Teaching Your Kids Appropriate/Healthy Relationships with the Opposite Sex

'Dad and Daughter' photo (c) 2011, Tony Alter - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Recently I’ve had several readers either email or ask through my Facebook Page virtually the same question. It goes something like this:

How can I teach my kids about modesty/waiting until they’re married, but also encourage them to have healthy relationships with the opposite sex? How can I make sure that I’m not making them paranoid about sex and the opposite gender, but also that I’m not encouraging them to date?

So I thought I’d tackle that question!

I think many of the questioners were looking for a “curriculum” or a program that you could use, and I do know some good ones. Secret Keeper Girl, for instance, gives you 8 dates to take your 8-11 year old daughter on that help her think about modesty in a healthy way. Similarly, Passport to Purity, a set of CDs and activities that mom does with daughter or dad does with son, helps you go over all the facts of life, including what happens at puberty, and talk to them in a less stressful way about waiting until they’re married. That one is focused on slightly older kids, say 10-13, and helps you make sure that you haven’t missed out on any important information they’re going to need to have.

However, they’re not enough, and that’s really what I want to talk about in this post.

I did both programs with my oldest (don’t we always do more with our oldest than with our younger ones?). I didn’t do either with my younger daughter. But my younger daughter is just as determined to wait until she’s married for sex, is adamantly against dating as a young teen, and has very healthy relationships.

In fact, both my girls have boys as their closest friends, though it’s not a romantic relationship or anything. I had boys as my closest friends in high school, too. And so they’re both very comfortable with both genders, but also very committed to waiting until they’re married.

So how do you raise kids like that? Here are some thoughts:

1. Model Affection with Your Husband

DSCN6933I have met many adults who grew up in more physically reserved homes, who learned as adults how to touch, and who reported loving friends’ homes where more touching took place. I have one friend who was not touchy at all, though her husband’s family was, and she’s had to learn to be more touchy for her husband and her kids–but she now enjoys it. In general, we like hugging.

I have yet to meet anyone who feels that their home was TOO physically demonstrative, and they were trying to learn to hug less.

So I say: you can’t go wrong by touching your kids a lot and by touching your spouse a lot. People do yearn for affection. And when your children see you and your husband kissing, and hugging, and even some rather passionate kisses, that’s just part of a healthy family. The kids need to know that you enjoy your husband. So gross them out every now and then! My girls have one friend who comes over quite a bit who jokes that she always is really loud before walking into our kitchen because she’s never sure if she’s going to turn the corner and find “Mr. and Mrs. Gregoire making out”. But she thinks it’s funny.

When your children see that you enjoy being with your husband, they learn that sex in marriage is healthy, is fun, and is awesome–not something to be ashamed about or scared of. And they learn that all this talk about how marriage is boring is nothing but talk. They know the reality. On the other hand, if you yourself are a little  uptight about sex, and so you don’t show your husband much affection, your children will pick up on that. They will absorb your hangups. So force yourself out of your comfort zone. Sex is a healthy part of marriage; believe that, show it, and your kids will believe it, too.

If you’re a single mom and you can’t do this, then talk to your kids about it anyway. And, if possible, make sure that they develop a close relationship with an aunt/uncle or with a family from church who is affectionate, so they have a chance to see this in action. I still remember loving going over to Mr. and Mrs. Timpson’s house when I was a young teen, because they always held hands. I thought that was sweet.

2. Be Affectionate with Your Kids

Going along with that first point, it’s important to touch your children and hug them, too. Obviously you don’t want to smother them, but children do yearn for touch. If they don’t get it from you, they’re more likely to look for it in the opposite sex. When my kids were little, we all spent a lot of time on the bed just cuddling and wrestling and rolling around. It’s funny, because as they’ve grown, my girls have not stopped doing that, though they’re 17 and 14. My youngest likes to “tuck” my oldest into bed, which usually involves squeezing her until she can’t breathe, and all kinds of other over the top wrestling things. They often end up laughing for a good half hour before bed–but it’s because they’re touching.

This can be trickier if you have boys, or if you have kids of the opposite sex, but wrestling, leaning against each other while you’re watching a movie, all of those things are perfectly healthy. And the more your husband can hug and touch the girls in a healthy way, the less likely they are to seek out affection from a dating relationship.

My husband had an adjustment to make when the kids hit puberty, and he found he couldn’t wrestle them or hug them in the same way. For a while he stopped hugging them, because it was awkward, but then he realized that was the exact wrong thing to do, so he’s found a compromise now. Kids need physical affection.

3. Fill Your Home with Peers

They’ll get their affection from you and the modelling of appropriate marriage relationships from you, but you can’t give them everything. For other things they’ll need other people. And one of the most important things you can do is to give your kids healthy opportunities to make friendships of the opposite sex.

The easiest way to do this is to have people over for dinner with kids around the ages of your kids. One of the problems that parents sometimes get into is that they talk about dating in such a negative way, and talk about sex in such a negative way, that kids decide “boys are yucky” or “girls are scary” and they never want to have anything to do with them. That’s not healthy, either. What you want is for your kids to figure out healthy platonic relationships, which really are possible.

I mentioned in this post recently that our family has gone camping every summer and up to a hunting camp in the winter with a family for the last 12 years. They have boys almost the same age as our girls, and the two boys and two girls have grown up together.

That’s really healthy. They learn that boys are very different from them, but they also have almost a brother/sister relationship with these guys because they’ve been together since they were so small. (Of course, I suppose at some point one of those relationships may turn to something more, but that can be healthy, too, right?).

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Don’t assume that just because your children are in school or at church that they’ll learn good relationships with the opposite sex. First, kids tend to sex segregate and don’t always talk to the other gender. Also, schools and even some churches are not always the healthiest environments. When you have a smaller number of kids under your own roof, it’s easier for the kids to learn how to talk to each other, because they have to.

So just make your home an open place, where you have other kids over, and your children will learn to develop healthy relationships. An added bonus: your children see you interacting with other men, so they see the difference between how you act with their dad and how you act with Mr. Smith. And they see that it is possible to just have a nice friendship.

4. Talk to Your Kids

Finally, talk to your children about what you expect and what’s healthy. In fact, talk to your kids about just about anything at all. The more your talk to your kids, the more you keep lines of communication open so that they will come to you with questions.

The kids who grow up with either hangups about sex, and are too shy and never talk to the opposite sex, are often those who were not shown affection, didn’t witness affection, and had no natural outlets to make friends. On the other hand, those who grow up to be boy crazy or girl crazy are also often those who didn’t always talk about these things openly with their parents.

So programs like Secret Keeper Girl or Passport to Purity are great at starting conversations, but that’s all they are. You need to keep the conversation going, and you need to keep modelling what you want your children to do. Do that, and I doubt you’ll have to worry that your children will grow up with hangups about sex, or about the opposite sex!

Now it’s your turn: Do you have trouble being affectionate with your spouse in front of your kids? Are  you a touchy person–or not? Let’s talk in the comments!

Linking up to Titus 2sDays at Time Warp Wife!

Comments

  1. Yaaay! I feel like I’m doing something sort of right here! We are super, super affectionate at my house and we have friends of both genders. Not all of our friends have kids and a very disproportionate number of them have girls, buuuuttttt, we do have friends with sons who our daughter enjoys a great friendship with. It’s so interesting to see how she adjusts her playing automatically when with boys. I have yet to see her ask a boy to play dolls, even boys who have dolls and even though I have told her that’s okay to play with them too. Just as I have yet to see her ask a girl to play cars or try to wrestle with another girl, even though she has cars to play with(I discourage the wrestling, though, as it is just an accident waiting to happen at that age). I don’t know if that means anything or is even related to this, but it’s something I’ve noticed.

    Anyway, it’s good to know that long term, that should have a good effect. She already has her dollies telling each other that they can’t kiss until they are married and that their mommy dolly wants them to finish school before they get married( I know, I know Sheila, they CAN get married in University, but just let me TELL her that can’t happen for now? LOL).

  2. My parents were very affectionate when I was growing up and you’re right, I loved it. Thanks for this post. I will probably buy the books (because I have 5 daughters and the oldest is 10 and I’m nervous-ish), but also, your post helped me to see that I’m already doing a lot of those things, so I’m probably not messing them up permanently. You ROCK!

  3. Oh, great article! Lots of good points. I especially appreciate the emphasis on continuing the physical contact as they age. Sure – as your husband discovered – it needs to be adjusted, somewhat, from dad to daughter, and mom to son, but they still need it!

    My three boys are 10, 13, and 15. The two youngers have always been more snuggly and still want me to tuck them in and give them hugs and kisses. My 15 year old has never been really huggy, but I “make” him hug me every night before bed, and i tell him I love him. He acts like he hates it and is horrified, and he would never initiate that on his own, but I can tell that he does appreciate it, no matter how offended he acts. (There’s a twinkle in his eye :D )

    I would caution you about one thing, though, which is having your best friends be the opposite gender. Or maybe it’s more of a concern when many/most of their friends are the opposite gender. It may just be situational (that’s who is available) and certainly you know your own kids best! I just mention it because I’ve seen that lead to trouble before. It’s good for girls to have other girls they can confide in. I’ve seen girls, with best friends that are boys, confiding too much in the boys, which leads to a level of intimacy that may not be appropriate. Again, you know your girls best!

    Great article ;D

    Julie

    • Julie, I know what you’re saying about boys as best friends. Both my girls also have very close girlfriends, but they do really enjoy some of the boy friends, too. I did, too, and I know the girls are being careful! But it’s a good warning.

  4. Anonymous Please says:

    I’m not trying to be difficult or throw things off, as I think the whole article is GREAT and right on target for most people, but may I introduce myself to you as the first person you’ve ever met who thinks their parents WERE too demonstrative? As I’ve grown up and dealt with the concept here in this post, that of modeling healthy relationship interaction for our children, and (especially !) *having* a healthy relationship with my husband, I’ve realized that my mother was most likely trying to do just what is suggested here: move out of her comfort zone and get rid of her hangups. However, coming from a *very unhealthy* (read: sexually abusive) childhood, she either didn’t know what *was* healthy, or was so focused on pushing past her comfort zone that she didn’t realize she pushed right past propriety and into indecency. Yes, we should “gross out” our kids, kissing, hugging, cuddling, holding hands, opening doors… etc etc. But *I* feel, because of my own personal history, that there does need to be some sort of “stopping place” installed, or you could just create more hangups and permanently damage relationships. For example, my mother is not allowed to be alone with my children, because I have NO confidence in her boundaries around her sexuality. I hope that I am the very very rare instance of this, and that no one will need this caveat, but I just didn’t feel comfortable with not saying *anything*. Maybe that’s *my* hangup. Thanks for the opportunity to speak. Keep up the great work on the blog!

    • Very good point, and thanks for commenting. Yes, some people can definitely go overboard, and I think especially that trying to force anything that may resemble “sexual” affection on kids is also really wrong–like a mom holding a 12-year-old boy’s hand, for instance (unless he instigates it–and even then I’m wary). It’s one thing to hug someone or stroke their hair occasionally. It’s another to curl up with them and snuggle the way you would with a spouse. I have definitely seen moms go way across the line in that way, as if they’re replacing their husband with their kids.

      I’ve also seen people just show their kids too much of the physical affection they parents feel for each other–it’s one thing to kiss in front of your kids; it’s another to grope, so to speak. I should have mentioned this more, but I tend to assume that people are coming from healthy boundary situations, and you’re right; many are not. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. I love the advise you give. My children are very young still, but it is good advise to take to heart. I grew up in a family that was not at all touchy-feely, and married into a family that is, so I have had to learn how to be comfortable touching people. Fortunately, it is easy to be affectionate with my kids, and I love that they love to cuddle. Though, sometimes I need to still work on my willingness to touch and be touched by people – I tend to shy away from hugging or even a casual hand on an arm.

    And you are right about the sexual hang-ups as well. I attribute a lot of my hang-ups to having grown up in a family where affection wasn’t really shown, and it was strongly emphasized that sex before marriage is wrong (I’m not blaming my parents in any way, though!). I am going to encourage my kids to develop relationships with friends of the opposite sex, and will continue to show them how to be affectionate to their spouses.

    Thanks for the encouragement!
    Vinae recently posted…Praying for my ChildrenMy Profile

  6. Sheila, thanks for an excellent article. I do believe that you are absolutely correct! I came from an all-girl family and my father was not affectionate. Having not received that from him and having limited contact with boys (I didn’t start dating until I entered the working world and I was 19) I believe that it gave me a skewed view of male/female relationships. I have always been very uncomfortable with affectionate gestures by males unless I was in a relationship with them. I encourage my husband to be affectionate with my girls now because I could see how it was not having healthy affectionate gestures from my father is what caused this. Thankfully, they have male friends and neither of the older ones are dating yet (by choice) even though they are 19 and almost 21. This makes me very happy because they go out with friends but I know when the time comes and they meet someone special they will understand the difference between romance and friendship…unlike their mother!

  7. Amythest says:

    I worry that I will be one of those moms who is too touchy. I grew up in a family where we knew our mom&dad loved each other. They held hand, kissed, went on dates, had locks on the bedroom doors. Then I got married to a man who grew up in a family where they rarely touched each other. If they did, they were usually punished. He refuses to touch me at all so I get no affection whatsoever from him. I like to wrestle around with my kids though. And the things that worries me most is that 3 of them are boys. Is that appropriate? Sure, they’re little- 5,4,2. And the bigger guys don’t like to cuddle like the littlest. But sometimes I do worry that b/c I get no affection from my husband I am replacing him with the kids.

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  1. [...] your kids to have friends over as much as possible–and mixed groups are absolutely fine. Encourage your kids to have friendships with the opposite sex–as long as that is what they are…. We often have youth at our house, or if there’s a youth activity, I’ll make sure my [...]

  2. [...] had a ton of male friends, and for this I’m grateful. I think it’s a good thing to have friends of the opposite sex. It helps them figure out what they like and what they don’t like. It gives them a wider [...]

  3. […] I wrote about how teaching our kids appropriate relationships with the opposite sex pretty much requires that you show some affection towards both your kids and your spouse. They need […]

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