It’s February, and with Valentine’s Day around the corner, love is in the air. But when Cupid’s arrow hits your tween, things can get a little confusing. Just how should parents handle their tween’s crush?
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned (and yes, some were learned the hard way) about helping kids navigate new feelings and emotions.
First, remain calm.
It can be a bit jarring that your child, who seemed so young yesterday is suddenly ready for romance. I know it’s tempting, but don’t freak out. These feelings are developmentally appropriate, particularly among tweens. “There is a great outbreak of romantic crushes and gossip about them (“Guess who likes who?”) in middle school,” says Carl Pickhardt, PhD, in Psychology Today.
Don’t be dismissive.
While my child could be adorable or hilarious or a little weird talking about a crush, keep a straight face and take what they’re saying seriously. (Save the “aww”ing or giggles or weird looks for later.)
You and I both know that this crush is not permanent, and in fact it may not last even a week. In the moment, though, your kiddo is feeling some strong feelings. Those feelings are intense and likely new, which makes them both exciting and a little scary. To your child, these are serious emotions. Honor that.
While the feeling may not last forever, the memories of this time can be powerful. In talking with friends about the topic, almost everyone could name a classmate on whom they had a crush in middle school, a full three decades later.
Also, showing your child that you are available to talk to them about new things in their lives will ensure that they will continue to reach out to you when they come upon other difficult decisions such as underage drinking. Instead of blowing off the crush, look at it as an opportunity to start a conversation. Listening to your child today means they will come to you tomorrow. Have your resources prepared.
Seize the day!
Asking question like “What do you like about him/her?” can be a great way to engage your kids. They may not be able to articulate the exact reasons why they feel drawn to this person, but even inquiring can get your child thinking about what qualities they like in others and ways that other people bring out the best in them.
Kids need to know that they must treat others with respect, no matter how they feel. If your child is the one with a crush, remind them that they need to be aware of how they are making the other person feel and to be aware of signals that they need to back off.
For kids who are the object of the crush, they should not be made to feel uncomfortable. Make this clear, and also review ways to speak up and set boundaries. Parents can even role play how to kindly let the other person know they do not feel the same way.
Not everyone is on the same time frame.
With adolescence, each individual child is on his/her own timeline. Some kids may dive headlong into crushes. Others may not be at all interested in anything other than friendship. Remind kids that no matter where they fall on that spectrum, it’s perfectly normal and okay to feel that way. Don’t pressure them to feel one way or the other.
This can be an opportunity to talk about how what’s right for one person may not be right for them, and the importance of doing their own thing, even if that is not what their friends are encouraging.
With a new adventure such as dating, you also have to prepare for other pop-up adventures. Does this new crush have a reputation for partying? If so, you should prepare your child with ways to say NO to underage drinking and drugs—things that can be really harmful to them as well as illegal.
Budding adolescents can have a singular focus, but remind them that life is about balancing many relationships and interests. Time with friends is important, as is time with family. Encourage kids to be active and to be involved in school and community activities like sports and clubs. That will help them develop a positive self-image and healthy habits, which are important now and will help them through their current and future relationships.
Share a little of your story.
Sharing a story about a crush you had at a similar age may make it easier to relate to your child, and remind your kid that you were once their age, too. (Their mind may be blown, and that’s okay.) My daughter still likes to bring up my husband’s crush, Patty. It’s a cute little joke between them.
It’s also a chance to offer some perspective, as chances are quite high that you didn’t marry that individual. Remind kids that while it may seem like this is their destiny now, they have a whole lot of living to do first. It’s a fine line to walk of respecting their feelings but reminding them that they have a ways to go before they reach adulthood. This can be helpful if it is a case of unrequited love.
Most of all, focus on keeping the conversation going. Let your child know that you are available to talk about anything. Remind that you are there for them to talk about all the new feelings and experiences that come with growing up, from handling new relationships to changing bodies to saying no to alcohol. I really appreciate the resources on Ask Listen Learn, especially their tips about conversations which you can find here.
This is a sponsored post for Ask, Listen, Learn, but all opinions (and wisdom learned the hard way) are my own. I accepted this role because they have great resources that I’ve found helpful in my parenting and because I think that talking with your kids about their relationships with people and alcohol and other things is hugely important.
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