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What Cooties Really Mean to Your Child

How Kids Use Cooties To Learn About Each Other

Forget head lice, the stomach flu, or seasonal allergies. That stuff is mere child's play to your school-age boy and girl. If you really want to strike fear in their hearts, there's only one disease you need mention: Cooties.

Despite how serious cooties may seem to your 5-, 6-, or 7-year-old, it just doesn't weigh heavily on the thoughts of medical professionals, and hence rarely gets mentioned in most child-rearing books.

To really get a sense of what cooties is, look no further than Wikipedia: "This fictional disease is believed to be highly contagious. It is generally carried by members of the opposite sex and is caught through any form of bodily contact." Yeesh -- that's enough to give anyone the willies!

Seriously, though, cooties are just one way that children try to make sense out of gender roles and the relationships in their lives. Claiming that the opposite sex has cooties, in fact, gives children a way to explore what makes boys -- or girls -- tick.

"Boys declare that they hate girls, and girls declare that they hate boys, but their actions belie their words," explains Marilyn Segal, Ph.D., and Betty Bardige, Ed.D., authors of Your Child at Play: Five to Eight Years. In fact, groups of boys and girls will often circle each other, all the while name-calling and teasing one other. Yet these insults are not mean-spirited and are often a child's first stabs at safely initiating contact with the opposite sex.

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