Give your child the tools to communicate and interact with members of the opposite gender in a sensible way.

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When stay-at-home-mum Paulyn Goh, 38, was deciding where to register her preschooler for Primary school, she was torn between choosing a single-sex school and a co-ed one.

“I know he’s too young to have any interest in girls but I don’t want to take any chances, especially if he’s hitting puberty soon — I don’t want his studies to be affected.”

Goh’s mummy-pals expressed their concerns that going to a single-sex school may make it tougher for her son to adjust when he has to socialise with girls in the future.

Indeed, having friends of the opposite gender helps your child learn how to socialise properly from a young age, says Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist from Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness.

“He or she becomes comfortable being around the opposite sex instead of being awkward, and is able to gain insight on how they think, react emotionally and behave instead of relying on stereotypes.”

For a start, point out that crushes are short and transient while infatuations are longer lasting.

Focus on the Family’s principal trainer, Cheryl Ng points out that interactions with the opposite gender helps your child appreciate gender differences and gain respect for one another.

Incidentally, sexual urges and attraction as well as romantic interests — such as crushes and infatuations — can occur with the onset of puberty. But that doesn’t have to come at the cost of their friendship. Dr Lim advises that you speak candidly with your child about the differences between each feeling. For a start, point out that crushes are short and transient while infatuations are longer lasting.

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Also, encourage junior to slowly explore and discover the nature of his or her relationship with their friends before deciding if it’s an infatuation or true love. Otherwise, there is no need to overreact as doing so may risk derailing their friendship.

Ng cautions it’s just as important to talk about sex with your children and use age-appropriate information. With teens, you should discuss the importance of healthy emotional and physical boundaries by creating rules for interaction with friends of the opposite gender. “With these boundaries and guidelines in place, parents can encourage their children to socialise with friends of the opposite sex.”

Both Dr Lim and Ng share their tips to help junior form enduring friendships with the opposite gender…

1. Don’t tease your child about their friendships Treat your child’s friendship with a classmate of the opposite gender as you would any of their friendships. Teasing them, even when you mean it as a joke will make them even more self-conscious. They might also choose not to confide in you in the future.

In case of a relationship breakdown or a breakup, you want to make sure your child has other friends to turn to, too.

2. Teach your child how to handle teasing by friends Teach your child how to respond when their friends tease them for having a friend of the opposite gender. It can be as simple as just telling their pals, “No, she’s/he’s just my friend.” Ng notes that you should use teachable moments like movies, TV shows and news stories to guide junior on how to handle teasing from friends. Better yet, teaching them to ignore what others say will help them prevent the situation from escalating.

3. Set “house rules” when spending time with a friend of the opposite sex in each other’s homes Let your child know what you expect him or her to do when they have their friends over. Offer acceptable options for what they should be doing or where they should be hanging out. Ask that your kiddo notify you before they bring their friends over or go out with friends and emphasise that you are doing so to ensure their personal safety.

4. Supervise/Be present when junior is alone with his friend Your presence and the presence of other adults will keep junior’s friendships appropriate. Dr Lim suggests that during your child’s teen years, you can leave them on their own only in safe and open environments. For instance, they should spend time in the living room instead of their bedrooms.

5. Make sure your kiddo has other friends, too Because of peer pressure, friendships of the opposite sex can be fragile. In case of a relationship breakdown or a breakup, you want to make sure your child has other friends to turn to, too.

Photos: iStock

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