• Don't push children to form romantic attachments before
• Cultivate good rapport with your child so that when she needs
to talk, it feels natural.
• Unless there's risk of injury, it's OK for kids to keep some
• Model what love means in your own relationships.
So your kid has her first crush? Once you come to grips with the
fact that forming attachments beyond the nest is actually healthy
for your child and not a rejection of you-or the inevitably scary,
slippery slope toward early sexual relationships you imagine it
might be-then you can support her as she tiptoes into this new
For starters, resist the temptation to tease, criticize or
otherwise dismiss her feelings as "puppy love." What she's
experiencing is as valid and real to her as any of your feelings
are to you.
Instead, use this time as an opportunity to help her begin to
discover what's really important to her in a partner (for younger
children, simply use the word "friend"). For example, when she
mentions the object of her affections, ask her what he's like. How
does he treat others? What does he like to do with his free time?
What makes him so interesting? Avoid overwhelming her with these
questions all at once.
Follow her lead when she's ready to share. When she is, ask her
what she means by certain words when she uses them. For example,
what is a "boyfriend" or "girlfriend"? What does she mean by
Some children aren't inclined to volunteer their feelings. You
might get the discussion ball rolling by casually inquiring-while
you empty the dishwasher or walk the dog together-about how things
are going with her other friends first. For example, "How are
things with Erin? With Rachel? And what about Tommy, what's he up
to these days?"
By the way, just because you're playing it cool and not freaking
out about your kid's blossoming social life doesn't mean you're
relieved of the need to set limits. This means, for example, no
hanging out in the bedroom with guests behind closed doors and no
access to phones or Web-enabled devices after bedtime. I'm
absolutely rigid about this one, folks. Think it's unnecessary to
set limits when your kids are 10 and just barely feeling the
stirrings of a first crush? OK, then try setting limits a few years
later when the pull to stay up all night texting, chatting and
Skyping becomes irresistible. It happens. It's not pretty.
When young love ends, as it so often does, resist the urge to
dismiss your child's grief. I think we parents unwittingly do this
because it's tough to watch our children suffer a loss, especially
when we know that these early relationships typically don't last
forever. While I don't relish the prospect, I'd rather my children
experience loss while still living at home, where I can help them
sort out their feelings.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and
family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
Got a concern? If you're a parent and it's on your mind, chances
are you're not alone. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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