Dear Dr. Love,Boy, do I have a big problem.My six year old little boy has recently developed his first crush which led to his first kiss.My husband and I thought it was very cute, but also sat down with him and told him to save his kisses for people he really loves. Since the little girl is a regular playmate I also spoke to her mother and we agreed to try and curb the kissing between the two.On a recent playdate, I picked him up and found out that the mother had let the kids climb under a blanket together in an unsupervised room where they kissed, hugged, and held hands. She called me to tell me how adorable it was that they were now boyfriend and girlfriend.I almost blew a fuse!!!!! I told her I thought it was totally inappropriate! She argued that it was just children being innocent. I feel the children were being innocent, but it’s our job to teach them at this age, their actions are not appropriate.The conversation did not go well, as she thought I was making a big to do about nothing and telling them it was wrong would make them want to do it more. I am more mad at the mom for what I view as instigating the situation. Now, she will not talk to me, and has told her daughter not to talk to my son.How do you explain this to a kindergartener? Am I wrong for feeling this is way too much to soon?Sincerely,’Too young for kissing’
There is no such thing as a wrong or right feelings. Feelings simply are what they are.But, what I can tell you is that when a person has such an intense reaction, as you are having over this issue, it is a clue that other, unrecognized issues are fueling the fire. And, what these underlying issues are need to be understood, so that your own issues don’t intrude in a destructive way on your son’s development.I will throw out a few ideas and you can see what rings a bell.Behind your outrage and anger may be fear. You could be afraid that your son will grow up too soon. Or could be afraid of letting him go. I know that he is a long way off from leaving you for good, but some parents are utterly frantic at the idea that their children will grow up and leave them.If you were abandoned in your own childhood, it would be common to fiercely hold onto to your child, in an unrecognized attempt to rewrite history–this time around the parent will hold onto the child and never let him go.Another possible cause for your need to control your son’s behavior, could be your own fear of loss of control. If a person is afraid that she can’t control her own impulses (sexual or aggressive urges) then she will feel a frantic need to keep her child’s behavior and impulses under wraps.This need to control the child will be exhibited by making sure that the child behaves appropriately, follows all the rules, never rebels–even during the stage when rebellion is a normal part of the child’s development, for example between ages two and three.The child may also be punished for verbalizing angry feelings and told that he’s not allowed to speak up. As I said, the need to keep such tight control over a child often stems from the parent’s own struggle to keep her own impulses under control.Why would a person feel such a need to control his own behavior and impulses? The need to keep control is actually a way of defending against an even deeper, unconscious wish to go out of control– to let oneself rip.Actually, there is an internal fight between the part of the self that wants to let loose and the other part that needs to stay in check.Why would a person suffer from such a struggle? Usually this struggle stems from being raised by parents that were overly controlling. If your parents kept tight reins on you, then your feelings were forced underground. Feelings that go underground grow even stronger, so, before long your psyche was struggling to bury even stronger sexual and aggressive impulses than the next guy. With all this internal pressure, the urge to finally let loose of the pent up feelings and desires grew stronger and stronger. And, the only solution that the mind could find was to tighten its controls even more.How does this need to control yourself relate to your son? Since your son is created in your image, your unconscious mind assumes that he is riddled with the same uncontrollable desires that you are. And, so, being a loving parent, you feel that it is your job to control his desires for him.So, you tell him what is and isn’t appropriate and try to help him stay in check. There’s only one problem, by sitting on him, you are creating the same problem in him that exists in yourself. And, you risk to damage him in the process.For one thing, at his age, he isn’t even thinking about having sex with his kindergarten friend. In fact, he is merely playing at being a grown up, pretending to love a girl and marry her. This is how children learn to be human beings. Curbing his practicing, by telling him he’s being inappropriate or save your kisses, will cripple him in more ways than one.You will probably create mixed feelings in him about intimacy.By stifling him, you will also create a person who isn’t at peace with his inner life, and, he will soon feel the need to control his thoughts and feelings. These control measures can also cause the opposite effect, and you could find yourself with an out-of-control, rebellious child and teenager.At this point, it would be important for you to fully understand and resolve the issues inside yourself that have you so worked up, angry and driven to sit on your son.One thing is clear, your need to stay in control is actually spilling onto your son. I know you want to teach him to be a responsible human who behaves appropriately in society. And, like all of us, you are teaching him in the way you are taught. You certainly did become a responsible person, but you pay a price, by needing to ward off your own inner feelings who are enemies to be destroyed.Without realizing it, you are doing the same to your boy.There is another way for you to raise a child who knows right from wrong and behaves appropriately. Instead of sitting on the feelings, encourage them to be talked about. When feelings are put into words, they can be separated from actions. This is actually every parent’s job.To teach his child to be free to feel, as opposed to riddled by crippling defenses against feelings. At the same time the child is to be taught how to own and speak about his thoughts, feelings and urges, he must also be taught that he must choose when and when not to act on his feelings.Encouraging speech and teaching a child about the difference between feeling and doing is how to raise a moral person who can live in society as well as in his own skin.When it comes to your son, he is not acting inappropriately. All children his age play house and doctor (if their parents aren’t too anxious). They kiss and hug, and this does not lead to sexual perversions or promiscuity. It simply helps them grow up normal.When he is actually of dating age, you can discuss–without dictating to him–what is and isn’t proper behavior.But, to tell your child such things now is not age appropriate communication. He won’t even understand and will merely develop inhibitions. Telling him what you are telling him is like explaining human reproduction to an infant.When parenting, it’s best to abide by the following rules of thumb:Control children as little as possible (this prevents rebellious behavior). Set limits around behavior that is dangerous or destructive to self or other. Set a good example by your own behavior (children learn how to be good human beings by modeling after their parents’behavior) not by being punished. Reward good behavior (kids crave their parents’approval) and ignore bad behavior. Punishing bad behavior leaves the child angry and only leads to more bad behavior, and an awful vicious cycle.Good luck.This is a tough problem to resolve. If you find it hard to back off, you might find it helpful to talk more with me in private consulting.You are a great mother who wants to raise a good son. Modifying your methods slightly will create a great son who is healthy and happy in his skin.