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How I’m Talking to My Daughter About Kissing (Earlier Than I Thought I’d Have to)

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My 5-year-old daughter is married. It was a pretty rushed engagement — school was only about a week or two in when I heard the news. Needless to say, I was surprised. Five, and married – who is the boy?! My husband and I started to joke that they’d move out and find their own apartment, wondering when they’d hit Tiffany for wedding bands. Obviously a kindergarten union is a harmless affair, but I couldn’t help thinking: What happens in a kindergarten marriage? I’ve seen them hug like frantic monkeys beside the bus stop. They chase each other up and down the block every morning. I even heard that my new son-in-law kissed my daughter’s hand once; this info came from a third party and my daughter denied it, because kissing is not allowed. That is not my rule, BTW. It is a School Rule. Not that it’s a bad rule but, to be honest, I’ve been so consumed with keeping my picky kids fed and bathed and stimulated and alive (etc, etc, etc), that somehow I forgot to prepare myself for kissing.

Related: My Preschooler Has a Girlfriend (& I’m Not Sure I Can Handle It)

But it’s a thing. They’re 5-years-old, but it’s happening. Recently, I was catching up with an old friend who practically turned pink when she confided to our small group of moms that her precocious, sunny daughter had been caught kissing at school — a few too many times (with a few too many boys). When she said it, I laughed. I thought I was supposed to. I mean, they’re 5! But it turned out that several moms had concern about the kissing epidemic. It’s totally possible that I’m a slacker and completely biased because my daughter has always been so shy. It’s only now — in kindergarten — that she finally seems to be opening up and happily hugging her friends. For as long as I can remember we’ve encouraged our kids to hug at the end of a playdate. As toddlers, if they gave one another a peck on the cheek we’d ooh and aah and whip out our cameras. So why is it suddenly taboo?

Maybe the answer — much to my horror — is that our little kids are starting to grow up. My husband stopped letting our daughter hop into the bath with him the day she wouldn’t quit asking about his penis. I mean, it’s normal. Being curious is normal. But maybe as parents it is our job to interfere a bit more.

So, how am I supposed to talk to my daughter about kissing? Here are a few ideas, though I’m always open to more.

1. Keep it in the family. Several friends have mentioned the idea of reminding your child whom kisses are for. Kisses are a way to express love, and should be saved for family members only. Mollie Grow, MD, a pediatrician with Seattle Children’s Hospital, agrees. “If there were a party line it would be: Only with family and only when you choose/feel comfortable with a kiss.”

2. Make kissing in school prohibited. Chances are, your child’s school already has a “no kissing” policy. Just let your kids know you support this rule, even if it means they take it to heart and refuse to give mommy kisses at drop off!

3. Take the scientific approach. “Louis Pasteur established a germ theory by the late 19th century…” As my BFF suggested, going into a lengthy scientific explanation is sure to bore the idea of kissing right out of them. In all seriousness though, no kissing means less germs and therefor less colds — something to consider!

4. Discuss cultural traditions. For a more nuanced discussion, Dr. Grow suggests talking with your kids about different cultures around kissing, “like for greeting people,” she says. We all know about the French double-cheek peck; can your come up with any other cultural references?

5. Explain why we set limitations. Not everybody wants to be touched all the time. Look at who you’re kissing: Do they look like they want to be kissed? It’s important to be able to tell. As a good friend told me: Although kissing is something people do to show love, we only show love with actions when we have permission.

6. Open up the conversation. Dr. Grow suggests asking your child what they think. “Ask them: What are other ways to show affection to people we care about?”

7. Wait for the phase to pass. As my sister-in-law pointed out, her kids (ages 9, 12, and 15) find kissing hugely embarrassing. It’s true, I remember getting totally icked-out when my parents kissed in front of me as a kid, and when I saw people kissing on TV. For big kids, kissing is often disgusting.

8. Prepare for the phase to return. Chances are, my 15-year-old nephew won’t find kissing yucky forever, and that’s what my sister-in-law — and moms across the globe — will have to face next. God help us all!

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Photo: Getty