When Kids Get Crushes

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Jessica DuLong

Published February 1, 2003

Love is in the air this month – and there’s a good chance your preteen has noticed.

By fourth or fifth grade, many kids, especially girls, experience their first crush. Playing at romance is a normal part of social development, and it’s one way to practice being grown up.

Crushes also teach kids about relationships, says Meri Wallace, a child and family therapist in Brooklyn, NY. They’re learning how to transfer affection and loving feelings to people other than family members, whether it’s the boy down the block, a teacher, a celebrity, or a same-sex friend. Often, grade-schoolers have more fun talking about their crushes than talking to them.

A few things to remember when it comes to a lovelorn preteen:

Don’t tease. It may look like puppy love to adults, but to a kid, a crush is serious business. Brushing off hurt feelings by saying something like “Don’t worry so much about what he said – you hardly know him” will only make your child think she should keep her feelings to herself.

Try not to pry. If she does want to talk about her crush, respect her boundaries. Rather than ask probing questions, encourage her with such comments as “Billy sounds like a lot of fun.” She’ll be more likely to come to you for advice if she knows you care but can keep a secret. Also, try telling her about someone you had a crush on at her age; it can boost her trust, which will help later when you’re discussing your values about sex or dating.

Set reasonable limits. Step in if your child seems too preoccupied for homework or chores. You may want to enforce specific study hours or phone time to help her find a balance.