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From the Sandbox to First Love

Use our timeline to chart your child's romantic development.

From the Sandbox to First Love

Kids need to show and receive affection from the time they're born. As they grow older, they learn to demonstrate their affection in different ways. From a toddler's sudden hug to a teen's proposal of marriage to his first love - learn about the stages of emotions your children go through at different ages.


Preschoolers love to imitate their parents. They are quick to hug and kiss a friend or preschool classmate -- just like Mommy hugs and kisses Daddy.

Playing doctor is popular and natural at this age. Kids like to peek at and explore each other's sexual differences.

During these years, many kids become very attached to their opposite-sex parent. So, don't be surprised if you get a "romantic" marriage proposal from your four-year-old!


When kids head off to elementary school, they start to form deeper friendships. They replace their best-friend-of-the-week for friendships based on similar likes and dislikes.

Girls take refuge in groups of girls, while boys seek out boys. This helps them learn the "male" and "female" roles society expects them to play.

Kids start to choose favorites. This leads to ganging up, and hurt feelings. To make things easier for your child, here are two tips:

  1. Keep your eyes peeled for bullying. Put a stop to it, and do some problem-solving with both sides.
  2. Be aware that the way you discipline your kids affects how your kids will fare among his peers. Parents who reason with their kids instead of punishing them tend to raise likeable children. But when parents act like dictators, they tend to encourage bullying in their kids.

Upper Elementary

Girls still tend to be friends with girls and boys with boys. Boys will have fewer friends, but their friendships last. Girls have more friends but they change more often.

Boys and girls are starting to notice each other and unsupervised boy-girl parties begin. Mostly these parties don't work out because the kids are not ready for the group anxiety. Don't push these parties on your kids. Wait until they are past sixth grade, and even then, chaperone! Go ahead and be obstinate about this. Kids don't have the maturity to deal with these situations.

Middle School

And they call it puppy love... Kids this age are in transition. They're feeling the pressure to move beyond their all-boy or all-girl social circles and start dating.

Young teenagers are concerned with being attractive to the opposite sex -- how to talk and how to dress. They're also figuring out whether they should date in groups or individually. Sex becomes a major issue at this age. Sex drives are increasing, and teens are now experiencing a new interest in satisfying them. They'll have to decide how much sexual behavior, if any, to engage in. This is a tough time for teens, and their natural fears and anxieties are multiplied by peer pressure.

High School

During these years, teens need discussions with their parents about sex and sexuality more than ever. Romantic love gives birth to many more intense, confusing, and conflicting sexual feelings and behaviors. Older teen couples often view sexual intercourse as the best way to prove their devotion to each other.

Teen couples can become so consumed with one another that they neglect or abandon their families, friends, schoolwork, and extracurricular activities. They talk of loving each other forever and severe emotional crises occur when one or both leave for college. To make things easier for your child, here are two tips:

  1. Love at this teenage stage is very serious at every level. Don't belittle or condemn your teen's romantic love. Such insensitivity may critically damage your relationship.
  2. Broken hearts at this stage can lead to deep depression and self-destructive behavior. Be there to empathize, to catch them when they fall, and to help them heal.

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