There comes a time in life when parents may need to have a conversation with their children about kissing. This conversation serves as a subtle reminder that your little one is not so little anymore, and is necessary in order to prepare your child for healthy life experiences. Children can display kissing behavior as early as 5 years old, according to child development specialists on Fairfax County, Virginia's government website. It's best for parents to establish open communication with their children early on, says Sunindia Bhalla at OneToughJob.org, a parent resource supported by the Massachusetts Child Trust Fund, to make it easier to discuss increasingly complex or sensitive issues with children as they get older.
It's helpful for parents to give children background information and teach them about the different types of kissing. While kissing is most often associated with sexual intimacy, parents should inform children that people also kiss to show affection to family members and animals, or as a cultural custom. Dr. Kim and Dr. Kate, medical professionals for Australia's Child and Youth Health website, say that some scientists believe kissing started when ancient humans used to chew their babies' food in order to feed them. Dr. Kim and Dr. Kate also say some cultures kiss on the mouth and others on the cheek as a form of greeting each other, while others believe that kissing should only be done in private.
Kissing and Puberty
As preteens go through puberty and experience increased sexual development, they may gain a preoccupation with sexuality, say child development specialists at Fairfax County, Virginia's website. Parents should begin talking with their preteens not only about kissing, but sexual intimacy as well. Distinguished University Professor at Temple University Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D., in "Psychology Today" recommends parents begin a conversation with their preteens about sex as early as 10 to 12 years old. While preteens may be more interested in kissing and "dating" than having sex, starting an early and open dialogue with your preteen empowers her with information so she can make responsible choices about sex in her teen years.
While it's developmentally appropriate for children and preteens to be curious about kissing, it's imperative that parents set boundaries with their children so they are well-aware of appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. In an interview on Scholastic.com, Dr. Steven C. Atkins, Psy.D., a clinical associate at Dartmouth Medical School's department of child psychiatry and author, encourages parents to be honest with their children about issues of sexuality, such as kissing, but to clearly outline appropriate times and people with whom to have these discussions. Parents should also let their kids know that kissing is inappropriate in most settings and situations -- such as in school and among friends -- as many children and parents may view this as inappropriate touching.
Since communication is a two-way street, be sure to allow your child to ask plenty of questions about kissing. Former director of health for the NYC Department of Education Fred Kaeser, Ph.D., notes in "Psychology Today" that today's children are more aware of sexual content than in previous generations. Kaeser says that as a result, parents should be approachable and answer their children's questions -- no matter how sexually advanced their questions are. If your 6-year-old wants to know about French kissing, instead of ignoring or dismissing the question, tell her that it's a type of kissing that older people do when they love each other, and that she's got some years before she has to think about it.
- Iowa State University: Extension: Parenting Young Teens
- Child and Youth Health: Kids' Health: Kissing
- OneToughJob: Develop Open, Effective Parent-Child Communication
- Fairfax County Virginia: Understanding Sexual Behaviors of Children
- OneToughJob: Your Preteen and Puberty
- Psychology Today: You and Your Adolescent: Talking to Your Teen About Sex
- Scholastic: Talking about Sex and the Body
- Psychology Today: What Your Child Needs to Know About Sex (And When): The Super-Sexualization of Children: Time to Take Notice
- Photo Credit Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images