Ask any adult about who their first crush was and they’ll remember. It’s more than puppy love. That’s how much it mattered. They not only remember the crush, they remember the full name and will possibly say the name with a soft twinkle in their eye.
First crushes matter deeply to kids because it’s the first time they experience powerful love feelings toward someone else besides Mommy or Daddy.
Yes, children DO experience powerful crushes. And kids have girlfriends and boyfriends as young as kindergarten, according to author Susan Merrill in the book The Passionate Mom (Thomas Nelson; 2013). Meanwhile, crushes are often one-sided when kids are little. There’s little research about crushes happening to children younger than third grade, but parents know crushes can happen earlier than that, having experienced them themselves.
Kid crushes are sort of like pretend play, says author Deborah Roffman in the book Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ “Go-To” Person About Sex (DeCapo; 2012). They are serious enough to continue when the source of the crush is out of sight, but when the crush is around, a child’s behavior may modify.
“It’s a normal part of development when kids start to see each other in ways that are a little bit different,” Roffman says. “I really do believe that they get a little zing in their heart,” she adds.
What’s wonderful if you don’t need to worry about it because crushes can happen to anyone and don’t involve anything more than that.
But don’t belittle your child’s crush or tease him if he tells you he likes someone or you discover that he has crush-like feelings. Just like he may not like green beans, it doesn’t help to call it out and make him feel badly about it. Instead, acknowledge your child’s crush and validate it for him, Roffman says.
“Oh, you got to ride on the bus next to Mary? That must have been fun,” you might say, with no judgment. This sort of gesture on your part helps to open up your line of communication with your child which is what you want all the way through his teen years.
Here are easy tips for how to handle your child’s first crush in a respectful, open way:
• First crushes are not really romantic, so don’t equate them to romantic love.
• Children mimic the world around them: Holding hands may be part of a child’s first crush.
• Let it play out: There’s no need to intervene in your child’s first crush, unless your child is older and becomes involved with someone who is a bad influence.
• Never make fun: Teasing a child about the feelings he is experiencing is humiliating. Don’t do it.