There is a considerable amount of evidence in the literature that children engage in a wide range of sexual behaviors before puberty. How early childhood educators (ECEs) respond to children’s interpersonal sexual behaviors (ISBs) is especially important during the early childhood stage not only due to their roles as educators, but also protector due to their legal obligation to report suspected cases of child sexual abuse. Considering the pivotal responsibilities ECEs have in addressing ISBs, it becomes imperative to gain a comprehensive understanding of the experiences they encounter in managing such behaviors. Surprisingly, the current body of research provides limited insights into how ECEs respond to children’s ISBs. To address this gap, the present study aims to explore these topics by conducting a qualitative investigation to examine the experiences of Taiwanese ECEs who encountered ISBs among children and how they responded to these behaviors. Four themes emerged from an analysis of the stories shared by 36 ECEs: (1) being silent versus supporting children’s healthy sexuality development, (2) protect yourself versus respect others, (3) punishments versus exploring strategies to address children’s ISBs and (4) insensitivity to boundaries and bodily autonomy. This study provides guidelines for understanding the experiences of Taiwanese ECEs who encounter children’s ISBs and contributes to the training needs of ECEs about children’s sexuality development.
This is a preview of subscription content,to check access.
Access this article
Similar content being viewed by others
Balter, A. S., van Rhijn, T. M., & Davies, A. W. (2016). The development of sexuality in childhood in early learning settings: An exploration of early childhood educators’ perceptions. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 25(1), 30–40. https://doi.org/10.3138/cjhs.251-A3
Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101. https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa
Byrne, M. (2001). Sampling for qualitative research. AORN Journal, 73(2), 494–498. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0001-2092(06)61990-X
Cacciatore, R. S. M., Ingman-Friberg, S. M. L., Lainiala, L. P., & Apter, D. L. (2020). Verbal and behavioral expressions of child sexuality among 1–6-year-olds as observed by daycare professionals in Finland. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49, 2725–2734. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01694-y
Chrisman, K., & Couchenour, D. (2002). Healthy sexuality development: A guide for early childhood educators and families. NAEYC.
Chuang, M. C., Huang, J. C., & Lin, P. Y. (2015). You er yuan sing bie ping,deng jiao yu syue si jhih biao ji syue,si nei han jian gou ji hua. [Kindergarten Gender Equality Education Learning Indicators and Learning Content]. K-12 Education Administration, Ministry of Education.
Colaizzi, P. F. (1978). Psychological research as the phenomenologist views it. In R. Vaile & M. King (Eds.), Existential phenomenological alternatives for psychology (pp. 48–71). Oxford University Press.
Counterman, L., & Kirkwood, D. (2013). Understanding healthy sexuality development in young children. Voices of Practitioners, 8(2), 1–13.
Davies, S. L., Glaser, D., & Kossoff, R. (2000). Children’s sexual play and behavior in pre-school settings: Staff’s perceptions, reports, and responses. Child Abuse & Neglect, 24(10), 1329–1343. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0145-2134(00)00184-8
Early Childhood Education and Care Act. (2018). https://law.moj.gov.tw/ENG/LawClass/LawAll.aspx?pcode=H0070031
Executive Yuan. (2023, June 30). Important gender statistics database. https://www.gender.ey.gov.tw/gecdb/Stat_Statistics_Query.aspx?sn=MwEtyBleRxJh%24lZApHWboQ%40%40&statsn=iGJRpsNX45yniGDj!w1ueQ%40%40&d=&n=266479
Flanagan, P. (2014). Unpacking ideas of sexuality in childhood: What do primary teachers and parents say? Open Review of Educational Research, 1(1), 160–170. https://doi.org/10.1080/23265507.2014.972436
Friedrich, W. N., Fisher, J., Broughton, D., Houston, M., & Shafran, C. R. (1998). Normative sexual behavior in children: A contemporary sample. Pediatrics, 101(4), e9. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.101.4.e9
Gender Equity Act. (2011). https://law.moj.gov.tw/ENG/LawClass/LawAll.aspx?pcode=H0080067
Haugaard, J. (1996). Sexual behaviors between children: Professionals’ opinions and undergraduates’ recollections. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 77(2), 81–89. https://doi.org/10.1606/1044-3894.8
Heiman, M. L., Leiblum, S., Esquilin, S. C., & Pallitto, L. M. (1998). A comparative survey of beliefs about “normal” childhood sexual behaviors. Child Abuse & Neglect, 22(4), 289–304. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0145-2134(97)00176-2
Jones, T. M. (2011). Saving rhetorical children: Sexuality education discourses from conservative to post-modern. Sex Education, 11(4), 369–387. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681811.2011.595229
Josephs, L. (2015). How children learn about sex: A cross-species and cross-cultural analysis. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 1059–1069. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-015-0498-0
Kaeser, F., DiSalvo, C., & Moglia, R. (2000). Sexual behaviors of young children that occur in schools. Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, 25(4), 277–285. https://doi.org/10.1080/01614576.2000.11074361
Kenny, M. C., Dinehart, L. H., & Wurtele, S. K. (2015). Recognizing and responding to young children’s sexual behaviors in the classroom. Young Exceptional Children, 18(1), 17–29. https://doi.org/10.1177/109625061351072624
Lamb, S., & Coakley, M. (1993). ‟Normal” childhood sexual play and games: Differentiating play from abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect, 17(4), 515–526. https://doi.org/10.1016/0145-2134(93)90026-2
Larsson, I., & Svedin, C. G. (2002). Teachers’ and parents’ reports on 3-to 6-year-old children’s sexual behaviour—A comparison. Child Abuse & Neglect, 26(3), 247–266. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0145-2134(01)00323-4
Leander, E. M. B. (2023). Children’s sexuality and nudity in discourse and images in a Danish education and care journal over 50 years (1970–2019): The emergence of “the child perpetrator of sexual abuse” in an international perspective. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 52(1), 49–78. https://doi.org/10.3138/cjhs.2017-0036
Leander, E. M. B., Larsen, P. L., & Munk, K. P. (2018). Children’s doctor games and nudity at Danish childcare institutions. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47(4), 863–875. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-017-1144-9
Leder, M. R., Emans, S. J., Hafler, J. P., & Rappaport, L. A. (1999). Addressing sexual abuse in the primary care setting. Pediatrics, 104(2), 270–275. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.104.2.270
Lindblad, F., Gustafsson, P. A., Larsson, I., & Lundin, B. (1995). Preschoolers’ sexual behavior at daycare centers: An epidemiological study. Child Abuse & Neglect, 19(5), 569–577. https://doi.org/10.1016/0145-2134(95)00016-2
Lo, M. J. (2016). Relationship between sleep habits and nighttime sleep among healthy preschool children in Taiwan. Annals of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore, 45(12), 549–556.
Ministry of Education. (2023, March 27). Guidelines and procedures for reporting child protection, domestic violence, and sexual abuse incidents in schools and kindergartens at all levels. https://edu.law.moe.gov.tw/LawContent.aspx?id=GL000547
Ministry of Health and Welfare. (2021, Aril 23). The statistics of reporting cases of sexual assault. https://dep.mohw.gov.tw/dops/cp-1303-59308-105.html
QSR International. (2011). NVivo (Version 9) [Computer software]. Retrieved from www.qsrinternational.com
Robinson, K. (2005). Childhood and sexuality: Adult constructions and silenced children. In J. Mason & T. Fattore (Eds.), Children taken seriously: In theory, policy and practice (pp. 66–76). Jessica Kingsley.
Rubin, A., & Babbie, E. (1997). Research methods for social work (3rd ed.). Brooks/Cole.
Ryan, G. (1997). Perpetration prevention. In G. Ryan & S. Lane (Eds.), Juvenile sexual offending (pp. 433–454). Jossey-Bass.
Ryan, G. (2000). Childhood sexuality: A decade of study (Part I: Research and curriculum development). Child Abuse & Neglect, 24(1), 33–48. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0145-2134(99)00118-0
Safer, Smarter Kids. (n.d.). Engaging teachers, empowering children, educating parents. https://safersmarterkids.org/teachers/curriculum/
Saldaña, J. (2021). The coding manual for qualitative researchers. Sage.
Schoentjes, E., Deboutte, D., & Friedrich, W. (1999). Child sexual behavior inventory: A Dutch-speaking normative sample. Pediatrics, 104(4), 885–893. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.104.4.885
Schwandt, T. A. (1997). Qualitative inquiry: A dictionary of terms. Sage.
Sciaraffa, M., & Randolph, T. (2011). ‟You want me to talk to children about what?”: Responding to the subject of sexuality development in young children. Young Children, 66(4), 32–38.
Silovsky, J., Swisher, L., Widdifield, J., & Burris, L. (2012). Clinical considerations when children have problematic sexual behavior. In P. Goodyear-Brown (Ed.), Handbook of child sexual abuse: Identification, assessment, and treatment (pp. 401–428). John Wiley & Sons.
Simon, W., & Gagnon, J. H. (1986). Sexual scripts: Permanence and change. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 15, 97–120.
Sung, H. Y. (2010). The influence of culture on parenting practices of East Asian families and emotional intelligence of older adolescents: A qualitative study. School Psychology International, 31(2), 199–214. https://doi.org/10.1177/0143034309352
Tang, C. S. K., Wong, D., & Cheung, F. M. C. (2002). Social construction of women as legitimate victims of violence in Chinese societies. Violence Against Women, 8(8), 968–996. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801024004470
The Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program (n.d.). About CSAPP. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from https://www.csapp.org.au/about.html
Vannier, S. A., & O’Sullivan, L. F. (2011). Communicating interest in sex: Verbal and nonverbal initiation of sexual activity in young adults’ romantic dating relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 961–969. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-010-9663-7
Wilson, P. M. (1991). When sex is the subject: Attitudes and answers for young children. ETR Associates.
Wurtele, S. K., & Kenny, M. C. (2011). Normative sexuality development in childhood Implications for developmental guidance and prevention of childhood sexual abuse. Counseling and Human Development, 43(9), 1–24.
Yang, C. K., & Hahn, H. M. (2002). Cosleeping in young Korean children. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 23(3), 151–157.
The author had not disclosed any funding.
The author has not disclosed any competing interests.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
This study was approved by National Taipei University of Education.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Kuo, J.Yc. Responses of Early Childhood Educators to Children’s Interpersonal Sexual Behaviors. Arch Sex Behav (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-023-02686-4