How to Navigate Your Child’s First Crush

Health & Wellbeing

Idealizing a boyfriend-girlfriend dynamic can suggest that “these relationships are critical to being a complete person and to being happy,” said Amanda J. Rose, a professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri who has studied peer relationships from childhood through young adulthood. In addition, she added, “it really reinforces traditional gender roles.”

Encourage your child to share more of what’s on their mind by asking open-ended questions. Christy Keating, a parent coach in Redmond, Wash., suggested asking, “What does that mean for you to have a crush?” or “What did that feel like?” Or you could use the classic prompt “Tell me more.”

You might even consider sharing a similar story from when you were younger, Ms. Keating said.

“Make sure you’re not shutting them down,” she added. “If we laugh, downplay or mock it when they’re 5, they’re going to remember that when they’re 15.”

Laura Eagle, who taught kindergartners for more than a decade in Washington State, vividly recalled one class in particular where romantic overtures were “a huge thing.”

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, that’s a little early to be writing love notes,’” she said.

Some of the girls enjoyed chasing certain boys — their crushes — at recess. On the surface it all seemed harmless, she said, but she pulled the girls aside and gently asked them to consider how these actions might affect their classmates.

“It was a real light conversation,” she said. “We all want to make each other feel safe.”

Young elementary school students are still learning how to respect other people’s boundaries, including personal space, so explaining the concept of consent — the need to ask for permission and then respect the answer you receive — is essential, she said.

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