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Handling questionable play between children

In response to this post on The Leaky Boob’s wall: https://www.facebook.com/TheLeakyBoob/posts/484326791605293

(The situation: A mother finds out that a 12 year old relative has “breastfed” her 24 month old nursling in front of her 9 year old and told the 9 year old not to tell. When her family told her it was innocent and the child was curious, she disagreed and called CPS who told her it did not rise to the level of something they’d investigate due to the 12 year old being a minor.)

It’s not “no big deal”… but in this kind of situation, how YOU react will 100% color how it affects your child. 

The first thing you have to do when your child tells you anything of this nature (questionable physical contact that is not innately upsetting to the child but may be confusing) is take a deep breath, keep your “freak out” internal to yourself, and go into “up time”. Put your own reactions on the back burner–this is NOT about you. Ask questions. “So what happened? Are you okay? Do you have any questions? How do you feel? How did that make you feel?”

Listen. You absolutely CANNOT listen if you are utterly freaking out and calling the police. The police MIGHT in some circumstances be appropriate…but if you are “after the fact” by more than a few hours, or it involves someone known to you, this may be important, it may require action, but it is NOT an emergency. You have time to think and consider your options.

When the person initiating the contact is younger than about 13, you MUST remember that they themselves are still children, and kids have TERRIBLE judgment, and there’s a reason that consent ages are older. 

Now, once you have listened to your child, you need to take a step back and assess the situation. Were they hurt? Do they think it is a big deal? Are they upset? Is it just something silly? Do they understand the words they’re using, and are they meaning what you mean? (My daughter at age 4 told me she’d “had sex” with a friend. Some maternal freaking out on the inside and some gentle questioning later, it turns out they stood back to back and rubbed their clothed butts against each other.)

The question is going to start with “Was your child hurt?” Then you have to ask, “What prompted this behavior from the other child?” Then you need to talk to the parents, and POSSIBLY talk to the child, though that may be for the parents. 

If your child seems upset or hurt (physically or emotionally) and the actions of the other child are concerning for the safety of others, it MAY be appropriate to involve the authorities, but you really need to be careful. What is the goal? To punish the other child? That’s not the role of CPS. To find out where the behavior is coming from? That’s something that the police won’t generally do. 

In our situation, I talked to the other child’s mother. I suggested to her that if her child was playing “sex” (but clearly, and reassuringly did not actually know what sex was) she might want to talk to her kiddo gently and find out where she’d learned about sex and who was telling her about it. I had a long talk with my kiddo about appropriate touch, explained to her that that was not in fact sex (and she wasn’t curious enough to ask what sex actually was, so we tabled that part of the discussion unti she was, a few years later) and thanked her for being truthful with me. I did not punish her. We did not punish her friend but they stopped having unsupervised time together. Ever. 

My 1 year old will latch onto anything and anyone who holds still long enough, including his babysitter, who was distracted once by a phone call and got her shirt yanked and her boob latched faster than she could stop him. She started wearing button downs and we laughed it off. 

As for those who are “concerned” by a 2 year old latching onto a nipple without milk… the last 2 years of my older daughter’s nursing years, I had zero supply. None. She was nursing for comfort only, and I was taking medication that we didn’t know if it was safe for her, so she would actually stop if milk came out. And it’s still not “icky”. 

My reaction to finding out a 12 year old had “breastfed” my toddler would be to talk to the 12 year old about nursing etiquette, and find out if she had questions about breastfeeding. Nursing etiquette says you NEVER nurse someone else’s child without permission unless you get into a situation where it is life and death. Those are rare and unlikely to happen to a non-lactating 12 year old. Overreacting could scare the girl off nursing for life. I would also have a LONG talk with my kid about “If someone ever says don’t tell Mommy, that is a sure sign that you really really need to tell Mommy, and good for you for doing so.” 

I have 3 kids, one 19, one almost 8, and a one year old. I was actually molested as a child. My eldest had another situation which was far more questionable than the one with her friend, and far more upsetting, and the end result was that all the parents of young children in the family were alerted and my daughter never spent time with that adult ever again… but my reaction HAD to be based on the level of upset my child felt (some upset, mostly confusion, not damage) and not the level of violation I felt knowing my child had been touched inappropriately by someone I’d cared about. We took the necessary precautions to keep that person from being around small children unsupervised, ever, but did not make a legal case out of it because to do so WOULD have compounded the issue for my daughter. My reaction as a survivor was worse than hers as the actual victim… but I worked very, very hard to separate the two. 

To those who think there “must” have been a sexual component for the 12 year old… Not necessarily. Curiosity alone combined with the poor judgment that age often has, combined with a family culture of body shame would be sufficient to create the situation, without there necessarily being a background of abuse or a sexual subtext. The big issues for me are the secrecy and taking advantage of the teachable moments for each of the people involved.

Published in Parenting Questions

One Comment

  1. Angi Angi

    Old post, I know.

    I could see myself at 12 bring curious enough to do that. Although probably not in front of a 9-year-old. It would not have been sexual at all, just purely curious about what out was like to nurse a baby. I babysat a LOT as a teenager, and being a mother myself (though not before I was done with high school) was the main thing I wanted in life.

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