How Best to Enforce Appropriate Touching during Play

As a parent, supervising your young child at play is an important part of your job. If they’re showing excessive aggression and inappropriate touching, you should seek out professional help so they can learn and develop more appropriate behaviors.

Good touch versus bad touch

Because young children don’t have a firm command of language, they use touch to learn about their environment, themselves, and others. Instead of having the skill to say, “I was playing with that; please give it back,” the young child often simply hits the other toddler. Obviously, you don’t want this to become a habit.

The staff at Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services in Scottsdale, AZ works with children to help them learn “good touch” versus “bad touch” so that appropriate touching and interactive behavior are positively reinforced. Our staff uses techniques such as role play and modeling to help children learn and master appropriate behaviors.

In addition, our staff is highly trained in working with children on the autism spectrum and those with other developmental disorders who learn differently from children with no disabilities. These children (as well as children with no disabilities) all use aggression and hitting to meet a need. We have to understand that need so we can fill the space with more appropriate actions.

Hitting and inappropriate sexual touch are two of the most common behaviors in young children, and both need effective intervention.


Our staff performs a functional behavior analysis to determine why your child hits others or uses other inappropriate touch. Perhaps it’s to get someone else’s attention during class. Perhaps it’s to try to get out of performing a task or complying with a demand. Perhaps it just to get to a set of blocks another child is playing with. The staff analysis targets what triggers and maintains the hitting behavior.

All children have preferred learning channels. The child who hits or uses other inappropriate touch may be kinesthetically oriented — physical touch is their preferred way of learning about and interacting with their environment. However, they need to know there are limits. Our shared goal with you, the parent, is to replace inappropriate touching with appropriate functional behavior.

Our staff introduces replacement skills to replace the dysfunctional behavior. For example, in calm moments, the staff introduces alternate behaviors — take three deep breaths, tell a teacher why you’re upset, move to another learning station. Then the staff reinforces the replacement behaviors with practice, practice, practice.

Along with practice come frequent rewards. The younger the child is, the more frequent the reward should be. For instance, if a three year-old goes one hour without hitting another child, he gets a meaningful reward. For a five- or six-year-old, the reward could be given after two hours of no inappropriate contact, and then the time between rewards gradually increases as the behavior improves.

Our applied behavior analysis (ABA) trained staff don’t react outwardly to being hit themselves, so that the child isn’t rewarded with attention. Instead, they employ neutral redirection, guiding the child to an acceptable behavior instead.

Sexual touching

All children touch and rub their body parts. At a young age, it’s important to help them distinguish between which parts to touch in public and which to only touch in private. That’s especially true for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), as it’s not uncommon for those with ASD to display inappropriate touch.

Research reinforces how important it is for parents to head off inappropriate sexual touching in children with ASD as early as possible. That results in the most successful interventions and ensures the behavior doesn’t continue unabated into adolescence and adulthood, when it’s harder to change.

Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services staff members don’t only work with ASD children. They are highly trained to work with all children, using a range of early intensive behavioral intervention techniques to help your child learn that touching their private parts is done in private.

To learn more about our professional services and enable your child to receive the help they need, call Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services at 480-410-4040 today.