When I was sifting through my daughter’s backpack, out came a beautifully colored Minions picture with a note and hearts on the back. This struck me because it was different than the princess coloring pages she usually brought home from school. When I asked Hayley (who is 5 years old and in kindergarten) about the note, she clammed up and turned bright red. It was like pulling teeth to extract information out of her, but she finally told me that when she got up in class to get a book, a boy named Joshua left the picture on her chair.
“I love him and I want to marry him,” she nervously told me while twisting her hair.
That’s when my husband nearly choked on his dinner. As parents, we could have sworn that she wouldn’t enter this stage for a few more years. But here we were, in the midst of a first crush. How on Earth would we handle this?
According to experts, most children experience their first crush by age 5. And while that basically means that they will sit next to each other at lunch and hang out at recess, here are some do’s and don’ts that I learned during this phase of Hayley’s life.
Befriend the parents.
One of the first things I did when Hayley began talking about Joshua was to get to know his family so we could set up playdates. Now, his mom and I exchange funny texts about things the kids do and say. So her crush was also a win for me to gain a new mommy friend.
Establish physical boundaries.
Kids who have crushes on each other may try to act out what they think it is like to be in love. Take the time to point out that in the movies and fairytales, people are grown-ups, and in real life, crushes are more like close friendships. Let your child know that it is OK to show affection for one another by holding hands and hugging, though not at school.
Play it cool.
Don’t embarrass your child. I learned this one the hard way. Don’t mention the crush in front of any of your child’s friends (this landed Hayley to literally crawl under a table at a birthday party and hide). Oddly enough, while Hayley wants to talk about Joshua at home, she doesn’t want to talk about it in front of her friends. What’s more, I also made the mistake of telling my mother-in-law about Joshua. When she picked up Hayley from school one day and saw Joshua, she embarrassed both of them when she asked, “Is this THE Joshua?”
Help your child through disappointment.
As quickly as Hayley and Joshua fell for each other, I know it could all end one day if Joshua ends up picking another girl to be on his team during gym class. Let your child know that you will always be there to listen to them, no matter how big or small the problem is.
Validate their feelings.
Support your child’s connection with another person and use it to talk about positive feelings. Ask them what qualities–like kindness and sharing–they like to see in others, and discuss the positive qualities that your child possesses.
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This story originally published on Feb. 5, 2019. It has been updated with the most recent information.