Matters of the (young) heart
Love at first sight. Crushed crushes. From preschool to puberty, here's how to help with your child’s heartthrobs and heartaches.
Crushed by a crush?
5 things not to say to your broken-hearted child
When things go wrong in a child’s relationship, parents rush to make them feel better. But not all words of comfort work. “These sentiments, however well-intended or heartfelt, don’t address the fact that the child feels awful,” says School Counselor Sue Porter.
• “Well, I never liked that boyfriend of yours anyway.”
• “Love hurts. Better get used to it.”
• “It doesn’t matter—you’re only 12.”
• “Yes, he is evil.”
• “You were completely right and he was completely wrong.”
By Jessica Kelmon
Aiden* insists on sitting by Sophia*, and won’t let anyone else play with her. He told her he wants to fly her to Paris. When he draws pictures of them together, he draws one person. “We are one,” he says.
“He’s obsessed,” says his teacher, Susie Siegel, a kindergarten teacher who has observed kinder crushes for the past 20 years. One recent student drew a picture of her five best friends and herself — three boys, three girls — and declared that they’re all getting married. “Even at this age, they’re very possessive,” Siegel explains — but profoundly genuine, which is why she constantly hears her kindergartners telling each other they “love” them.
So what’s a parent to do when their young child declares that she and Jackson are getting hitched? How serious must we be about every cupid’s arrow that grazes our child’s heart?
Some experts suggest parents not feed the flames with added drama. Julia Whitt, an experienced kindergarten teacher, sees kids develop crushes regularly. She lets her students know that it’s great that they love each other, but that there’s no dating in kindergarten. To further, and clearly, temper the passion she adds: “And we don’t kiss at school, either.”
Others suggest that parents take advantage of young love to help develop kids’ social and emotional skills. “Children do form attachments early on to people they find like-minded,” says Marissa Gehley, a retired elementary school teacher and middle school counselor. “Those early, very simple connections mimic how we form relationships later on.” So take the opportunity to help your child start to articulate deeper thoughts and feelings. Ask, “Why is Emma so special?” and “What do you like about her?”
When affections go unrequited, ask your child what they like about their crush, says Gehley, then ask what other children have those same qualities. “They begin to make connections,” she says. “It builds skills by looking for what we like, not for what we don’t like.”
Talking to your child about their friend choices early can pave the way for conversations about romantic feelings later on. Gehley recommends approaching the conversation with a certain equanimity: "You don’t want to close doors with, ‘You’re too young, don’t be silly,’ because kids take these things hard. But you don’t want to go over the top with over exuberance, ‘Tell me everything!’ either."