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How to Help Your Children Navigate Their First Crush

May 26, 2014

holdinghandsAs a nanny or parent, you surely remember your first crush. The moments when your hands were sweaty and your heart was beating rapidly when he or she walked in the room. Just as you endured the emotions of young love, your children will likely soon experience their first taste of it, too.

If you suddenly notice that your child has a gleam in her eye, a never-ending smile and a skip in her step, it’s possible that she is wading through her first crush. It’s important, though, to provide the support and nurturing he or she needs during this time while letting nature take its course as your child learns about heavy hearts, butterflies in the stomach and the highs and lows of relationships.

From ‘Like’ to ‘Love:’ The Stages of a Crush

The reality is that everyone experiences a crush. “We have all been there,” says Neil McNerney, a licensed professional counselor at Virginia Tech. “All we have to do is remember the stages we went through.”

According to McNerney, the stages for a preteen girl may include:

1)     He’s really cute but so are other boys.

2)     But, he’s cuter than the other boys. Plus he’s really nice, athletic, funny, etc.

3)     He might actually like me, too.

4)     He’s the cutest guy at school. No one else compares.

5)     Nothing else matters as long as I can think of him.

As children progress from ‘liking’ another person to falling head over heels, it’s important to allow them to process these feelings on their own. Avoid telling them what they can and cannot feel, says McNerney. It will backfire if you tell him or her that crushes are not allowed. However, you can set limits for what they can and can’t do, such as ensuring that a chaperone is always present when your child is at the mall or movies with his or her crush.

What NOT To Say

Even though you may still view your preteen or teen as a child, the reality is that she is growing up and experiencing real feelings about another person. The crush is very real and personal. “Don’t make fun or call it cute,” advises McNerney. “This is serious business and telling your preteen that it’s not a big deal will only create distance between the two of you.”

Teasing only backfires, says McNerney. “Be gentle,” he says. “It’s not her little ‘boyfriend.’”

Instead of minimizing or belittling the crush to your child, listen and validate the feelings, recommends Dr. Jamie Rishikof, Massachusetts-based licensed psychologist. “Do not even call it a crush as that can sound trivializing,” he says. “Mostly, just listen. If he or she does not bring it up, do not call her on it. And, never mention it to third parties, especially in front of her.”

Lending an ear to listen to your child during this time is one of the best strategies since there is not much a parent or nanny can do in this situation, says Rishikof. “It is a valuable part of life and growing up. If she asks advice, you can offer suggestions on what to do or not to do, but know that she may completely ignore that advice.”

If your child does not ask, avoid offering unsolicited advice. Unfortunately, he or she may need to learn the hard way, says Rishikof. “You can be there for her if things turn bad, having taught her that you are there to listen and you will not judge,” he says.

Picking Up the Pieces

It is inevitable that the crush will not last forever. Your child may lose interest, move his or her attention to another or end up with a broken heart. Even though it is tempting to try to step in and protect your child from heartbreak, it’s best to let nature take its course. “You can inadvertently do more harm than good as she may see your actions as invasive, controlling and indifferent to her feelings,” says Rishikof.

When the heartbreak happens, the best thing you can do is give a silent hug with a couple of “I’m so sorry” expressions. “Our preteen needs to know that, at that moment, we understand how hurt they feel,” says McNerney. “Don’t tell her that she will feel better in the morning. It never helps to remind someone in pain that it will feel better in the future.”


3 Responses to How to Help Your Children Navigate Their First Crush

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Colleen M. says:

Ahhh young love! First crushes are both a wonderful and devastating thing – it’s good for parents to be able to help their kids through this time!

TB says:

What about the stages for preteen boys?

Annie Fox says:

Parents can support their kids through a first crush by being happy for them! Don’t let your fear of “OMG They’re too young for this stuff!!!” turn you into a Debby Downer. A crush is a MAGICAL experience. Let them experience the magic. Chances are it will fizzle in 2-3 weeks so no need to lock anyone up in a tower for safe keeping. Show that you’re interested without demanding information. Your son or daughter will open up or not, depending on their temperament and how “safe” you make these conversations. If they do open up to you, please respect their confidences and do not tell everyone in the family. That’s soooo embarrassing especially since the crush will probably be history the next time Grandma or Aunt Jane says “So how is your girlfriend?!” One more tip, after the break-up or the brush off or the realization that the “crush” never was reciprocated, your child may need your support. Check out my 3 minute video on “How to help your child heal their broken heart” http://www.vidoyen.com/questions/how-can-i-help-my-child-get-over-a-broken-heart/answers/annie-fox-m-ed