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It's so tempting when parents see little toddlers holding hands to say the wrong thing, says Wendi Prescott, the mother of four in Hardin Valley, Tennessee. "I was guilty of this—the preschool parent saying, 'Oh, look at the little couple.'" When parents say stuff like that it isn't because they're thinking about dating, Prescott admits. "The moms are really just thinking, 'Look, my kid is liked!' You don't realize you're already setting them up to worry whether a boy or girl likes them, or if they're 'popular.'"
By making a big deal of a mixed-gender friendship, it really does "become some sort of suggested precursor to valued popularity," says psychologist Sylvia Rimm, author of Growing Up Too Fast (sylviarimm.com) and director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland. Children won't think anything of playing with the opposite sex until they hear you telling your friend, "It's so cute to see my daughter with a boyfriend," she says.
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