girl-girl kissing... 5 & 8 years old. What do i say?

by Karina
(Los Angeles)

I'm freaking out. I'm currently staying with my sister-in-law. And she has a 8 year old daughter. My daughter is 5. They have become the best of friends and spend all their time together. Tonight was a sleepover night, where we allow the girls to sleep together and have a sleep over.


I heard a scream and both my sister-in-law and I ran to see what was the matter. We found both of the girls upset and crying. They were freaking out! My daughter was sooo scared. I asked what was going on, and they didn't want to say. Finally my daughter told me that her cousin kissed her, then my niece said my daughter kissed her first. I don't know what to believe... or what to say. I wouldn't expect something like this... and at such a young age. Right now they are both grounded and in different rooms. But I really need some advice on what to tell them once that time comes.

I'm sooo confused????

Ben's Answer:

OK - what's needed here most is for all adults concerned to be calm. It is not at all unusual for kids between the ages of 5-8 to experiment with their ways of showing love and affection. Most kids at this age still have no idea about sex, and have very innocent and confused ideas about what sexuality means. It is more harmful to a child's developing sense of sexual identity to punish them for something like this (kissing), then the behavior itself is. At this age, girls can be so obsessively close to a special "girl friend" that they act like they're "in love." The same can be true between two boys. This does not mean that a kid is gay, or will turn out to prefer the same sex. If we as parents react with fear or anger to a show of affection for the same sex, we impose our own homophobic ideas on the next generation.

Kids learn through play, and through imitation. They imitate the adults in their life, older kids they see in school, and whatever they see on T.V. and in movies. A girl who wants to know what kissing is like, is likely to try it out on a trusted friend before kissing a same-age boy. This is usually very innocent stuff.

When something more happens - like something of a truly sexual nature, it sometimes indicates that someone else, like an older child, or adult has invaded that boundary or been abusive to that child first. Then the victimized child will very often act out that behavior on another more vulnerable child in their attempt to make sense of what happened to them. I would NOT assume that anything of that sort is happening here.

My only concern - or question - as a parent, would be whether the older child is in any way being coercive. At this age - 3 years can be a big gap for some kids (depending on the maturity level of each). At the age of 8, kids are sort of entering a new phase of childhood and often exposed to more adult ideas, more adult media, and emulating teenagers more. The fact that your 5 yr old daughter was screaming and crying would make me suspect that it really was her older cousin that initiated this.

I feel the approach to take should be to talk calmly and unemotionally, without judgment or criticism to each child to try to determine what actually took place between them. Don't interrogate them. You may or may not be able to get the true story. Then you just explain to them about boundaries, and what a friendly kiss is (like a peck - not a "smooch"). Don't make a huge deal about it. Explain that it's always ok to say "no." And explain what to do if the other person doesn't respect your boundary when you say "no." You can explain that it's ok to move away, or walk away, and if the other person still tries to do something that makes you uncomfortable, you tell your parents or another responsible adult. These are the safety issues that all kids should know.

This was probably a very innocent mistake by your sister's daughter and she probably feels really guilty and ashamed about it. It's best to create an environment of safety and trust so that your kids can set their own boundaries, and so that they feel absolutely safe in coming to you and telling you if someone says or does something that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. If a child is afraid that they will be punished for telling the truth - guess what? They will stop telling you the truth, even when they're in a dangerous or abusive situation.

Just foster a feeling of openness and trust where it's ok for the kids to talk about anything with you; You set the emotional tone. Don't let fear control you. Let them talk about their feelings. And they will learn what they need to, and will benefit from your guidance.

Take Care,
Ben Schwarcz

Comments for girl-girl kissing... 5 & 8 years old. What do i say?

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Oct 16, 2011
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THANKS
by: Anonymous

mY lil girl is so dear to me, thanks for this advice. Im remaining calm and looking forward to the wedding and my grandkids!

Mar 19, 2011
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GIRL-GIRL KISSING....5 & 5 YEAR OLD ???
by: Anonymous

I HAVE TWO DAUGHTERS 4 AND 5 YEARS OLD. THEY HAVE A COUSIN THAT IS 5 YEARS OLD. TODAY WAS THE SECOND TIME A "GIRL-GIRL KISSING" THING HAPPEN. I TOTALLY FREAKED OUT. I AM SO SHOCK THAT IT HAPPEN A SECOND TIME AROUND. I AM WORRIED THAT IT WILL HAPPEN A THIRD. I REACTED VERY WRONG ACCORDING TO YOUR ADVISE FROM "GIRL-GIRL KISSING...5&8 YRS OLD". THEY ARE IN SEPARATE ROOM AND I CALLED THEIR COUSINS' MOTHER ( MY SISTER-IN-LAW).

I AM SO SURPRISE ABOUT THEIR BEHAVIOR BECAUSE I WILL THINK THAT SINCE MY DAUGHTERS ARE TOGETHER - I WILL CATCH THEM DOING SOMETHING LIKE THAT. I JUST DONT KNOW - HOW THIS IS BEING STARTED LIKE WHO TELLS WHO TO KISS. MY DAUGHTERS SAY THAT THEIR COUSIN IS THE ONE THAT TELLS HER TO KISS. I AM SO CONFUSED ABOUT THE WHOLE SITUATION AND I FEEL SINCE WE HAVE DONE SUCH A BIG ISSUE....IS IT TO LATE? TO MAKE THINGS RIGHT....SHOULD I WORRY?

AS YOU CAN TELL, I AM SO CONFUSED AND DONT KNOW WHAT TO DO NEXT? THIS IS AWFUL...CAN YOU PLEASE SHINE SOME LIGHT ON MY STORY! THANK YOU!

Ben's Response:

A severe emotional over-reaction by a parent is likely to cause the kids to feel embarrassed, ashamed and dirty, and lead to further inappropriate behaviors and confusion about sexuality. So first of all, please RE-LAX.
It is important to suspend all judgement and talk quietly with your kids. Ask questions, but don't interrogate them. They aren't criminals. Kids at the age of 4 or 5 have (or should not have) any clue about sex. My main concern would be if they have been exposed to openly sexual behavior, like seeing someone having sex, watching pornography, or been the victim of an adult or older child or teen. These are all things to find out, but please do not blame or shame the kids. Kids only copy what they have seen or heard about. They don't know why; It is how kids learn - by imitation.

Some sexual-type behavior - like kissing - is not abnormal and we don't need to impose our adult sexual mind-set onto our kids innocence.

Little boys and girls see adults kissing, so they try it with each other. They may see same-sex adults kissing - so they try it. It doesn't make them homosexual. Nobody ever became gay by observing other gay people. It doesn't work that way.

My only question would be if they have been treated sexually by any older child or adult.

The best thing we can teach our kids to protect them, is what is an appropriate boundary (like where is it ok for someone to touch you, and when). And how to say "NO" to someone who is touching you or invading your personal space. And what to do if that person doesn't stop when you say "NO."

Take Care,
Ben Schwarcz, MFT

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