Siblings Play "Married Couple"


Dear Stop It Now!,

My 6-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son have been kissing and acting like a married couple. They pretend to be pregnant and have babies. They also have been kissing because of peer pressure and also because they say they are practicing for when they are grown-ups. 

This behavior has been brought to my attention as something that has gone on for the last few weeks. I tried to explain to them that it’s inappropriate behavior and that they need to not practice those types of things together.

I’m not sure what to do or how to fully handle this situation. What are some age appropriate ways to stop this behavior before it starts to go further then it already has?

Please share your feedback

Hello Wondering Parent, 

It makes sense that you're wondering about what else you can do to make sure this behavior does not continue. You've done a great job addressing this so far. While it is safe for siblings to play pretend, and there is an age-appropriate element to wanting to "try on" different roles they see in the world, you're right that kissing games can lead to further behaviors which may be confusing and inappropriate. I do want you to know it is safe for siblings to pretend to be married. But, if this goes against your family's values then it is appropriate to redirect this behavior. There are other steps you can take in terms of age-appropriate redirection so I encourage you to talk to both of them about this one more time. We'll talk about how to address this in ways that will make sense for their ages and stages.

Setting Age-Appropriate Boundaries
First, explain that you know they're both curious about marriage, pregnancy, and kissing. Still, we don't play kissing games with anyone---not parents, siblings, teachers, friends; no one. Say that this is a special activity between adults, kind of like driving a car or having a credit card. They don't do those things so they don't need to kiss either. Also explain that this can spread germs. This isn't meant to scare them, but we are in respiratory illness season so it is okay to point out the facts. It may also be beneficial to specify what types of kisses are okay in your family: kisses on the cheek may feel appropriate while kissing each other on the mouth is not. 

Offer Other Options
You can also offer an alternative behavior for them to engage in to feel bonded: something like a fist bump, rubbing elbows, or touching their knees together. Choosing a silly, fun movement with a secret-handshake feeling might even increase their buy in. If you would prefer they not pretend to be married then explain that siblings can't get married so let's not play this way. You could offer alternative roles that they may like; think about their interests, and about roles they are seeing reflected in the world. Moving forward it may also be a good idea to suggest ideas for other games and increase supervision when they're playing together. This way you can redirect inappropriate behaviors in the moment. 

Practice Reflection
Make sure you reflect your own feelings while talking to them. Explain that you're not mad at them at all. Rather, you're doing your job as a parent. And, make sure they know that playing this way doesn't make them "bad kids." It just means that there were some questions about safe behaviors. Bring up their own feelings too. How are they feeling when someone pressures them to kiss each other? Excited, scared, angry? It may help to have an emotion wheel on hand to help them each have a good pool of suggestions to pick from, like this one with both words and pictures from Mentally Healthy Schools UK. Teaching them to recognize their own emotions is a helpful bridge connecting kids to understanding other people's emotions. Teaching empathy is important as this is key to understanding boundaries and consent. 

Getting More Information
No one should be peer pressuring them so ask into this. Get some details on who is doing this, when it's happening, and where this is taking place. Then talk about what can be done next. Do they want you to step in? It is also a great idea to teach them to advocate for themselves when other kids are pressuring or acting pushy. The Child Mind Institute recommends teaching kids short phrases like, "I don't like that", or "Please stop" in order to voice their discomfort and assert their own boundaries during instances of peer pressure. Make sure they know that they can talk to you anytime someone is pressuring them, crossing their boundaries, or generally making them feel uncomfortable. And you mean anyone: friends, relatives, teacher, neighbors, even each other. If they can't talk to you for whatever reason, who else can they go to? Make sure that each of your children names two other safe adults they can talk to if they ever need an adult's guidance. This way you and your children are clear around who else they can turn to if they ever needed help. 

Safety Planning
Moving forward it is great to continue to make sure they know that they can always come to you with questions. Some families even have a rule that no one will ever be in trouble for asking questions. Establishing a rule like this is a part of what we call Safety Planning, which involves creating rules which apply to everyone in a household. These rules follow kids wherever they go, and everyone who comes into the home needs to follow them too. This includes adults. While every family's safety plan looks a little different these rules talk about body boundaries, consent, and general guidelines. Some examples of rules on a safety plan would be: take your shoes off at the door, we always play with doors open and clothes on, we listen when someone says "no." To learn more take a look at our Safety Planning tipsheets. 

Healthy Sexuality
Offering age-appropriate healthy sexuality information is an important aspect of safety planning, too. There are some great age-appropriate resources out there for children your daughter and son's ages. You may want to share age-appropriate books with each of them individually and have them available in each of their rooms. This way you know that they have at least one external source other than yourself where they can turn if they have a question. To learn more, think about looking through our tip sheet which talks about why Sexuality Education is an Important Part of a Safety Plan. I'll also include some additional resources that would be helpful in these continued conversations with your children. 

I do hope this information has been helpful. If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us again. 

Take care, 
Helpline Staff


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Last edited on: January 12th, 2024