Pay Your Bill
How Should You Handle Your Child’s First Crush?

By Pam Dewey • children and mental health, children and relationships, kids mental health, kids and relationships, healthy relationships, kids first crush, first crush, puppy love, explaining feelings to kids, kids and love, teaching about health relationships • June 09, 2022

Exchanging notes, chasing them on the playground or doodling their name on a notebook. A child’s first crush is exciting. But beyond the butterflies-in-the-tummy feeling, your child may feel uncertain about handling such big emotions.

You might be tempted to dismiss puppy love, but the truth is, crushes prepare children for future romantic relationships. Here’s how you can help your child understand these feelings and react appropriately.

Don’t be afraid to ask about crushes

You may feel like you’re prying into your child’s life by asking about crushes, but talking normalizes these feelings. And you want your child to understand that having a crush is normal. CNN suggests, “When talking about crushes with kids, ask them why they like whom they like, what kind of things they might like to do with their crushes and whether they might consider inviting them over.” Asking these questions will help your child understand their feelings better and opens up a dialogue between the two of you about romantic relationships. 

It’s okay if they won’t talk about their crush

Your child may feel shy talking about their crush. It’s okay if they don’t tell you about it, but you should still broach the subject with them. You can ask your child if other people at school have crushes and talk about that. You can also tell your child about crushes you had growing up: who they were, whether it was reciprocated and how you felt. Again, this will help your child understand that these feelings are normal and open a dialogue between you.

Don’t minimize a crush

It is tempting to make light of a child’s first crush, but don’t do that. CNN states, “When parents take their kids' feelings seriously, they teach their children to take their feelings seriously — which is the first step to learning how to process one's feelings.” A first crush can involve feelings like excitement, happiness, fear, confusion, sadness, etc. By listening to your child and encouraging them to explore these feelings, you’re teaching them lifelong skills.

Let them know rejection is common

As you’ve experienced yourself, not all crushes are reciprocated. Help your child understand this early, and don’t trivialize their feelings if a crush doesn’t like them back. Metro Family Magazine suggests that you console them, let them grieve their loss, “but also stress that rejection is a normal part of life, it’s what dating is all about, that you don’t always find the right person right away.” This gives your child realistic expectations about dating, while also supporting their need to express their feelings of rejection and loss. CNN also suggests, “Establish the fact that friendship is part of romantic relationships.”

Teach them about boundaries and respectful behavior

Your child might feel awkward around their crush and not know how to act. It’s up to you to teach them appropriate behavior. Things like hugging or kissing a crush without their permission aren’t appropriate. Tell them other behaviors like constantly watching someone or texting repeatedly might make their crush feel uncomfortable. Avoid saying things like, “boys will be boys” because this perpetuates harmful stereotypes and suggests bad behavior is acceptable.  

Your child may also be at the receiving end of some behavior that makes them uncomfortable. CNN states, “Unwanted attention can easily cross lines, and children need their parents' help in figuring out what those lines are and how to express them to others and advocate for themselves.” Maybe another child is trying to hold their hand, and your child says it makes their stomach hurt. Try role-playing with your child and have them practice saying, “I don’t feel comfortable holding your hand,” or “I don’t like you like that.” Teaching your child to establish these boundaries when they are young will make it easier for them to draw these lines when they’re older and involved in serious romantic relationships.

Talking to your children about crushes helps them learn about their feelings, respectful behavior and how to talk about their feelings. You can also teach them that rejection is common, and that it’s important that they respect and assert their boundaries in relationships.