Daughter is Boy Crazy

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Taken from Growing Concerns -- A childrearing question-and-answer column with Dr. Martha Erickson

Question: Our 7-year-old daughter comes home every week announcing that she is "in love" with some boy. Since when do 7-year-olds fall in love? And how should we parents respond so that she doesn't end up being too boy crazy?

Answer: You're not the only parents who have worried about a child getting hooked on romance at too young an age. But what you describe is not at all unusual. Seven-year-olds often have crushes, and, although these romances are usually short-lived, they adopt the grown-up language of "being in love." Part of what's going on with kids this age is that they're trying on all kinds of adult roles. Just as they play at being firefighters, doctors, or teachers, they also play at being in romantic relationships.

While you need not be concerned that your daughter shows an interest in boys at this age, you are wise to ask how you can use this as a teachable moment. Unfortunately, many of the images of romantic relationships that children see--whether in the media or among real-life adults and teenagers--can fuel some very unhealthy attitudes. So it is up to parents to guide their children toward relationships based on genuine respect for self and others. Here are a few things you can do even at this young age:

- Help your daughter begin to discover what she really likes in people. For example, when she tells you about her latest "love," ask her what he is like, how he treats people, what he likes to do and what makes him so interesting.

- Help your daughter develop an identity that is defined by more than what the boy of the week thinks of her. Guide her in finding things that she does well, such as sports, the arts and academic subjects. There are many pressures on girls to equate success with superficial beauty, so it's up to adults to affirm girls in their competence and their willingness to take on new challenges.

- Finally, through your own marital relationship, help your daughter learn the real meaning of romantic love. Right now she's role-playing in a very superficial way, as is typical of children her age. As she approaches adolescence, these romances probably will become more intense and prolonged. By late adolescence she is likely to be really practicing how to be in a loving adult relationship. What she sees and hears even at the young age of 7 will help to shape the attitudes and expectations that drive her as she seeks true love in adulthood. The most powerful lesson you can give her is the example of a warm, respectful, playful relationship between two strong individuals, committed to savoring the good times and working through the tough times.

Editor's Note: Dr. Martha Farrell Erickson, director of the University of Minnesota's Children, Youth and Family Consortium, invites your questions on child rearing for possible inclusion in this column. E-mail to mferick@tc.umn.edu or write to Growing Concerns, University of Minnesota News Service, 3 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.
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