Do you remember your first childhood crush?
Probably not, but it turns out there is value to those experiences.
Exploring feelings around an early childhood crush can help our kids start to navigate the complexities of interpersonal relationships.
For very young children, a crush acts as a form of pretend play.
At a very basic level, kids are trying on adult roles.
Instead of acting out the role of a teacher, they mentally act out the idea of a “friendship-plus” relationship with another person.
American culture often downplays this normal part of childhood development.
While children are capable of feeling love for a non-family member, these feelings are often downplayed or even outright ridiculed.
Your child’s first crush can occur as early as five or six years old. Though it may seem like silly “puppy love,” there are some things to keep I mind. Most importantly, we should never mock childhood crushes.
- Validate their feelings
Any time our kids express their feelings, we should not dismiss them. Even if their infatuation with another classmate seems silly or unimportant, your kid’s feelings still matter (although they may not be entirely logical). As adults, there are plenty of instances when we have feelings that don’t necessarily make sense for the situation, but we are all still entitled to have and express them appropriately.
- Make space to talk about it
Some children are outright with their crushes saying things like, “I love so and so” or “ I want to marry [insert name here].” This creates a good opportunity to open a sincere and judgment-free conversation with your child about why they feel that way.
Other times, your child might not be as forthright. To open a dialogue about it, try gentle inquiries like, “It seems like you like playing at school with Sally. You talk about her all the time. Do you think you have some different, maybe a bit more special feelings about Sally?”
The whole point is to let them know they can come to you for guidance. They shouldn’t feel shame or embarrassment. Namely, you want them to feel secure enough to come to you with issues both now and in the future.
- Don’t tease, laugh or pry
It’s really important to keep a compassionate and level head when talking to your child about their crush. While it certainly seems cute that your 6-year-old has romantic-type feelings for his classmate, you don’t want him to associate negative interactions when he is expressing himself to you.
Experts suggest teasing (even in a loving, light-hearted manner) is not something you should ever do. It may not be meant maliciously, but laughing at something your child says when talking about how they feel can be interpreted as belittling or dismissive.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, don’t get overly involved and ask lots of follow-up questions. You may want as many details as possible, try to strike a balanced approach and let your child lead the conversations.
- Move beyond traditional gender roles
If you have a little boy, let him know that it’s perfectly acceptable for him to value romance. Society often presents the idea that men don’t care for intimacy or romance when that could not be further from the truth.
For girls, it’s again important not to trivialize their feelings as they are often referred to as “boy crazy” for merely having feelings about the opposite sex in the first place.
- Talk about boundaries
When you start having conversations with your kids about their crushes, it’s an excellent time to incorporate age-appropriate discussions about consent. The child that your kid has a crush on may not feel the same way. It’s vital that your child understands and respects their boundaries as well.
When your child talks about their crush, ask questions that help them see their crush as a fully developed person. Instead of asking, “Is he cute?” try “What do you like about him?” or “What does he do that makes you happy?”
- Children learn through experience
A childhood crush will often be your child’s first real experience with rejection or heartbreak. While we don’t want our children to feel bad, it’s healthy for them to deal with this early. They learn to work through their emotions associated with rejection and process their feelings about disappointment.
- You don’t need to do anything
As long as your child recognizes healthy boundaries with their crush, you don’t have to do anything (other than listening to what they have to say). There’s no need to interject yourself or try to arrange additional playdates. It’s perfectly acceptable (and healthy) to recognize crushes as small pieces of childhood development and leave it at that.