Q: He has been in school with this girl since he was 2 and they have been good friends since then. She is a kind friend. I only recently became uncomfortable with their friendship when I saw her hanging on his shoulder in photos, learned they wrap their arms around each other during circle time and they get jealous when one or the other wants to play with someone else. Is this normal? Am I just being overprotective? Should I interfere, if so, how?
A: Early childhood is a time when kids learn a lot about relationships, and parents can help. So parents should discuss what they feel is important in relationships and how people should treat each other, but also—since kids learn by watching us—should be sure that the relationships that they themselves are in model this as well as what qualities one should look for in others. When a child finds a friend that he likes and wants to display affection, explain to him what is the right way to do it: many kids at that age like to hug and hold hands and many parents are fine with this, but if a parent is uncomfortable with this she should explain what she feels is appropriate (such as “high fives”), and this can lead to a discussion about what touching is o.k. and by whom and in what situations. Talk also about how relationships change as people get older, and that certain forms of affection that are appropriate for older people are not for kids his age (for example, he sees mom and dad kiss on the lips, and that is fine for adults, but kids should instead kiss on the cheek). A parent would also want to talk about how people can like and be friends with more than one person at a time, and that doing so doesn’t in any way diminish how much we like or are liked by any individual friend, just like one can love his entire family with all of his heart.