. I try to practice gentle/respectful parenting, and don't know what to do at this point.

Thank you in advance!

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Hi mom, Thank you for sharing! If I was in your shoes, and like you said tried talking to him about it and it didn't work, I would seek the help of a pediatric mental health professional, maybe for some play therapy. The reason is because at this age children are still thinking in magical way and are just starting to understand others perspective or controlling their own impulse. Maybe spend sometime reading a book on the subject may be good as well. As someone that is a survivor of sexual abuse as a young child and have worked with other children in similar situation, very rarely the child will disclose this right way due to many manipulative or coercive dynamics imposed by the perpetrator. But I don't want to frighten you, I am not saying this is what is happening, it could also be early exposure to adult content or just some behavioral testing of boundaries. I liked what you said about him trying to say something, I think you got something going there. I hope all works out! 

My guess is that he's found something that will get a rise out of you/get attention, and is doubling down.  But you gotta cut this behavior off before he does it outside the home.  Whatever consequences you give in your house, give them!  If this is about getting attention or a reaction, give no reaction but send him to his room or something, and find a way to give positive attention if he's missing that.

It’s not quite the same but when my daughter was about 6 she also became very interested (borderline obsessed!) with private parts (looking at and touching others). I did all the wrong things and way overreacted which of course made the behavior worse. I ended up meeting having a short virtual session with Elizabeth Greenblatt: https://www.sexsavvyhudsonvalley.com/about

She provided a lot of reassurance for me and some good strategies. We checked out a bunch of books about bodies that Elizabeth recommended and read them and affirmed that private parts are very interesting, answered any questions she had, and just kept the books available. Almost right away her behavior changed and she was no longer so interested! It was super helpful!

First thing; how beautiful of you to be aware of your struggle and still strive to parent gently and respectfully- it goes a long way, even if you aren't sure and don't see what you think are immediate positive results. I think you are on to something about power struggle on his end. I have questions about what is happening before and after he attempts to touch someone else? Is it when he is feeling shamed, in trouble, etc.? If he enjoys books and reading time, here's some books I'd recommend reading to him when he is emotionally regulated (in a good space mentally, not while he is doing the touching act) - found on amazon; Body Boundaries Make Me Stronger, I said No!, and Where Hands Go. This may offer him some perspective and opportunity to empathize with his siblings and others. Also, perhaps finding other ways for him to safely control a situation so he can exercise the urge to be in power. I also hope he isn't being violated *hug* but another option could be therapy to get at the root of his behavior. Give yourself space to feel your frustration, breathe deep, and interact with him with all love so that he feels safe enough to connect even when he does something "wrong". that's my advice, good luck and remember to practice self-compassion, we're all just figuring it out! :) 

I also have a boy and although he's never gone through what you described with your son, I did noticed he and his male peers (and cousins etc) all developed self-soothing tics during early elementary. These are little actions that feel good--I think at first the boys did it because they were nervous/anxious, but after a while it became a habit they couldn't break. The tics included things like thumb sucking, shirt sucking, knuckle cracking, making gulping noises, etc, and started around Kindergarten and went away around 2nd grade, and they come and go and change over time. Somehow the girls didn't exhibit this behavior. I don't know if this is what your son is going through, but at the very least I will let you know what we did for my son's tics. Telling him to stop did absolutely nothing, and pointing it out every time he did it just made it worse. The tics that were mild I just completely ignored and never mentioned, but for the tics that needed redirection, I got him a zillion fidget toys and let him choose one he liked. The toys could be spinners, or things to chew (you hang those around his neck), or balls he can squeeze. Everywhere he went, he went with a fidget toy. I also looked at his schedule and tried to smooth things out--gave him more healthy snacks, less sugar, more protein at breakfast, earlier bedtime, less screen time, no scary shows at all, etc. For your individual case, it might be worthwhile to ask your son's teacher (if you can still get in contact with the school!) if anything happened in class. Is another child doing it? One more thing that helped, when my son was VERY little and kept touching his own privates, every single time he did it, I would send him to the bathroom to wash his hands. After what felt like a hundred times, he got fed up with washing his hands and he stopped. Maybe you can try that? Otherwise maybe offer him an alternate soothing technique like the fidget toys, or a huge stuffy he can go and hug, or get him a bouncer. We have a small bouncer (a mini indoor trampoline) and it has done wonders for our son when he can't get his feelings out.

Gosh I really hope a professional chimes in to this question. This concerns me and I feel like I'm slow to react and have seen it all (mine are teens now). I'd have him professionally evaluated. I feel like something happened, tho it might not be abuse, it might be him mimicking another kid or something he saw on TV. But this feels off to me. My son never did anything like this and I think this has to be learned behavior. I definitely wouldn't get mad at him, and for sure if you can ignore it and not react at all, it will eventually go away. But I'd want to know why he's doing this.

This sounds like a heartbreaking situation, and your care for your child is evident in your desire to remain respectful and compassionate. One question to ask is whether this behavior has been modeled elsewhere unintentionally, in his school environment or other space, for example. Or, is it something that happened by accident, and they learned it raises a reaction from their parents. It might be difficult for them to acknowledge at this age if it was learned from an adult not respecting  their boundaries. It’s important that you are willing to ask that question, as scary as it might be, because it’s something that does happen, sadly more often than we want to recognize as a society. 

Please reach out to a therapist/specialist that works with children your child’s age. If there’s something more, then can help the child communicate it. If not, they can orient you on how to curb this behavior. 

Wishing you love and light as you find your path with this issue. 

I just wanted to say thank you to all of you for sharing your ideas and experiences. I am going to find a therapist for him, as well as work on using some Positive Discipline tools to encourage him in a different direction. Thanks so much.