"Mom! A boy at school told me he liked me," my fifth grader says bounding into the car after school. Excitement and even some fear flood over me — I'm not ready for her first crush! I never told my mom stuff like that … did I? At least I can't remember if I did. I resolve to tread carefully in order to keep the door open so I can learn more about my daughter's first young love. Often the signs are there that your child is smitten. She may talk about a boy who teases her at school or who writes his name on her folder. Typically young kids keep quiet about their feelings in this department, passing secret notes to friends in class. If you're lucky enough to have your child spill her heart out to you, listen carefully and don't tease. These things are taken very seriously by tender young children. Speaking of teasing, keep it to yourself around the siblings, too. You don't need her brother running around singing, "She's got a boyfriend" or "My sister's in loooooove!"
Take It for What It Is
When your daughter tells you she has a boyfriend, listen. Don't shrug it off and act like it's nothing — maybe it is and maybe it isn't. Don't say, "Crushes are so silly!" or anything to demean your child's heart. The important thing to remember is that this is a new step for your child and that one step leads to another. It's OK to ask, "Why do you like Jason so much? Is he nice to you?" says author Ruth Peters in the book, Laying Down the Law: The 25 Laws of Parenting (Rodale; 2003). After all, it's good to learn why your child may "like" someone over others. Beyond that, if you think your child's crush is a bit over the top, simply focus on how it's nice to care for another person. And casually let your child know that it's important to keep up with ALL of your friends and not just focus on one person. Kids form boyfriend/girlfriend statuses randomly at early ages — and especially in the fourth and fifth grades — just as a way of experimenting with being older. My daughter tells me who the boyfriend/girlfriends are in her class and who broke up with whom. If you're in the loop about your child's "boyfriend" at school, there will be days when she'll talk about it and other days when she won't. It's not necessary to raise the subject directly, just simply ask how your child's day was and if anything fun happened. That's what I did, and then all of these details came pouring out of my daughter's mouth — and that she'd gotten her first hug!
So do crushes remain a school thing or do kids see each other outside of school? Certainly school functions will bring them together, but for the most part, that's it. When we saw my daughter's "boyfriend" at a store recently, she pointed him out to me. He was shyly waving at her before I turned and I started to wave too but was slapped playfully on the shoulder by my daughter moaning, "MOM!" Now I know I'm not supposed to react. There's one caveat to the fifth-grade crush: the cell phone: If your kids have them in fifth grade, you'll need to monitor what's being said at this point, or at least talk about what's OK when it comes to talking to the opposite sex via text. But what if they ask to see each other outside of school? "I would have to say it depends on the maturity level of the kids," says local mom Lauren Paige. "If they're mature enough to understand the limitations of a relationship at that age and are wanting to spend external time together I would talk to the parents and meet the boy. If his parents did not approve then we would respect that." Meet the parents?! In fifth grade? I think I'll ask around first and maybe take note if I see them at a school function. But in the meanwhile, I'll keep in perspective that fifth grade is fifth grade. Crushes are a new, innocent experience for kids, and not something to start calling the caterer about!