PureWow: What if, for example, your 7-year-old comes home from school saying she got a new boyfriend and they kissed on the lips?
KH: It is important to note that in the eyes of the child, there was probably nothing malicious or sexual about the kiss. The terms "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" mean something much more innocent and less serious to the child than to teens or adults. However, it is important to recognize that a more serious conversation about respect, boundaries and consent should be had. Take this opportunity to teach your child about their bodily autonomy and how they can say no to any physical advances. Further, you must also teach them to respect other people's physical boundaries as well.
JT: It’s really about what your 7-year-old feels “a boyfriend” means. See if you can find out more from her about this in a genuinely curious, interested manner. What does she think having a boyfriend means and how does that work? (Very often at this stage, having a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” could be something that lasts for a few hours or days at most). As for kissing on the lips, you should certainly ask about that. (Why did they do that? Whose idea was it? Are they following behaviors that they have seen adults do? Is this something they were dared to do by peers?) It’s good to find out information first before providing a boundary for your child. (This could be something along the lines of “you will have plenty of time to kiss someone on the lips later, right now you don’t need to do that.”)
JS: A 7-year-old who is "dating" a classmate might believe it is dating just to declare that they are dating. At seven, a child who kisses another child on the lips is likely copying behavior modeled by television, parents, older siblings or other adults rather than acting on an internal drive for intimacy. This child can be told about social rules and "time and place" rules society has about dating and affection. Children can be allowed to pretend to "date" without developmental harm, and any correction for kids who either intentionally or unintentionally go "too far" should be without shame and humiliation, and couched in terms of readiness, not appropriateness.