I was clicking away on my laptop while my eight-year-old son sat next to me, playing Roblox. He casually said, “Connor and Bella like each other.” I asked how he knew, and he said, “She shared her Funyuns with him and asked if he wanted to sleep with her.”
He clarified. “After our party in class today, she was assigned to sweep up and she asked if he wanted to help her.” SWEEP! My heart gradually slowed back to its normal pace, but I was at a loss for what to say. I thought eight was too young for a crush, but as it turns out, it actually does happen. Most young crushes aren’t quite what they seem though. Here’s what they mean and how to talk to your child about crushes and “dating.”
What a Crush Really Is
For little kids…
…“liking” someone is really more about building relationships outside the family. Little ones in preschool or kindergarten are learning to connect with people their own age which is really exciting! Who wouldn’t “like” someone who shares crayons, enjoys the same TV show, or stands at the same height?
If your child is a little older…
…his or her relationship with a child of the opposite sex might get dubbed a crush because other kids (or yours) are confused by it. Exhibit A: 1988. I was in third grade just like my eight-year-old son is now. Two of my classmates, Amy and Joshua, were inseparable, and boy did everyone pick on them. By that age, we all understood that boys and girls are different. Boys hung with boys while girls usually hung with girls. But Amy and Joshua preferred each other’s company, so to make sense of it, we all said they liked each other.
And then there’s the chance…
…that your son or daughter actually sees something in that other child that makes his or her heart skip a beat. Maybe it’s his haircut, the way she giggles while she’s on the swings, or the fact that they both like math. So yes, it very well might be a crush, especially between third and fifth grade, but that doesn’t mean there’s any need to worry about dating.
How to Talk to Your Child About Crushes
Don’t tease her, but don’t shut her down either.
Finding out your young child has a crush is a reason to celebrate. It means you have an opportunity to start laying the foundation for open conversations between you two. So ask age-appropriate questions like, “Did you and Aiden play together at recess today? It sounds like you have fun together.” Don’t push the relationship to be anything more than the innocent thing they’ve created and definitely don’t tease with talks of senior prom or marriage.
Ask him to tell you more.
Just because your child has a crush doesn’t mean the crush likes him back, so ask some questions: “Does she know you like her?” or “Can you tell me what she’s like?”
One study of elementary-aged kids found that having a reciprocal romantic relationship was related to being well-liked and perceived as “popular” by peers, whereas having a nonreciprocal romantic relationship was related to depression and anxiety. Every one of us has had a crush on someone who didn’t return the feelings, but it’s good to know if your child is pining away so you can be there for emotional support.
Remember, there’s no turning back.
If you start to encourage having boyfriends or girlfriends, you’re opening a door that’s hard to close. If your son says, “I’m going to ask her to be my girlfriend,” a simple response can be, “Those kinds of relationships are for when you’re older. I know you like her, so let’s just say she’s special.”
If you start to encourage having boyfriends or girlfriends, you’re opening a door that’s hard to close.
A friend of mine thought it was cute when her 13-year-old daughter started holding hands with her boyfriend. When it dawned on her that they are probably going to move on to the next step, the hand-holding stopped being cute. Remember that your child has years ahead, decades even, to be in romantic relationships. There’s no reason to rush things.
Do any of your kids have crushes? How do you handle it?
ASK YOUR CHILD…
What age is the right age to start dating? Why?