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Little kids don’t need Valentines’ Day to feel romantic. Kindergarteners and other young children are quick to name a “boyfriend” or a “girlfriend.” They may chase each other, pass notes, or even try to steal a kiss. This is nothing new. Children have been doing this for generations.

Somehow, it’s different when the child is yours.

Naturally, we don’t want children to grow up too fast. Of course, we want to put the brakes on inappropriate behavior, behavior that might even get kids into trouble at school. But the solution isn’t really to get stern and forbidding. There’s a better way.

The better way isn’t to encourage pairing off in the preschool, as you can imagine. We want our children to have healthy, mutually appreciative relationships with all their friends. It’s not good to encourage romantic attraction in little kids, telling Grandma about it, making a fuss, or inviting the object of your child’s affections over for dinner as if the kids were in high school.

So what should you do? If squashing a kindergarten crush isn’t good and if playing along with it isn’t better, what else is left?

According to Amy Lang, an educator who specializes in helping parents deal with sex education, “When your 1st grader says they have a boy or girlfriend ask them what they like about that person rather than telling them they are too young or gushing over the relationship.” Talking about the person helps to focus the conversation – and the relationship – on personal qualities and shared interests. It makes the end of the infatuation, which is inevitable, more of a natural development. It can be understood as a growing apart, not a dumping.

In addition, here are some tips to follow that will to channel children’s ordinary romantic interests:

  1. Avoid sexualizing children’s clothing. Don’t put your son into T-shirts that proclaim him a “Little Heartbreaker” or a “Chick Magnet.” Don’t dress your daughter in clothes or costumes that are clearly intended to be sexy. Use some common sense.
  2. Monitor children’s television and video game consumption. Remember that childish romance is normal – there’s no need to limit exposure to puppet pairing on Sesame Street. But a lot of prime time dramas and situation comedies are inappropriate for little kids. Don’t think they don’t understand what’s going on.
  3. Oversee play and conversation with older kids. What’s appropriate for older children to talk about may be way too much for little ones. Younger children naturally look up to the big kids and want to be like them. Make certain innocence is protected.
  4. Keep Valentine’s Day and other events in proportion to children’s age. Don’t overdo it, even if your kindergartener has a “significant other.”

Kindergarten crushes are normal and lovely. Enjoy them as you enjoy your child and all your children’s friends.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.