Bubba's Girlfriend: Handling Romance in the Preschool Years


Bubba has a "girlfriend." My four-year-old son has fallen for an adorable gal with curly hair and a toothless smile.

Her name is Ava, and she likewise considers Bubba her "boyfriend."

The preschool classmates have been romantically linked (in name only) for about a month.

Thankfully, Ava's parents are good sports. In fact, Ava's dad recently shared this exchange:

AVA - "Dad, what sort of car should I get when I'm older?"

DAD – "When you get your first car, it will probably be something like daddy's (a four-door Volkswagen). It's small and fuel-efficient. But when you're older, you might want a car like mommy's (a minivan). It sort of depends on how many kids you have."

AVA – "Yeah, Bubba and I haven't decided how many kids we want yet."

These conversations are cute. But, I also babysit Ava once a week, and I want to address these exchanges appropriately. For example, Bubba has repeatedly said he plans to marry Ava.

Should I respond:

"That would be great. I really like Ava."

Or should I say:

"Well, you are only four years old. There's no sense in picking out a caterer just yet."

Looking for some guidance, I called Dr. Jonathan Pochyly, a pediatric psychologist at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. He said the boyfriend/girlfriend talk is all very innocent. There's no need to add fuel to the courtship, but he also warned against outright dismissing it.

As for addressing Bubba's looming marriage proposal, he suggested I respond:

"I like the way you and Ava play together. You two get along very nicely."

Pochyly also quickly surmised that Ava is behind the boyfriend and girlfriend labels. Girls are more advanced than boys when it comes to relationships. But more importantly, Ava has two older sisters and an older brother.

Ava's likely borrowing language she's heard from her older siblings as well as things she's picked up from television programs aimed at their demographic. Tween shows like "Wizards of Waverly Place" and others often delve into such topics, he said.

Ava is applying these lessons to her friendship with Bubba, he said.

"They have some fancy names for what they are doing, but really they are just two kids playing," Pochyly said.

Still, he said it's a good idea to be ready to re-direct the conversation and/or play between Bubba and Ava should things get awkward. Such an incident happened last Wednesday during lunch. We were all eating cheese pizza when Ava laid her head on Bubba's shoulder.

"This is called snuggling, Bubba," she said.

"Oh, that's nice. Do you ever snuggle with your mommy?" I quickly responded.

"Yeah, sometimes she lays in bed with me," Ava said.

"Sometimes, my mommy snuggles with me too," Bubba said.


The other exchange that stood out wasn't awkward. It was just plain funny.

"What's your favorite color?" I asked Ava. We had different color plates for our pizza.

"I like blue, purple, pink..." Ava said before she was interrupted.

"I like green, blue..." Bubba said only to be interrupted himself.

"Um, Bubba! I was talking," Ava said, quickly silencing her boyfriend and rolling her eyes at his rude behavior.

Just like an old, married couple.

Contributed by Howard Ludwig, a former business writer who traded in his reporter's notebook for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad.

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