It’s generally great when your child makes new friends at school, but Jessica L.
It’s generally great when your child makes new friends at school, but Jessica L. points out that even in kindergarten there are some exceptions. With several girls in her 5-year-old daughter's class claiming that they already have "boyfriends" whom they kiss, Jessica is urging her daughter to steer clear. “This is kindergarten,” she asserts. “I don’t want my daughter to be exposed to this."
Amanda C. says she, too, is feeling uncomfortable about her daughter's premature interest in boys. The 6-year-old ran up to her, happy as can be, to announce that she had her first boyfriend. “Let’s just say I was not happy at all," says Amanda. And Priscilla C., whose friendly 7-and-a-half-year-old also has a boyfriend, is fretting about whether she should do something about it.
Here, Circle of Moms members offer three key tips on what to do when your young gradeschooler wants (or claims to have) a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.”
1. Keep it in Perspective
It’s fairly common for grade schoolers to be curious and mimic adults, so moms shouldn’t worry too much when children want boyfriends and girlfriends — or even if they say they want to “get married,” Circle of Moms members say. In fact, many members recall having similar relationships at that age.
“It’s very typical, especially for girls. The earliest boyfriend I can remember is from kindergarten, 32 years ago,” says mom Susan P. “After the bell rang, we would walk out of the school together, holding hands. When we reached our mothers, we would always give a peck on the lips to each other even though both our mothers told us to stop. Thinking back, to me, this was a friendly kiss and I saw my parents kiss, so why couldn't I?” Why worry, says Susan, when at such a “tender age,” kids don’t actually know what a boyfriend or girlfriend is? Whatever they're doing, it's more than likely "pretty harmless."
Charlene W. agrees that such “relationships” are normal and innocent, sharing that she and her sister always had “boyfriends” at that age. “My sister was engaged like 10 times before she was 7. One little boy even gave her a ring that he got out of a bubble gum machine!”
Carolee Y., too, recalls she had her first "boyfriend" the first day she went to school. “All that meant was that we sat on the bus together. It's a normal thing to go through,” she stresses.
What "Boyfriend" and "Girlfriend" Really Mean
Several moms also point out the influence of TV shows, especially shows about teens, that depict adult and peer relationships. “Children to want to imitate what they see. And even if your own child isn't watching any of these, the fact is, their friends are,” explains a member named Twana. “Part of growing up is imitating what you see, trying [on] your different hats, and figuring out who you want to be when you grow up . . . My take on the whole thing [is to] let [your little girl] have a ‘boyfriend,’ but make sure she knows that means she can have a boy who is a friend.”
After all, Jeanet G. reasons, “Sometimes grown-ups see things with grown-up eyes and not with a child’s, where it's completely innocent and friendly.” Ruby P. also notes that, "As parents, it can be hard to remember that children see this world so differently than we do. And it is our reaction and response that can slowly snatch their innocence away and put more into their minds."
Jenn H. agrees, noting that, "it all carries a different meaning to a child than it does an adult." She also feels that there's no reason for a mom to worry, "unless a child is unhappy or uncomfortable with the affection received by another."
2. Acknowledge the Affection
In fact, several members say, it might be best for moms to not only to hide any disapproval, but to recognize a child's relationship. “It is important not to get too fussed about it and just let her understand she is really too young for the kind of relationships she sees on TV,” advises Moji B.. Jennifer G. chimes in to second this: “Honestly the bigger deal you make out of it, the more fun it is [for your child] to tell you."
The upside to acknowledging these relationships is that when you are open with your kids, they learn to feel comfortable telling you things. "When they sneak is when we are in trouble," explains Laura E.. This openness, says Sharon G., gives parents a way to "caution [children] about being too young to [physically] do anything.”
Dawn D. suggests responding to a child's desire for a boyfriend or girlfriend by asking what having one actually means to her. "This may give you a better picture of [her interpretation]. You can guide the conversation from there.”
For example, when Anne C.’s 7-year-old son talks about which girls in his class have asked if they can be his girlfriend, Anne turns the conversation into a lesson about “how private parts are private and not for them to touch or [be touched].”
And because Ruby P. didn’t want to “taint” her son’s ideas about kissing, but also didn’t want him sharing germs and kissing others, she “told him that kissing and sharing food and drinks are a no-no because you can get very sick or cause someone else to get sick, [be]cause you never know who has the cold bug."
3. Explain Appropriate and Inappropriate Behavior
While you don’t want your child to feel bad, it’s a good idea to teach appropriate and inappropriate relationship behavior, advises Julie G. “If children form their ideas about reading, writing, and table manners at six, they also form their ideas about relationships and dating at six, and it is never too young to start teaching them about healthy ones,” she says.
Consequently, a mom named Michelle, whose own grade school-aged daughter always seems to have a boyfriend, suggests counteracting the pressure kids may feel to "date" by encouraging them to focus elsewhere:
“We never encouraged her behavior, instead tried to discourage [the] feeling [that] she always ‘needed’ to have one, and worked on building up her self-esteem.”
Other moms take the opportunity to discuss body boundaries. Steph A., for instance, told her 5-year-old daughter that she doesn’t belong to any of the three boys she calls her "boyfriends," and that there are limits on touching:
“We talk about touching; no boy or girl or adult can touch her in the privates, and no kissing on the mouth . . . But she can give hugs to both girls and boys as long as it's in a respectable way. Kisses, well those are given only to close friends and family.”
Another mom, Prescilla, whose twin daughters are now 17, offers some perspective on this behavior from when her girls were younger and would play with boys as though they were "boyfriends":
"They would go 'round hugging and kissing and holding hands, as they did with the girls, and they would play families with dolls, etc. As they got older they would come home from school and tell us they had a ‘boyfriend,’ and we would use the opportunity to talk to them about love, relationships, marriage, and having a family in a simplistic way to start. At this age I have concluded it is about building relationships and about trust,” she says. The early guidance you give, she adds, “will pay off.”
So, “just set your family morals and constantly re-enforce these . . . Act as the voice of reason while they are trying to develop their own,” Michelle adds.
Then, take comfort in the fact that “they are just growing up — this is what they do,” Jacqui H. concludes. “They will grow out of it and soon be repulsed by the opposite sex.”
Image Source: noahmom via Flickr/Creative Commons
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