How to Help Your Kids Have Healthy Relationships with Opposite Sex

by | Apr 23, 2021 | Uncategorized | 21 comments

4 Steps Helping Kids Healthy Relationships Opposite Sex
Merchandise is Here!

Ever since The Great Sex Rescue published I’ve had parents ask me–how do we make sure our kids don’t grow up with the same messages about sex?

It’s funny because The Whole Story–our sex & puberty course that moms can share with daughters or dads with sons (or single parents with opposite sex children–we have some help in there for these situations as well) has been selling really quickly, I think because parents are more and more aware that we need to do a better job.

Rebecca and I, two weeks ago on the podcast talked about better messaging for teens about sex, dating, and lust. But what about for younger children? How do we help them have healthy relationships with the opposite sex and grow up well?

I actually tackled this subject back in 2012, and when I looked back on what I wrote I cringed a bit. Well, I cringed a lot. I still recommended some resources (like Secret Keeper Girl), which are focused on negative modesty messages. So I guess I really have come far! (here’s the podcast we did trying to put the “don’t be a stumbling block” message away for good).

I thought today I could mention just a few quick things that I think are most important, and then I’m hoping we can have some good conversation in the comments about how to raise kids not to be awkward around the opposite sex, but also not to be obsessed with relationships or treat others in any kind of dehumanizing way.

So, here are the few quick thoughts I wrote back in 2012 that I think still stand the test of time (and I did write them when my kids were still teens at home):

1. Model Affection with Your Spouse

I have met many adults who grew up in more physically reserved homes, who learned as adults how to touch, and who reported loving friends’ homes where more touching took place. I have one friend who was not touchy at all, though her husband’s family was, and she’s had to learn to be more touchy for her husband and her kids–but she now enjoys it. In general, we like hugging.

I have yet to meet anyone who feels that their home was TOO physically demonstrative, and they were trying to learn to hug less.

So I say: you can’t go wrong by touching your kids a lot and by touching your spouse a lot. People do yearn for affection. And when your children see you and your husband kissing, and hugging, and even some rather passionate kisses, that’s just part of a healthy family. The kids need to know that you enjoy your husband. So gross them out every now and then! My girls have one friend who comes over quite a bit who jokes that she always is really loud before walking into our kitchen because she’s never sure if she’s going to turn the corner and find “Mr. and Mrs. Gregoire making out”. But she thinks it’s funny.

When your children see that you enjoy being with your husband, they learn that sex in marriage is healthy, is fun, and is awesome–not something to be ashamed about or scared of.

And they learn that all this talk about how marriage is boring is nothing but talk. They know the reality. On the other hand, if you yourself are a little  uptight about sex, and so you don’t show your husband much affection, your children will pick up on that. They will absorb your hangups. So force yourself out of your comfort zone. Sex is a healthy part of marriage; believe that, show it, and your kids will believe it, too.

If you’re a single mom and you can’t do this, then talk to your kids about it anyway. And, if possible, make sure that they develop a close relationship with an aunt/uncle or with a family from church who is affectionate, so they have a chance to see this in action. I still remember loving going over to Mr. and Mrs. Timpson’s house when I was a young teen, because they always held hands. I thought that was sweet.

 

2. Be Affectionate with Your Kids

Going along with that first point, it’s important to touch your children and hug them, too. Obviously you don’t want to smother them, but children do yearn for touch.

If they don’t get it from you, they’re more likely to look for it in the opposite sex.

When my kids were little, we all spent a lot of time on the bed just cuddling and wrestling and rolling around. It’s funny, because as they’ve grown, my girls have not stopped doing that, though they’re 17 and 14. My youngest likes to “tuck” my oldest into bed, which usually involves squeezing her until she can’t breathe, and all kinds of other over the top wrestling things. They often end up laughing for a good half hour before bed–but it’s because they’re touching.

Katie Becca Hugging at Bed

This can be trickier if you have boys, or if you have kids of the opposite sex, but wrestling, leaning against each other while you’re watching a movie, all of those things are perfectly healthy. And the more your husband can hug and touch the girls in a healthy way, the less likely they are to seek out affection from a dating relationship.

My husband had an adjustment to make when the kids hit puberty, and he found he couldn’t wrestle them or hug them in the same way. For a while he stopped hugging them, because it was awkward, but then he realized that was the exact wrong thing to do. Kids need physical affection.

3. Fill Your Home with Peers

They’ll get their affection from you and the modelling of appropriate marriage relationships from you, but you can’t give them everything. For other things they’ll need other people. And one of the most important things you can do is to give your kids healthy opportunities to make friendships of the opposite sex.

The easiest way to do this is to have people over for dinner with kids around the ages of your kids. One of the problems that parents sometimes get into is that they talk about dating in such a negative way, and talk about sex in such a negative way, that kids decide “boys are yucky” or “girls are scary” and they never want to have anything to do with them. That’s not healthy, either. What you want is for your kids to figure out healthy platonic relationships, which really are possible.

I mentioned in this post that our family has gone camping every summer and up to a hunting camp in the winter with a family for the last 12 years. They have boys almost the same age as our girls, and the two boys and two girls have grown up together.

That’s really healthy. They learn that boys are very different from them, but they also have almost a brother/sister relationship with these guys because they’ve been together since they were so small.

Liam Paul Katie Becca Friends

Friendships with Opposite Sex as Teens

 

Don’t assume that just because your children are in school or at church that they’ll learn good relationships with the opposite sex.

First, kids tend to sex segregate and don’t always talk to the other gender. Also, schools and even some churches are not always the healthiest environments. When you have a smaller number of kids under your own roof, it’s easier for the kids to learn how to talk to each other, because they have to.

So just make your home an open place, where you have other kids over, and your children will learn to develop healthy relationships. An added bonus: your children see you interacting with other men, so they see the difference between how you act with their dad and how you act with Mr. Smith. And they see that it is possible to just have a nice friendship.

 

You’re telling me WHAT goes WHERE?!

Talking about sex with your kids doesn’t always go smoothly. 

That’s why we created The Whole Story, our online course that walks parents through the tough conversations and does the hard parts for you!

4. Talk to Your Kids

Finally, talk to your children about what you expect and what’s healthy. In fact, talk to your kids about just about anything at all. The more your talk to your kids, the more you keep lines of communication open so that they will come to you with questions.

The kids who grow up with either hangups about sex, and are too shy and never talk to the opposite sex, are often those who were not shown affection, didn’t witness affection, and had no natural outlets to make friends. On the other hand, those who grow up to be boy crazy or girl crazy are also often those who didn’t always talk about these things openly with their parents.

4 Steps to Helping Kids Have Healthy Relationships with the Opposite Sex

Now it’s your turn: Do you have trouble being affectionate with your spouse in front of your kids? Are  you a touchy person–or not? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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21 Comments

  1. M

    We have boys and girls close in age. When friends come over and hang out all the kids become friends. We encourage this by making our home available… bonfires, movies, food, music, cooking.. lots of mess, but lots of fun! Their friends do see my husband and me-we are funny and affectionate in our relationship. A lot of them come from homes that don’t have a mom and a dad. Also a lot of opportunities come up for really great conversations about God and life and everything! It’s a sacrifice sometimes when there’s a burst of loud laughter after I have gone upstairs ready to have “my time”, but it’s well worth it!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Amen! I always found that when my girls were young, too! And interestingly, a lot of those kids who hung out at our house are now married, and they’ve come to us as adults and told us that seeing Keith and me together made them believe that marriage could be good. That was so amazing to hear!

      Reply
  2. Becky

    Being affectionate in front of the kids is definitely something I’ve had to work on, though it’s getting easier. My parents were never very affectionate with each other growing up — I only recall seeing them kiss or even hug each other one time, and I’m pretty sure it was in the ‘80s. I’m honestly not sure they were privately affectionate with each other either, because I remember that their door was always cracked open at night. And I was that girl who was very shy around boys, including throughout high school and into college. So it’s been a learning curve. And while I sometimes wish that he wouldn’t talk about what we do so openly when our young kids are around, especially given how much of a struggle sex has been for me, I do hope that we can do better at showing them what a healthy relationship looks like.

    Reply
  3. Maria

    My dad went missing during a war. We didn’t know if he was killed or taken to a conc camp.
    One night he just showed up. My parents shook hands and kissed each other’s cheek. They didn’t know that I was up. That’s the only time I saw them touching each other.
    I have had issues with relaxing and just accepting my husband’s touch for several years into our marriage.
    My husband and I show affection in front of our children. I believe that that is very important for their development.
    Thank you for your amazing work!

    Reply
  4. Phil

    Sheila,
    Do you remember when I was on the train of pretty much doing everything you were saying about changing your family to chase Jesus? While you were not bragging in any sort of way you were saying – this is what I did with my family to make it look like Jesus the best way I know how. And so…I saw that and did it as best I could. I truly set out for change in my family. That started so many years ago. You were a key player in those changes and of course I have to give my Pastor kudos because well – neither of you are aware of this, but you 2 work in tandem in my life. It really is amazing actually. Grace and I – more so me…have had a very wild several months. The long list of things that has happened over the past couple months has been off the wall! There has been a lot of challenges and some bad and some very bad…but even through it all there has been GOOD. One of the things that has been really good is awesome moments with my kids. I have been watching my family. I have been watching my kids. I have had some really good one on one time with my kids. One of them was a really nice chat with my daughter while I was sick on the couch. It was just super nice. And you know what I was thinking? My daughter is learning how to talk to a man. And then as I continued to watch my daughter interacting with her younger and older brothers – I thought – she is learning how to have a relationship with males. I don’t have a lot of input on the sex topic today but I do have this story: I pre-ordered the Great Sex Rescue. When it launched I was waiting for it to arrive. By late March I was wondering what the deal was and upon further investigation I found out that when we recently had a credit card number stolen the order never happened because the timing was such that our card was canceled when the order was to ship. So when I finally got it straightened out and it finally arrived, I put it on my wife’s dresser where we have a little hang out place for a notebook we write in to each other – the book was face up..waiting for my full intentions to read….and then one day I noticed it was flipped over backwards….Why? So the children don’t see it. WHAT? No thank you. That is completely WRONG! So after our Patreon Zoom meeting this passed weekend, I re-committed to getting your book read- unfortunately I am only a couple pages in…but you know what? It is sitting on the ottoman in the middle of the living room with the book open pages down and title and back cover up. (Didn’t have a page marker). To me – It is COMPLETELY HEALTHY for my kids to see that I/we read about sex. If they see it and have questions PERFECT TIMING!

    Reply
    • Phil

      More on my daughter – she has picked up on my wife and I loving, touchy, feely kissing “grabbing” fun and has made many comments about how gross we are. So you know what? Know we purposefully “show off” in front of her just to “pick on her” for fun! (of course the boys see all this too and laugh but mums the word from them) The underlying message that we both know is right that has gone unspoken is that Mom and Dad Love each other and that it is ok to touch and be affectionate…I am so proud Sheila. We are building a nice family unit. It is what God wants and it is what I/we want. People tell us so from time to time also…they see it. I am sorry I was not more interactive this past Sunday as I have been sick. I had my appendix out 2 Mondays ago, and I landed in the ER this past Saturday..there is more but I will leave it there. One other item I would like to share is that in addition to all of the stuff that has taken place I got fired from my job this past Monday. Don’t worry I am at PEACE. My abusive boss decided to put my head in a vice last Friday over something stupid and then proceeded to tell me that I was mistreating her (That has been my mantra that I have held with regard to how I was being treated pretty much a couple months into my new job). I went nuclear. I got fired this passed Monday. We told the kids. They knew what was going on along the way. I stood my ground on a principle. NO ONE DESERVES TO BE MISTREATED AND THAT INCLUDES ME! My daughter and I were talking about it in the kitchen at some point this week and I had the BEST opportunity to reconfirm to my daughter. DON’T EVER LET ANYONE MISTREAT YOU. YOU CAN’T PAY ME ENOUGH TO BE MISTREATED AND WE ALL MUST STAND OUR GROUND!!!! I am so thankful for my family and I am so grateful to you and my Pastor for all that you do. It has certainly been a wild ride for me…why it happens for me like this I don’t know. It always has been BIG messages with me. God see’s it fit that I learn from my life. I DO.

      Reply
      • Rebecca Lindenbach

        I’m so sorry to hear about the rough go you’ve had this last bit in particular, Phil! But I really hope that your daughter does remember that message–she deserves to be treated well, even if it’s painful to stand up for yourself sometimes.

        Reply
  5. Jess

    I’ll make them roll their eyes but I will never gross out my kids. My husband and I are very touchy each day even in front of them but if you wouldn’t be doing it in front of your friends then don’t do it in front of your children. Children are people too. It is disrespectful and violating to make out in front of other people regardless of how they feel. Being disgusted by your parents does NOT make you want a sex life like theirs so please throw this advice back in the dumpster where it came from!

    Reply
    • Anon

      Most kids I know would be ‘grossed out’ by seeing their parents kiss or hold hands in a way that would be entirely appropriate in front of other adults. When my cousins were around 10-12, they would yell ‘gross, urgh, yuk!’ whenever they saw anyone give any sign of affection – even a hug!

      Reply
    • Phil

      Jess? Anything that I have done in front of my children I would do in front of you. For me, there is context here that – my daughter doesnt know what to do with what she sees and we are teaching her it is ok. We just choose to have fun with it. Deep down I am 100% positive if my daughter were pulled into child services (I use this picture because of how intense your reaction is) she could tell them the truth – that her Mom and Dad love each other and they know how to show each other love and affection. I really wish I could help you see this. It really is frustrating for me sometimes trying to deliver a message and people just don’t get it. Not directing anything at you Jess. Wish you the best and hope one day you are able to see.

      Reply
    • Beth W

      I don’t think that she meant to do anything inappropriate. Most kids will tell you they are grossed out by simple kissing and touching. Even though inside they are just happy their parents love each other.

      Reply
    • Phil

      I got to thinking about one of the messages that came up during the course of my marriage. My Father died when I was just 7 years old. So I was raised by a single Mother. The message that came up several times in my marriage was that I had no example of how a married couple should act or be. Sure we had friends, sure we witnessed married people. But we did not live with them. It was news to me how married people managed their money. It was news to me how married people where actually friends. It was news to me how a married couple with a family is really supposed to function. It was news to me that Raising a chair over your kids head like your going to kill them is not normal( this happened to my friend but when it happened I recall thinking this kind of crazy stuff happens in everyones house – No it doesn’t!! However it validated the crazy stuff I did and the things that happened in my house) It was news to me that the man loves the woman and the woman loves the man. I did not have that example to live with. None of these things have anything to do with sex – however I had to learn these things. I have a sweatshirt that I am actually wearing right now. It says LEAD BY EXAMPLE on the back. It is my all time favorite hoody and wear it all the time and will wear it til it dies. Then I will make another. For me – I am teaching my kids by my example. Obviously I am jot going to show them how to have sex. That IS gross. But I can show them that being physical with another person is part of Gods gift to us and one day they can share in that gift too!

      Reply
    • Bethany#2

      I agree, that while my parents made a big deal about it, the hugging and kissing, it was only so effective.
      I knew that my mom struggles with being touched out by her 12 kids, and therefore it was an effort to do the daily hugs. I knew that she loved us and my dad, but because I know that he is the physical touch love language, I always halfway wondered how much of those hugs felt optional to her.
      And as my siblings got married and joined in the pda, I just decided not to. We are very touchy, but don’t cross the line of gross. As a girl longing for marriage, I remember how much harder it made me feel loneliness.
      Just like talking about future children is iffy, because my doctor recommended me to never have another. And that’s why it’s not good to ask the children question to young marrieds.

      Reply
    • Anna

      I agree with this. I do understand the underlying sentiment behind, “Parents, gross out your kids,” but please keep it respectful and PG. Kids may indeed be grossed out by simple, appropriate kisses and hugs and hand-holding, but some people will always take it over the edge. If I had ever seen my parents making out, I think it would not have done good things for my own love life. Just because you are related to them does not mean you get to abuse your kids by being overtly sexual in front of them. For the love of God, please don’t .

      Reply
  6. Anon

    This is so important. Many of the issues I had growing up were from my mother’s attitude toward sex & relationships. The ‘sex education’ she gave me chiefly consisted of a detailed description of her own wedding night!
    She had a weird way of combining up-tight & prudish behaviour with some seriously inappropriate comments. E.g. when I was in my early 20s, we went to a family wedding & the best man made a joke about the couple both being fitness fanatics ‘which hopefully means they’ll have lots of stamina for their honeymoon’. That was as x-rated as it got, yet she went on and on about how ‘disgusting’ it was and how the best man obviously wasn’t a Christian to make such an ‘obscene’ remark. And yet at the same time, she would comment on the shape & size of my breasts to other people IN FRONT OF ME, asking if they thought they were a good size! Starting when I was around 10, she would joke to other people about me ‘fancying’ particular boys and wanting to kiss them. When I was in my late teens (17, 18) and we had a married couple round for dinner, she’d take me aside just before they arrived and say “You mustn’t sit on the floor and lean up against his legs and you mustn’t sit next to him and snuggle up to him on the sofa either!”. Like there was ever the slightest risk of my doing that!!! Most of these guys were 15-20 years older than me, and I was so grossed out at the very thought of doing that with them that I could barely look at the couple the whole time they were in our house.
    It’s taken me years to heal from the damage she did.
    Parents, be honest with yourselves. If you can’t portray sex in a normal, healthy way to your kids, then please find some trusted adults in your church who can take over that aspect of teaching for you. It may be ‘fun’ to see your child grow red-faced and tongue-tied over your ‘jokes’, but you could be doing damage that it will take years to undo.

    Reply
    • Em

      That’s so terrible, I’m so sorry.

      Reply
  7. Beth W

    I work with an organization of Christian camps, and I remember one meeting that was kind of a Q and A at one of our national conferences that an older, unmarried woman stood up and asked, “What do you guys do about the married staff that you have displaying affection in public? Kissing, touching, etc.” Now she wasn’t indicating they were doing anything scandalous. Some flirting, simple kisses, touches here and there, but it clearly REALLY bothered her. Of course we have rules for PDA between unmarried people and campers, etc. But these were MARRIED people. I will always remember that one of the directors piped right up with an answer. He said perkily, “We encourage it!” And winked at his wife across the room. (That couple has 12 children BTW!) But I really loved that and we have applied it at our camp and in our family. Some kids have terrible role models at home, and in this situation, we can at least be an example that we love each other and aren’t bothered about showing it.

    Reply
  8. Lyndall

    And don’t bug kids about “who they like” or do the nudge nudge wink wink thing when they act friendly towards people of the opposite sex. Let kids tell YOU if they like someone.
    Don’t label friendliness as a crush. I hate it especially when young kids are asked if so-and-so is their boyfriend/girlfriend in a romantic sense. Like, they’re 8! No kids should be thinking about that sort of thing yet, they should be building worm farms and trying to bounce as high as possible on trampolines.
    I guess this goes for young adults too. I HATE it when people imply there’s something go on between me and a guy. If I haven’t told you something, don’t assume anything more than friendship.
    Another thing: Model healthy platonic opposite-sex relationships yourself.
    It annoys me to no end that media and books focus so much on romantic relationships. It’s hard to find examples of healthy platonic opposite-sex relationships in books and films and TV shows, so real life modelling is even more crucial at the moment.

    Reply
    • Anon

      Yes, having my mother constantly talking about me ‘fancying’ boys (sometimes boys I hadn’t even spoken to/didn’t know except by sight) made me tongue tied, awkward and embarrassed around any boys my age and this lasted well into adulthood.

      Reply
    • Violet

      100%!! Why do we do this to kids??? My daughter was seven when her friend asked her in a note if she would be his girlfriend. She read it, giggled, and went on like that was so silly. I don’t think kids would even think about this if we adults and older siblings didn’t suggest it.

      Reply
  9. Violet

    I was just talking to my husband about allowing our kids to see us kiss and be loving toward one another. He would be more over the top if I let him but I’m careful to only let them see us kiss, hug, and cuddle. I think it’s so important because I can count on one hand how many times I saw my parents kiss or be affectionate. Yes it grossed me out but it also shocked me because it was so rare and they seemed so at odds with one another most of the time. The only positivity relating to sex and affection came from movies (that I watched after I moved out) and books. So completely secular and unrealistic. I think this added to my view that anyone who enjoyed sex was gross or dirty, and that sex in marriage is not pleasurable. My husband’s family is very (too) open and affectionate so that has been a huge adjustment and learning curve for us to meet in the middle. I hope I don’t give my children any of the same hang-ups I had.

    Reply

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