Young children's understanding of love

Pnina S. Klein

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    4 Scopus citations


    It is surprising that the central role ascribed to love in the development of young children did not suffice to trigger research into the question of how young children understand the concept of love. The present study was based on interviews with 200 children in 5 groups ranging in age from 2.6 to 6 years. The children were clinically interviewed and asked a series of questions including "whom do you love?" "Why?" How do you feel when you love someone?" "when you are angry at someone do you still love him/her?" and "how do you know when someone loves you?" The interview suggested that at least the youngest children think they love different people at different times or under different conditions. Most children of 4.0 to 4.6 years responded that they loved the person they chose because of some form of physical proximity. A sharp decline in this type of answer was found for the children over 4.6 years. The older children referred to friendship, defined as playing or doing something together, as a reason for love. All young children viewed hugging and kissing as expressions of love. Older children viewed love as related to helping behaviours. Most children perceived a combination of anger and love as an impossibility. Physical caregiving was not perceived as an expression of love for them, but it was quoted when they were asked how they would express love towards others (e.g., a pet).

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)27-34
    Number of pages8
    JournalInternational Journal of Early Childhood
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Mar 1989


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