Why you shouldn't tease your child about having a ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’, according to psychologists

young boy and girl
(Image credit: REX/Shutterstock)

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.

children playing

Credit: REX/ShutterstockFor example, girls who play with boys (who are often encouraged to engage in ‘rough-and-tumble’ play) learn that it is OK to be competitive and may become braver and more confident as a result.

And boys who play with girls (who traditionally like to talk more) learn that it is OK to express their emotions.

Read more: Prince George isn’t allowed a best friend and it could affect his school grades

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.

Freelance Writer

Samantha is a freelance writer at Goodto who has been with team since 2019. Initially trained in psychology, she specialises in health and wellbeing and has additionally written for magazines such as Women’s Health, Health & Wellbeing, Top Santé, Healthy, Refinery29, Cosmopolitan, Yahoo, CelebsNow, Good Housekeeping and Woman&Home.