Handling sexual play between siblings

Parenting Author Jeffrey Kluger shares advice for parents on how to properly handle sexual play between young children and siblings
How To Handle Sexual Play Between Your Children
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Handling sexual play between siblings

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Children engaging in erotic play is extremely normal, it may even be somewhat unavoidable in childhood. And the first thing parents need to know is don’t overreact to it. You can’t and shouldn’t project to children that there’s something profoundly uniquely wrong with it. You can suggest that it’s not the best way for them to express their love for each other, you can suggest that it’s something that they want to avoid doing, but it has to be gentle and nonjudgmental. Keep in mind so much erotic play is just you show me yours and I’ll show you mine curiosity. Kids don’t really understand anything about sexuality, but they do understand anatomical plumbing; they do understand what a body looks like and they also understand that the opposite sex body looks very different, so they’re going to be curious. And there will be some titillation. We are deeply, deeply wired to see anything that concerns genitalia or the opposite sex as erotic, so there will be some titillation involved. Even when some kind of sex play or erotic play crosses the line to become something that seems even more troubling to parents – because it’s much more explicit – most of the studies have found that when kids report some kind of what you would call incest in their past, there’s only one incident and it’s not repeated. Now, that’s not typically because the parents have scared the daylights out of them or punished the sex play out of them. It’s simply because they realized they stumbled into something and it didn’t feel right. And they sort of stumbled back out of it and that was the end of the incident. So it’s important for parents to remember: it happens, it’s generally self-correcting and incest taboos, both societal and hard-wired, baked into the human genome will drive kids back apart in time.

Parenting Author Jeffrey Kluger shares advice for parents on how to properly handle sexual play between young children and siblings

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Jeffrey Kluger

Science Journalist & Author

Jeffrey Kluger is a senior editor and writer at Time magazine, covering science, health and other fields. He is the coauthor, along with astronaut Jim Lovell, of Apollo 13, the book that served as the basis of the 1995 movie. His more-recent release, Splendid Solution, told the story of Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine.  His novel, Nacky Patcher and the Curse of the Dry-Land Boats, was published in June 2007, and his newest nonfiction book, Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex, was published in June 2008.

Before coming to Time, Kluger worked for Discover magazine, where he was a senior editor and humor columnist. Prior to that, he was health editor at Family Circle magazine, story editor at The New York Times Business World Magazine, and Associate Editor at Science Digest magazine. His features and columns have appeared in dozens of publications, including The New York Times Magazine, Gentlemen's Quarterly, The Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan, Omni, McCall's, New York Magazine, The New York Post, Newsday, and, of course, Time. He has worked as an adjunct instructor in the graduate journalism program at New York University; is a licensed—though non-practicing—attorney; and is a graduate of the University of Maryland and the University of Baltimore School of Law. He lives in New York City with his wife Alejandra and their daughters, Elisa and Paloma.

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