Originally published in the Summer 2014 issue of Playground Magazine.
Words by Jennifer Jones, MS, NCC/NCSC
Parenting 101: FIRST CRUSH
Ahh… your first crush. Maybe it was on a schoolmate; perhaps it was on a celebrity or rock star. Or maybe, like my son, it was on a teacher. Yep, a teacher. For my 5 year old son, it all started with an obsession with music class. He started talking about this class constantly, which was out of character for him. The proverbial “School was fine, Mom” was his usual response after school pickup. Soon after I noticed this, I also spotted other changes in his behavior. Instead of asking how many more days until Friday, he asked how many more days until Tuesday. He had his older brother help him comb his hair, but only on Tuesdays. He also wore a belt (although not required by school uniform policies for kindergartners).
Finally, I decided to clear the air and ask him why he was so interested in music class. His eyes opened wide, he clenched his lips, and he clammed up! He hid under a chair and very irritably responded, “I don’t want to tell you, and I don’t want to talk about it!” It was crystal clear that my son had his first official crush- on his music teacher!
So what is a crush? Crushes are a very common occurrence among boys and girls alike and can happen very early in a child’s life. According to Dr. John Chirban, crushes can be a child’s first “introduction to their feelings that are a part of every healthy relationship.” Crushes seem to affect their whole body, emotions, feelings and desires. Dr. Chirban also explains in his book How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex that crushes are often not grounded in reality. This aspect really hit home for me. I, like many girls my age, hung life-sized posters of John Stamos, Bruce Springsteen, or even New Kids on the Block (ouch, that one hurts) on my bedroom wall. I spent hours daydreaming about meeting them and falling in love. Then, one day, it hit me. These stars weren’t going to fall in love with me, but it felt very real. It was real for you when you were a child, and it’s real for your child now.
HOW TO HANDLE A CRUSH
Crushes can be very overwhelming to your child; after all, this may be the first time he or she has felt this way toward another person. Your response to your child’s first crush will impact how your child approaches conversations with you regarding feelings and interactions on future relationships. In the case of my son, who was hiding under the chair, I said, “It looks as if you feel embarrassed about liking your music teacher in this way. Did I get that right?” Quietly, with his head down, tears welling up in his eyes, he said, “Yes.” He continued in a sharp manner, still under the chair, ‘I think she’s pretty. I just like her, but I don’t want anyone to know, and I don’t know why this happened.” As you can see by his response, he was totally confused about why he feels this way. It was causing some roller-coaster emotions for him. Part of me wanted to say, “Really?” Yet, I knew I needed to be intentional with my response.
How do you respond? What does your child need from you? Put down the phone, get up from the computer, turn off the TV, and give your child undivided attention. What he or she is feeling is real. Your child needs to know you care enough to not be distracted. The child also needs to know that it’s OK and normal to feel this way. If siblings come in unexpectedly, ask for privacy. Remember, these are pure, raw and real feelings. These feelings range from fear and confusion to disappointment and excitement. Your child needs to know that you won’t judge and ridicule him or her for feeling this way. This will help build trust for any future conversations.
Next, you must be empathetic. You must be able to understand the child’s perspective, whether he or she is 5 years old or 14 years old. Think about how it may feel to have these strange, new feelings toward another person. It’s perfectly OK to share an appropriate, positive and personal experience with your child to let him or her know that it is completely normal to have these feelings. Your experiences do affect your responses, so be conscious of and intentional with your person story. Finally, offer your support and guidance. Let your child know that you are willing to talk about his or her feelings, as well as offer guidance on how to handle them when around this person. Dr. Chirban suggests shapes the understanding of realistic relationships. Crushes can, and often do, go on for a long time. They usually involve investment of real emotions. Your child deserves a well-intentioned and sincere response from a parent.