Q&A: toddlers “flirting”

Erika writes:

"My daughter, Sophie, is 13+ months old. She’s in daycare full-time
and really seems to adore the other kids (6 total). She is one of the
younger kids and the oldest is about 5. My question is about using the
terms "flirting" and "has a crush". My husband thinks it’s harmless to
say to one of the 5-year old boys: "I think Sophie has a crush on
you.", or "Are you flirting with [insert boys’ names]?".

They both ring strange and wrong to me. It’s like he’s applying
more mature qualities on her very innocent friendships. Why can’t she
just be friendly and have friends without it being about crushes or
flirting? Am I reading too much into this? He says he’d never say it to
adults but these kids are all going to be older one day, too."

I’m with you–something about it just sounds strange to me.

Having said that, I’ll say that I definitely talk about my younger son "flirting" with people. But when I say it I mean that he’s kind of an equal-opportunity "flirter," and by that I mean that he works hard to draw people in and make them love him, adults, men and women, kids, other toddlers.

What I think bugs me about the way your husband is using "flirting" is that he’s clearly applying it in a romantic (if not sexual) sense, and that’s just so far away from appropriate at this age. I know parents think about their children growing up and becoming sexual beings–we hope for the best in everything for our children as they live their lives. But applying romantic and sexual ideas to kids this young is, in essence, robbing them of their innocence and the pure joy of being little and unaddled by hormones.

To me, labelling her normal toddler behavior "flirting" (and saying it to the other kids!, which would royally piss me off if it was one of my kids he was saying it to) is a lot like buying little girls pants with the word "juicy" written across the butt, or teaching your daughter to dance like Fergie in the "London Bridge" video. There’s just no need. She has the rest of her life to try to figure out how to negotiate her own desires and self-worth in the world. Why start messing with her head now?

The phone lines are open. What do you all think? Is this an overreaction? Would it be different if we were talking about a boy? Should I come up with another word to use to describe the way my younger one interacts?

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