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To teach children about love, parents need to be role models

February 08, 2001

To teach children about love, parents need to be role models

Teaching your Child | By Lisa Tedrick Prejean


My 5-year-old recently told me he is "going with" one of the girls in his kindergarten class.

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"Oh, that's nice. What exactly does it mean to 'go with' someone?" I asked.

"Well, girls have boyfriends, and boys have girlfriends. You know, we love each other, like you and Daddy do," he said, quickly skipping out of the room.

I thought about what he said and wondered how he came to realize that his parents love each other. We do, of course. But how can a child sense that?

"When you think about what we teach people, there are no classes in love," says Fran Greene, director of flirting and dating for Match.com, an online dating service.

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Unfortunately, most people pay attention to relationships only when they don't have what they want, says Greene, a licensed social worker.

We need to teach children that good relationships require a lot of work.

So, how do you teach a child about love?

Model, model, model.

One of the best definitions of love is found in 1 Corinthians 13, a chapter of the New Testament often read at weddings.

In essence, it says love is patient, kind, does not envy, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil and rejoices in the truth.

At a very young age, children can learn about the attributes of love.

Consider this scenario from Greene:

A parent asks a child, "When you like someone, what do you do?"

The child answers, "I let her use my crayons."

The parent says, "It's nice to share."

"You're teaching them how to develop a relationship with someone," Greene says.

Imposing restrictions is another way to teach a child about love, says Gilda Carle, author of "He's Not All That! How to Attract the Good Guys."

"When you say, 'no,' to an adolescent, that is interpreted as, 'My parent loves me,'" says Carle, who has a doctorate in educational leadership. "They really want you to say, 'no,' more often. These kids don't know what to do. Their emotions have not caught up with their bodies," says Carle, who is called "The Love Doc" on the Web: www.drgilda.com. "It takes the kid off the hook. He can blame the parent."

At the same time, if your child has a crush on someone who doesn't meet your approval, don't make a big deal of it.

"The more controlling a parent is, the more a child will want to rebel," Greene says. "We can never control another individual. It doesn't work."

Try this instead: Point out that the object of your child's affection may be fun to talk to, but remind him of the negatives.

"You're not making the decision for them, but equipping them to make the right decisions," says Jimmy Hester, a coordinator for True Love Waits, an international campaign challenging teenagers to remain sexually abstinent until marriage.

If most parents think about their teenage years, they'll remember making some wrong decisions, Hester says.

"That's part of learning," Hester says.

The worst thing parents can do is break off communication with their child. That will intensify the problem, he says.

Here are other suggestions from Greene, Carle and Hester:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Don't belittle a crush. Your child may never talk to the object of his affection, but may be convinced he's in love.

"Don't say, 'That's puppy love,' " Carle says.

If you do, you're telling him his feelings don't count.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Listen not only to what your child says but also to what's between the lines. If your child mentions the name of a friend, ask about them: What's she like? What are her interests? What draws you to her?

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Talk about feelings. Tell your child how you felt when your heart was broken. Remind your child of his good qualities. Tell him that if someone rejects him, he can talk to you about it.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Be your partner's biggest cheerleader. Point out his or her good qualities. Often. In front of your children. And don't wait until Valentine's Day to do it.

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