You might be tempted to tease your little one about their new best friend, but it could actually harm their development.
Young children often find it easy to make friends with both boys and girls.
Psychologists think this is because toddlers don’t really notice gender differences or begin to identify with gender stereotypes (like preferring certain colours or toys) until they get to the age of two or three.
In fact, research shows that there is actually a lot of overlap in the ways that very young girls and boys choose to play, say researchers.
But when parents tease their children about having a ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’, this can make them self-conscious and stop them from socialising with children of the opposite gender.
Having friends of both genders is important for children’s personal and social development, because it can protect them from the damaging effects of gender stereotypes.
‘When parents approve of these relationships, they are sending their children the message that it’s not only OK to play with another gender, but it is also OK to play like them,’ explained CNN parenting expert Elissa Strauss.
And boys who play with girls (who traditionally like to talk more) learn that it is OK to express their emotions.
Early male-female friendships also help children to learn different ways to resolve conflict, which can help them later on. ‘Girls often prefer to talk it out, while boys often focus more on the rules,’ Rachel Simmons told CNN.
Encouraging friendships between boys and girls can help to make the transition to adulthood easier.
‘If boys are able to retain close relationships with girls and negotiate friendships with girls, then they come to romantic relationships much better prepared for intimacy,’ psychologist Michael C. Reichert added.