How to Handle Your Tween’s First Crush
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and love is in the air. That seems wonderful until your tween is the one who claims he/she is in love! Facing your child’s first crush can make parents feel a variety of emotions, ranging from fear to excitement. So, what is a parent supposed to do? Here are some tips:
When your tween has a crush, his/her feelings are real and should NOT be teased, ignored, dismissed, laughed at, or devalued. As an adult, we know that most crushes never develop into actual relationships, but your tween doesn’t feel that way and will only withdraw from you if you don’t take his/her feelings seriously. Sometimes telling a tween that a crush isn’t likely to develop into a relationship will actually increase his/her infatuation and cause him/her to pursue the crush more aggressively. Additionally, you should know that even gently teasing your tween about the crush or describing it as ‘cute’ will only make him/her feel embarrassed and less likely to share his/her feelings with you in the future.
The absolute best thing you can do when your tween has a crush is LISTEN. Keep the lines of communication open, listen to how they are feeling and what they are thinking, and ask a lot of questions to keep him/her talking. Sometimes it’s helpful to share some of your dating stories with your tween, but you should be listening more than talking. Be very careful not to judge your tween; simply listen to what they have to say and ask open-ended questions. You might ask what “dating” means to him/her, as tweens may have a different concept of the term than you. If your tween is very excited about their crush, you may get tired of hearing about it, but don’t tell them to stop talking because listening will foster trust that will be incredibly valuable as they get older.
Talk about Healthy Relationships
This is an excellent opportunity to talk about the qualities of a healthy relationship! First, ask your tween what they like about this person. Then ask your tween what qualities they think a good boyfriend or girlfriend would have. Mention qualities you think are important in a significant other, such as kindness and trust. Be sure to articulate that people in healthy relationships respect each other. They can talk honestly and freely to each other, share decisions, and respect each other’s independence. They can disagree on something, but still support their partner.
This is also a great time to explain the signs of an unhealthy relationship. You should be specific, stating that no one should ever try to control or manipulate your tween, use verbal insults or nasty putdowns, threaten your tween, or use force during an argument.
Learning about your son or daughter’s feelings for another person can be a sweet moment, but it’s important to remember that this is your tween’s experience, not yours. If your tween does not ask for your advice, do not offer. Your tween may learn the hard way without your advice, but he/she will also learn that you are available to listen without judging or trying to control him/her. If your tween does solicit your advice, you can offer suggestions, but be very careful to not overpower the situation or suggest adult solutions to a kid situation. Your child might be quite content to admire their crush from afar or approach their crush in a silly way, and that’s okay. You can ask questions to help them think through their choices because that lets your tween know that you are available to talk about it, but you’re not going to push them in a direction they don’t want to go.
It is possible that a crush can rapidly develop into something serious, so it’s important to set some boundaries. If you have not already talked to your tween about dating and sexual activity, now is a good time to do it. Boundaries should include your rules about being alone with the opposite sex, limits on the amount of time spent on phone calls and texting, the expectation that responsibilities at home and schoolwork still need to be completed first, and the age they are allowed to go on a one-on-one date. Compromise is the best way to handle these limits. For example, tweens are too young to go on one-on-one dates, so allow him/her to go somewhere with a group of friends including his/her crush. Another example is creating an afterschool schedule that allows your tween to see how they can complete their responsibilities and still have free time to connect with their crush.
Don’t Spill the Beans
If your tween confides to you that he/she has a crush, the absolute worst thing you can do is tell others or comment on the crush in front of someone else. Doing so will embarrass your child, make him/her feel judged, and/or break the trust your child has in you.
When it Doesn’t Work
As every adult knows, not every crush will be reciprocated, and even if it is, it likely won’t last long. It’s hard as a parent to watch your tween deal with sad feelings, but this is part of real life, and it’s a valuable life lesson for your tween to learn that he/she can survive it. Try to avoid statements that minimize his/her feelings, such as ‘you’ll get over it,’ ‘it was just puppy love,’ or ‘that kid isn’t good enough for you.’ The best thing you can do is hug your tween, ask how he/she feels about it, listen, and empathize, saying “I’m sorry it turned out that way.” If you can, share a similar experience you had from childhood.
Your tween will always remember their first crush, and it can have an impact on their future dating relationships. By being understanding and supportive, you can help them learn what they are looking for in a relationship and move forward in a positive way.