Whether your child is just learning to write his or her name or going to that first middle school dance, handling your kid’s first crush is a situation you’ll find yourself in sooner or later.
Some children develop crushes as early as early as age 5 or 6, but most typically around fifth or sixth grade, says Laura Bloom, owner and therapist at Shorepointe Counseling in St. Clair Shores.
If you’re wondering whether your child is experiencing his or her first case of puppy love, Bloom lays down the telltale signs. These could include becoming shy or embarrassed when the crush’s name is mentioned, getting giggly when talking about this person or weaving marriage into pretend play.
Remember, Bloom says, that these signs are normal within your kid’s development and should not be of concern.
But when you start to see these hints, what do you do? How are you going to handle your child’s first case of puppy love? We checked with metro Detroit therapists to get the scoop.
1. Respecting your child’s feelings is important …
When you find out your child has a crush, it may come as a surprise for you – and handling it may be the furthest thing from second nature. But what is most important is respecting your child.
And this is something you need to be ready to show before the crush happens, Bloom says.
When discussing your kid’s first crush, try to avoid shaming or ridiculing children for their feelings, says Bloom.
“No matter how unrealistic the crush may be, your child’s feelings should still be respected,” says Bloom.
2. … and so is respecting your child’s crush
There is a lot of talk about respecting your child’s feelings when this topic arises, but what about the boy or girl your little one has googly eyes for? There needs to be respect for that person, too.
It’s paramount to not be judgmental about the person your child has a crush on, says Bloom.
Instead, Bloom says, “Use this opportunity to discuss what is important in your family when it comes to dating and the qualities that are important to your child in another person.”
3. Be sure to set body boundaries
It’s so very important to discuss body boundaries with your child. These boundaries can be broached — and encouraged — as early as 2 to 3 years old. That conversation continues far into adolescence, says Kelly Soley, another therapist formerly with Shorepointe Counseling.
“When your young child does not want to hug a family member,” for example, she says, “it’s important to remember that it is their body and their choice.”
Because children at this young age may look at their friends or peers with affection and may want to show it like they do with their families, the importance of boundaries comes into play here. Kissing mom and dad at home is different than showing affection to a friend, says Soley.
“Let children know that hugs are OK, but that it’s always best to ask if it’s OK to hug a friend first,” Soley adds. “It’s generally best for parents to take their child’s lead in the conversation and not be dismissive of their experience.”
4. Communicate … or not
Communication is very important, and parents might feel like they need to always ask and talk about their kid’s first crush. But sometimes your kid may not want to talk about it.
“It is much better to take in what they say, while also discussing their other relationships that they have with peers,” Soley says. “It’s also important to highlight the positive attributes that your child brings to their relationships.”
And if your child doesn’t want to talk about his or her crush, respect that decision. If you don’t push to hear about your child’s feelings, he or she will eventually share, says Soley.
5. Prepare for heartbreak
A broken heart is an unavoidable obstacle your child will have to deal with at some point in life, so it’s important to have a good foundation of trust between you and your child.
According to parenting website Mother for Life, by creating a climate of trust for your child, you can show kids your door is always open. And if a heartbreak does happen, you’ll be ready with open arms and ears.
Normalizing heartbreak, being mindful of what you say, gently inquiring and giving kids space are among tips for healing heartache in tweens and teens.
“You could also try to make them feel better by cooking their favorite meal or taking them out to their favorite restaurants,” Mother for Life adds.
This post was originally published in 2018 and is updated regularly.