What you need to know:
Whether we want it or not, our children will, at a certain age, crush on the opposite sex. Crushes are precursors for future romantic relationships. Prepare to guide them through the confusion so they can ably make better decisions
Years ago, Alexandria (not real name) walked to my wife and told her she had a crush on our son. She was seven. He was six. My wife just smiled and looked on in amazement but started to observe them carefully from that day. She noticed that the young girl always defended our son if a situation arose where there were sides to take.
It is easy to dismiss her feelings as “puppy love” but a sensitive parent will help her cope in this new situation, after all we all have had that cupid arrow hit directly into our hearts, when we were about the same age. Except most certainly we were left to figure it out on our own.
Psychologists say child crushes are usually strong romantic feelings in a child for another child. It is normal for a child to get their first crush between the preteen ages of five to 12. These are usually their first love experiences and usually continue to occur in one’s life. They are also usually one-way (though in some cases they can be reciprocated). They are also short-lived hardly result in a romantic relationship.
Signs your child has a crush
New interest in hobbies. They may never have been interested in a game or a particular music genre, but because their object of affection likes the same, they will suddenly pick interest in it. They idolise their crush. They will smuggle their name into almost every conversation because they are infatuated with them; “Chris loves to eat this food”, “Clarissa likes to tie her hair like that” “Sky dances this way”…know you have someone bitten by the love bug.
Attraction to the opposite sex
If they have been the kind that has not been relating well with the opposite sex or is uninterested in them, you will notice a change in the behaviour from uninterested to pleasant. They are cautious all of a sudden yet they have been bubbly and talkative. They suddenly care how they dress or look they are being mindful about the attention from someone they are crushing on.
They blush or glow or giggle or pull that “Duchenne smile” when their crush is mentioned or if they are near them. I asked a group of parents and this is how they have handled their children’s first crushes.
Keep communication lines open
When communication is open between the parent and the children, they will let you in on what they are going through and you can come in without shaming or deriding, discounting, or dismissing them. When they know you respect their feelings, they will feel free to share them with you and this will help them in processing them.
“When I heard about our older son’s first crush, I first dismissed it as a flippant feeling, but quickly remembered that how he manages this, will determine how he will manage such situations in future. I invited him in and we talked about it,” Robert, a father of four, shares.
“And because we have always talked about everything, he was open to me and I gave him some counsel. He got over it quicker than I had expected,” he adds.
Learning from the experience
Marvin, a father of three boys, thinks that in as much as you want to shield your child from a crush, remember they need to learn from this experience as they grow. “I watched my 10-year-old son crush on a nine-year-old girl. I was available and we talked over it a few times and the feelings disappeared,” he says.
He advises parents to lean in, listen and be present, but let the children handle the situation their own way. You are helping them develop self-management and also validating their feelings as opposed to telling them to “get over it.” “Ask them what they like about the person, how they feel about them, and why they say they love them; it is not an interrogation, but done politely and sensitively, you are helping the child process and manage their feelings,” he adds.
Protect them from the crusher
Sophie, a mother to twin teenagers, opines that your child might be the one to whom the crush is directed and is not reciprocating the interest the other child has for them. Teaching them to manage their attention, especially when the crush becomes obsessive, without disrespecting the other person is important.
You could for instance teach them to firmly but politely decline any requests, especially if they attempt to cross into the intimate zones such as kissing and holding hands. You could also decline any sleepovers that might expose your child to undesirable situations. Some children may want to practice what they see adults do on TV. “My daughter crushed on a boy in our neighbourhood, who is two years older than her. Previously they would have sleepovers at either home but when this situation arose, I stopped them for fear that they would compromise their sexuality,” Sophie says.
Speak to the other parent
Zawedde, a mother of five, suggests that a parent of the crusher and the crushee should speak to each other with a view to helping both children understand what is going on, but this step must be taken not to shame both children. She says: “I noticed my son talks positively about this girl and I was convinced he had a crush on her so I met with her mother privately (who was my close friend) since children were both in the same school and we decided to keep it confidential from them. The idea was to be alert to any interactions on their part, so we could help them in case they needed our help.