Monday, August 23, 2010

"Playing Married"

I have a question for you.

How old is too old to be mouth kissing between opposite gender siblings? Scenario: my six year old daughter and four year old son always play marriage. Right now, their version of married life consists of kissing and lounging around together. Sounds lovely, if you're actually married!

Am I just being too sensitive to this? I know their intentions are innocent, but where do we draw the line? I may be extra paranoid in this area because I had to be on high alert around a certain family member who had a hard time keeping his hands to himself, if ya catch my drift. So are these "red flags" being thrown up simply because I was so strongly geared toward guarding them against being molested, that now even innocent "play pretend married" has me seeing the potential for horrible situations? Or is there a legitimate problem here that I need to squash? I've even had my son asking what "sexy kissing is--is it when you have your mouth open?" My husband and I are not shy about showing each other (appropriate) affection in front of the children. I know that's a GOOD thing, but trying to explain that kissing on the lips when you get older is just for married people (don't even want to start thinking about dating, ugh), soo... are they "older" now?

Cautious of the Curious
Millie writes:

First of all, congratulations. Your children view married life as two people being affectionate and loving with one another, not screaming at each other or going their separate ways . . . ya done good, Mom and Dad.

Issues like this are tough on parents. On one hand, something our children are doing is making us uncomfortable because we are viewing it from our adult perspectives; on the other hand we don't want to rip away any of their childish innocence either. I think that you have exactly the right instincts here, both about how you want to modify your children's behavior and about keeping a reign on your own possible over-reactions.

I think most of us probably had “a certain family member” or friend with wandering hands, and those of us whose parents prepared us for handling such situations probably fared much better than those of us whose parents felt too shy or awkward to handle loaded topics. Even a very small child knows that his behind is much more interesting than his ears, and that talking about it will make some adults turn red and look funny, too. I recommend that you do talk to your children about married kissing, but that you do it in a general way so they don't perceive the “thou shalt not” as a punishment.

It's obvious that at least your son is curious about how adults show physical affection, and if he's brave enough to ask you about “sexy kissing” then he deserves a truthful answer. The beauty of this is that he's asked you, so you can gear the information to his age and your family beliefs. The trick is not to spook him; because you also want to be the one to answer his questions later about dating and sex, you don't want him to feel ashamed of asking. After all, his questions are perfectly normal — face it, don't YOU think love and sex are about the most interesting things there are? - so you want to answer them as calmly as you do his questions about why is the sky blue and where do butterflies go in the winter. Be calm and friendly, even if inside you're shrieking, “AAAAAIIIGHHHH!” They will take their cue from your attitude, so if you don't make it into A Big Deal they won't see it that way either.

I don't think you're being paranoid, and I do think this is probably a good age to draw the line while they are still innocent. Sometime when they are not playing the Married Game, steer the conversation to different ways that people show affection. You might talk about how Mr.-Green-next-door mows old Mrs. Smith's lawn for her every week, which is one way of showing neighborly love. In your house you kiss the baby on the cheek to show you love her, and pat the puppy on the head to show you love him; Mama and Daddy kiss each other on the mouth, and that's one way that married people show love. Ask them if they can think of other types of love. Talk about this as long as they are interested and then move on to something else.

Watch them, next time they're playing the Married Game, and if you see them kiss each other on the lips, say something like, “Honeys, remember, mouth-kissing is only for people who are really married. If you want to play this game kiss each other on the cheeks instead.” Be calm and matter-of-fact about it and don't say anything else. If they ask, “Why?” just repeat “because that's only for grown-ups who are really married.” Then distract them by proposing a snack or a walk or a board game.

Remember, children's play is the way they practice for their grown-up lives. Help them be good adults by gently and wisely explaining to them the rules of the games they will be playing. Teaching them to show affection appropriately as they get older is no different than toilet-training them or teaching them to dress themselves. Once you explain that they're growing up and they're old enough to learn what the big people do, you can softly mold their behavior without bruising their spirits.

Oh, and . . . be sure the lock on your bedroom door is in good working order. Some parts of the Married Game should stay private!

Mollie writes:

Ditto all of the above.  But I can't stress too much about talking with your kids.  If they are kissing at school (even pre-school) you need to find out what context started this new behavior.  I couldn't imagine my kids ever kissing anyone on the mouth until they were teenagers, but I have NO doubt that they talked about sex with some of their friends from grades K-8.  Acting out on kissing shows a preoccupation with sexual contact (in my opinion) and I'd want to know more about what my pre-schooler, grade schooler and middle schooler were experiencing when they weren't with me.

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