Talking To Kids About Love: An Interview With Amy Lang

With Valentine's Day rapidly approaching, love is in the air! Like many little words with big meanings, love is one of those concepts we rarely take the time to discuss with our children. With all the "I love you's" children hear, they may wonder what makes someone love someone else, and if they love you have for them is the same as they love you have for a partner or friend. Considering the mixed messages many of us receive about the connection between love and sex, Sexual Health Educator Amy Lang, MA, seemed like just the person to talk to.

Amy is the founder of Birds + Bees + Kids, and if you haven't visited her site, it should be your next stop. She has a wealth of resources for parents on how to talk to your kids about everything from periods to pornography. With over 20 years as an expert in the field as a speaker and author, she is your go to gal for those challenging topics that leave parents blushing like a teen.

So lets dig in to this concept of love and find out just what we might share with our children on the topic.

Why should we talk to our kids about love?

Amy: Who doesn't love, love? I am a super-fan and think love really does make the world go round. It may seem strange to have a section on how to talk about love - who doesn't know what it is? Well, your kids, for one. And maybe even you. I think it's interesting and fun to think about love in all its many forms. The benefit to your kids is that they will be able to think more clearly about how they feel about someone when they get to the dating and relationships part of life.

Are there different kinds of love? If so, what are they?

Amy: I think there are three basic kinds of love, and it's helpful to have some understanding of these different types. Family love is usually unconditional--you love the person through thick and thin; in sickness and in health; for better or worse. This kind of love isn't sexual. It's the kind of love you feel for your children, parents and siblings. And even if your family drives you completely insane, this kind of love never really goes away, or if it does, there has usually been a huge rift.

Friendship love is very similar to family love, but its conditional. This means it can come and go and isn't as deep and enduring as family love. It also means that you can stop loving someone because of their behavior or because you grow apart. Think about your best friend in high school and how you felt about that person at the time. Chances are you loved them to pieces then, but don't have the same depth of feeling for them now.

Finally, there is romantic love--the wonderful, passionate, and sexual feelings of love someone has for their boyfriend, girlfriend, someday husband, wife, or life partner. Romantic love is usually passionate, meaning it involves a sexual charge. In long-term relationships, love becomes more of a combination of romantic love and family love. All good romances definitely feel like good friendships, too.

You mentioned friendship love is similar to family love, how do convey the differences to our kids?

Amy: The biggest difference between family/friend love and romantic love is that it's passionate and sexual. The next biggest difference between the two is that romantic love is conditional. This means if your romantic partner does something you don't agree with or hurts your feelings, your feelings of love for them can fade away. With family love, if your feelings are hurt or something happens that you don't agree with, chances are your feelings of love for your child or sibling remain.

And of course there is sex. How does that play in to the conversation?

Amy: When you talk about sex, love is probably going to be part of the conversation. When you talk about the different types of love with your children it will help them understand why they feel like they do when they are starting to have sexual feelings in general. Letting them know in advance that romantic love can be pretty complicated and confusing because of sexual desire is a great concept to understand before they are in the thick if it!

While we have talked about emotions a great deal in our home, it had not occurred to me how to break down love in to different types. You can bet that's our bedtime conversation tonight. Thanks Amy for helping us sort through this big concept just in time for Valentine's Day!