As adults, we often find ourselves looking back to the carefree days of our childhood, wistfully remembering what it was like to have a perfect credit rating and no bills to pay. What we don't tend to remember is all the excruciating changes that we went through, from puberty to the first time you looked at someone else in a romantic light. Now, as parents, it's our job to look out for our kids as they stumble through the ups and downs of their first crushes. It's a scary time for us - yeesh, who wants to think of their little cherubs eventually dating - but it can be a trying time for kids, too. Here are a few ways you can handle your little one's first crush.
Remember it's a development phase. It might be tempting to close the shutters and blinds, arm yourself with a bat and guard your child against potential suitors in a frenzy. However, it's important to remember that this is just a normal phase that every single person goes through. While talking to Today's Parent, parenting coach Julie Freedman Smith says that this shift goes hand in hand with privacy and their bodies. Kids become more aware of the differences in their anatomy, and it's only natural that they'll become curious.
Be totally open and calm. It's also natural for children to start to ask questions about adults in relationships, like where they met and how long they've been together. If you're in a couple, they may start to ask you about your relationship. Don't be alarmed, they're just trying to make sense of the world around them. Answer their questions calmly, honestly and openly so they understand.
Don't discount their feelings. If a six-year-old tells you that they have a crush on a kid in their class, it's easy to tell them that they're too young, or that they should concentrate on other things. Similarly, it's tempting to fall into the trap of making a joke out of it. This could be a huge mistake, even though it feels like the best way to handle the situation. If children end up feeling embarrassed or shot down when they're open with you, then they might not feel like they can talk to you about this in the future. Instead, ask them simple questions that help them figure out their own feelings. If you ask them what they like so much about their crush, they may even find out things about themselves that they didn't realize.
Set some boundaries. By the age of five or six, kids know enough to realize that adults "in love" show their affection by kissing, holding hands or hugging. To them, there's nothing sexual in it, it's simply a way of saying, "Hey, I really like you." With that being said, it's not uncommon for parents to get calls from teachers letting them know that their child was seen planting a quick peck on another child. It can sound like a living nightmare, but it's perfectly normal. With that being said, kids do need to learn boundaries. While it may be completely innocent, they also need to understand that it's not appropriate. This can be tricky as the last thing you want to do is shame them in any way, shape or form. Instead, just explain personal space to them and let them know that playing with their crush at break times or talking to them is preferable.
Turn it into a lesson. David, a blogger for HuffPost Life, urges parents to look for the lesson in these sort of situations. After all, we all know what it's like to crush on someone who doesn't feel the same way. It can make you feel insecure, sad, and unworthy. This is where the lesson comes in. Kids navigating the tricky waters of love for the first time might not understand why they aren't liked back. This is the perfect opportunity to discuss consent and everyone's right to turn down a date or unwanted advances. Be sure to let your child know that there's someone out there for everyone and while unreciprocated crushes can seem like the end of the world, they're just the beginning!