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Why You Should Not Tease Your Toddler About Having a 'Boyfriend' or 'Girlfriend'It's good for kids to be friends with the opposite sex at a young age.by Lei Dimarucut-Sison .
When kids reach the age when they begin to play with others, it's quite common for parents to look for someone alike: a girl for her daughter, or a fellow boy for her son. Their reasons for doing so are numerous, but one of the most obvious is that the kids belong to the same gender ("Go play with the other boys!"). And supposedly, that makes playtime easier for everyone — "boy" toys are for male kids, and "girl" toys are for females.
Kids hardly make the distinction between "boys" and "girls" when it comes to their playmates.
"In my own research, I’ve found that children don’t begin to notice and adopt gender-stereotyped behaviors (e.g., preferring colors like pink or blue) until the age of two or three," says Vanessa LoBue, an assistant professor of Psychology at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
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Another challenge that hinders friendships between boys and girls is the early sexualization of such relationships, often by the adults themselves. Parents will jokingly refer to the opposite sex as the "boyfriend" or "girlfriend," and while the kids do not yet fully understand what it means, it makes them feel embarrassed and avoid it entirely.ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW
The thinking is that it might be better to keep boys and girls within their own groups, but studies imply there are benefits to friendships between boys and girls, observes Elisa Strauss, in her column on CNN.
Why you should encourage friendships between boys and girls
1. They could learn off each other's strengths.
While boys are identified to be into rough play and girls, into more pretend play (i.e., talkies), playing together could do both good when their best qualities rub off on each other. "A girl playing with a boy might feel free to be competitive, a trait normally associated with boys. A boy playing with a girl might feel free to be talkative and emotional, traits normally associated with girls," Strauss explains.
2. It teaches them about conflict resolution.
Conflicts will happen, and generally speaking, boys handle them differently than girls, as is the nature of each gender. "Girls often prefer to talk it out, while boys often focus more on the rules," says Rachel Simmons, author of Enough as She Is. She says she wants her daughter to be exposed to both, as she believes doing so will be an asset she could use in her professional and social life in the future.ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW
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3. It helps them recognize and articulate feelings.
Society dictates that men should not display emotions, much less articulate them, as it is viewed to be a weakness. However, Michael C. Reichert, psychologist and author of the upcoming book, How to Raise a Boy, argues that boys also long for an emotional connection — but do not know how to do it.
"If boys are able to retain close relationships with girls and negotiate friendships with girls [while young], then they come to romantic relationships much better prepared for intimacy, rather than just sexual gratification," says Reichert.
4. It prepares them for adulthood.
As grownups, your children will be exposed to the real world where they will encounter the good and bad of both genders. Growing up in an environment that allows them to learn how to deal with both — whether these kids are cousins, classmates, neighbors, or your friends' kids — will be an advantage.ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW
"The differences [discovered by gender researchers] are generalizations. But on an individual basis, there is a tremendous amount of overlap [between girls and boys]," said David Walsh, a psychologist and author.