Love Lessons in Early Childhood

The people who love you don’t treat you badly. Love doesn’t hurt.

~Oprah Winfrey

The lessons we learn about relationships and how they work (or sometimes don’t work) begin very early on in life. Research says that children feel secure when they see their parents hugging, holding hands, or being generally supportive of each other. The first love lessons children will learn will be the ones they learn from watching how their parents treat each other.

As kids grow a bit older, they branch out with relationships. They make first friends and develop favorite playmates. In the preschool setting, we often get to hear who kids will be marrying when they get older. Often, they choose a classmate they enjoy being around and they plan the wedding for two or three weeks down the road when they are “really” old. As staff, we may smile or even laugh a bit at kids develop their first love interest at school. In reality, there are many lessons to be learned from these first relationships.

How many times have you heard a little girl complain that a little boy is “mean” to her and he may pull her hair, or take away toys that she is playing with? How many of those times did the adult listening to the little girl say, “He must like you!” Stop for a moment to consider the message sent to that little girl. To be loved is to be picked on, physically hurt, or made to feel bad. I bet that isn’t exactly what the adult meant to teach the little girl. For some reason, this lesson has been passed on from generation to generation. Maybe our generation can be the one who puts an end to this lesson.

How about we say, “He is looking for attention in ways that aren’t nice. You can use your words to tell him that.” Teach her to protect herself from being treated inappropriately. She can say directly to the little boy, “That hurts me (my feelings) and I don’t like it. Please stop.” If this reaction is not helping her end the behavior, teach her to engage an adult to help her. With this lesson, we can tell our children that love shouldn’t hurt. People who care about us want us to be happy and feel good. We also taught her to stand up for herself, and to ask for help when she needs it. All of these skills are vital over the course of a lifetime.

The secondary benefit of this lesson for our daughters is teaching young boys they can grow up to be good men. My boys have been swimming in the dating sea for several years, and they find that many women aren’t interested in long term relationships because they are “too nice”. Seriously? Maybe if we can put a stop to girls thinking boys being mean to them is a sign of love, we can put a stop to women being attracted to men who treat them badly. We owe our children nothing less than believing love is a part of life that makes everything better. Think of the societal problems we could eliminate with this message to our kids!

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