Can We Stop Saying Babies Are Flirting With People?

"Projecting romantic scenarios on young children may become harmful once children begin understanding the comments of adults around them," says Emily W. King, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in Raleigh, North Carolina, who specializes in working with children of all ages. “While comments about 'flirting' with a playmate might go over the head of a baby or toddler, preschoolers are going to notice. These labels can be confusing when their intention is to just play with a friend, male or female because they're having fun."

Flirtation implies romance or sexuality in a context that is neither cute nor appropriate for children too young to even understand what those words mean.

And of course babies aren’t flirting at all; they are simply enjoying natural parts of their development. "Babies who appear to 'flirt' with you are building brain connections through social interactions,” says Dr. King. That’s also the case when babies interact with other tots during playdates. “By this point in development, babies have developed some motor skills so they can turn or move their bodies towards other babies and smile or giggle at one another,” adds Dr. King.

I’ve completely stopped tying any romantic language to my daughter’s friendships with other kids her age. I don’t want her to grow up feeling every interaction she has is simply an opportunity for a romantic relationship or make her feel pressured to seek a partner. Instead, I’ll take expert advice and let her take the lead on describing her relationships to me, whenever she's ready.

“When talking with our child, just listen and emphasize kindness, fun, and learning,” says Dr. King. “Most children will hear these romantic labels soon enough, opening up the conversation for the difference between friendships and romantic relationships."

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